Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

In Italy’s Calabria region, Nicola Zolin charts the rise and fall of a depopulated town, and the mayor who welcomed refugees with open arms and built a special kind of utopia in the process.

It’s as if time has stopped. It’s August 2015 and, on this sunny summer’s day, I’m driving through the southern Italian region of Calabria, all the way down to the tip. Marvellous—yet mistreated—beaches reveal themselves at every turn. But I’m not here to see them.

I eventually reach Riace, a medieval village on a hilltop overlooking the Ionian coast. I’m hungry after my long journey and in search of a good meal. There’s one tiny bar, but it’s about to close. My brief conversation with the Croatian owner grabs the attention of a woman upstairs, who offers to cook me a plate of pasta with tomato soup. I gladly accept.

Over lunch, we talk. Although originally from Riace, Teresa—the woman upstairs—was now living in Rome. She moved there because she thought her children would enjoy a better education and more opportunities, but visits Riace every summer to see family and friends.