Damanhur is a community based in Vidracco, in Valchiusella, (metropolitan area of Turin) in Italy. I came across multiple mentions of it while looking into the Global Ecovillage Network, a global association that carries out different experimental forms of sustainability in community-based living. In fact, Damanhur has solid components of sustainable agriculture, farming, and technology, which support the community’s lifestyle and businesses. Having spent a lot of time in Turin myself, I thought it would be interesting to interview Barys Setna Bernini, who was born and raised in Damanhur and was later my classmate at the University of Turin.
Damanhur is widely known as an innovative space for new and experimental forms of socialization, economic models, sustainability, spirituality and symbiotic connections with nature and our environment.
In a world where individuals experience skyrocketing levels of disconnect from others, the paradigms of cohabitation, socialisation, and community-based empowerment set by Damanhur are at least bound to represent an interesting perspective to look critically into the concepts of family, community, growth and education.
In general, the community increases in its numbers thanks to new members that decide to join in from the outside. Growingly, part of the new members of the community are sons and daughters of couples who have lived in Damanhur for many years. If in the past this was a minoritarian percentage of all members, at the present time more and more kids raised in Damanhur make the choice of living there as adults as well, often in relation to the local philosophical school.
Socialization in Damanhur revolves around the nucleo (nucleus), which is a household or family house. Generally, in one nucleo live between 7 and 20 people, belonging to different age groups. Each person has their own room, while, following the model of traditional farmers’ homes, there are also shared spaces, such as the kitchen, bathrooms and living room. Within the nucleo each person chips in with the households’ duties, building strong interpersonal relations with one another at the same time. Each nucleo is specialised in a specific area of expertise, and carries out a number of projects collectively, often in relation to its specific location. The nucleo “Porta della Terra” (Earth’s Door) for example, is a household specialised in agriculture. Whoever is interested in specialising in this topic can ask to be relocated into this nucleo. Obviously, these projects are mostly carried out in the free time, since all Damanhurians have their own professional occupation, often located outside the community.
Another nucleo, called Cibele, specialises on various activities revolving around Damanhur’s Temple of Humankind, which with its 8,500 cubic metres is the largest underground temple in the whole world.
Inside the nucleo, there is a tendency to favour diversity, in terms of culture, age, and gender. Apparently, after years of observation, it was noticed that this is the most successful formula for cohabitation in the community.
A second concept for aggregation and interaction is called via (way), and it includes different groups, projects, and areas of research, with members across separate households. For example, one via revolves around health, nutrition, and the plant world, including spiritual, meditative, and technological aspects.
The “Via della Parola” (Way of the Word) explores different aspects related to speech, such as theatre, politics, and language. These cross-household projects have the advantage of easing relations amongst different nuclei, avoiding local rivalries. As a matter of fact, the nucleo is highly specialised internally, with its own costumes, colours, and forms of expression. This is also functional to the successful cohabitation of its members, but it calls for spaces for external aggregation as well.
Other important moments of socialisation for the community are its “national holidays”, such as Damanhur’s Birthday on May 29th, and the beginning of the damanhurian year on September 1st. On these dates, the community carries out collectively a series of rites. Similarly, collective rites are performed on the equinox and solstice.
Interestingly, Damanhur has its own schools, following pupils from 0 to 15 years of age. The high level of communication between parents and teachers, favours a collective approach to establishing the local curriculum with a case-by-case approach. Classrooms are usually quite smalls, due to the demographic configuration of the community, which allows the implementation of a tailor-made pedagogical system, focused on bringing out each student’s personal talents. Part of the children in the classrooms are not Damanhurians, which is something that stimulates dialogue with outside members from an early age. To the same purpose, school travels, both in Italy and abroad, are highly encouraged as well.
Nature plays an important role in these pedagogical settings, with part of the education being carried out in the forest. Cooperation and symbiosis with the natural environment are then topics particularly present in the local curriculum.
Education is also carried out by the other members of the nucleo, with which children generally have strong relations, similar to those with extended family members in traditional settings. Parents remain the main caretakers, but all members of the household have a certain level of responsibility towards taking part in pedagogy. Since within a nucleo are present people coming from all over the world, young Damanhurians tend to be quite used to multicultural settings. At the same time, the presence of children helps favouring the successful functioning of the spaces of cohabitation, which is particularly important to the existence of the community itself.
Parents are encouraged to prepare themselves on time for the task of parenting. Usually, they inform the community beforehand about their intention of having children, so that the presence of a new member can be planned and prepared. Apparently, this kind of preventive planning is fundamental to how the damanhurian community life unfolds.
For what concerns the political sphere, Damanhur does not align with a specific party, but the local groups that carry out research into politics will look into parties’ political programmes before national, regional or municipal election. Something that holds a certain level of political importance for Damanhur would be a legislation that would officially recognise the existence of communities in Italy. In fact, at the present time Damanhur’s existence is not officially recognised, which makes certain juridical aspects somewhat more difficult.
On an international level, Damanhur has a number of branches around the world, that offer spaces for socialization to members of its philosophical school. They are also present at the UN in Geneva, with an organization that holds consultative status (Damanhur Education APS).
Damanhur pursues several long-term objectives in its actions. One of them is showing that it is possible to create different structures of meaning along with other members of a community, who work together in order to bring their vision into reality. Ideally, they would like to create a functional space that allows individuals to express themselves at their best potential. This notion is rooted in the concept that humankind has a larger potential than what is believed, and that a specific type of space can naturally bring about the expression of that this larger potential. This is correlated to the theories on the awakening of humanity, enlightenment, and individual and collective achievement of higher level of awareness. It is without doubt worthwhile to look into these experimentations for the creation of spaces of cohabitation, in which people are supposed to be feeling more connected with themselves. Certainly, it can prompt interesting critical perspectives into how it is possible to rethink and reimagine transcultural aggregation and socialization in urban environments, in a perspective that keeps in mind the difficulties associated to our Zeitgeist.