Urbex means urban exploration and is a term coined in the Anglo-Saxon world (from urban formerlyploration) to define the activity of those who love visiting and photographing modern ruinsor those architectural ruins built in the more or less recent past. This is a practice on the borderline of legality as, in addition to the issue of trespassing on private property, they are mostly uninhabitable and dangerous buildings. It is the decadent and fascinating atmospheres that inspired the industrial music of the Throbbing Gristlewhich, while rejecting all forms of melody and using noise almost in a terroristic manner, have their roots between John Coltrane and Pink Floyd. An evolution of the Urbex for sommeliers and winelovers could be the Wine Urbexor the activity of search for and visit abandoned cellars full of forgotten historical bottles... to watch and not to uncork of course.

Urbex: what exactly does it consist of?

Urbex is the exploration of abandoned buildings, factories, villas and other buildings in an ethical manner, i.e. without damaging and/or stealing anything from the site visited. There are various types of urban exploration depending on the sites visited, the most popular being draining, i.e. the exploration of sewers, and urban climbing, i.e. the exploration of tall buildings that are difficult to access.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

Those who do Urbex are curious to explore places that most people avoid or ignore. Far from the most popular tourist destinations, Urbex offers the opportunity to discover the unexpected beauty of decay. Crumbling structures, ruined frescoes, faded murals, destroyed objects of everyday life and vegetation that creeps in everywhere create a fascinating backdrop that attracts photographers and artists looking for inspiration or who simply want to document a different story.

Wine urbex industrial urban exploration

Urbex: the story

The official birth date of the urbex is 1793, the year in which the porter of a Parisian hospital Philibert Aspairt died in the Paris catacombs after getting lost there. The Paris Catacombs are the largest known necropolis with more than 285 km of passageways housing the remains of 6 million people and can still be visited on a regular basis.

The history of Urbex, however, has roots much further back in time: in ancient Rome, explorers and scholars would venture into the ruins of abandoned buildings to study the history and architecture of the past. It was only in the 19th century, with the Industrial Revolution, that Urbex began to develop, taking a turn closer to the contemporary one.

Wine urbex industrial urban exploration

With the advent of industrialisation, many factories, villas and infrastructural works were quickly built to support economic growth. Global development also led to an equally rapid abandonment of these buildings, which soon became obsolete as technology progressed. This phenomenon became even more important after the Second World War, in the years of the economic boom: as cities grew and suburbs were urbanised, entire neighbourhoods were abandoned or evacuated due to disasters, decay and other more or less transparent reasons.

Wine urbex industrial urban exploration

These disused places began to attract the interest of curious thrill-seekers, who began to explore and photograph them to document how architectural decay is the first witness to the passing of time. During the 1980s and 1990s, with the new popularity of graffiti and street art, some urban artists started to use abandoned buildings and structures as a canvas for their artwork, drawing attention to these places and renewing the Urbex culture.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

Urbex: ethics

At a time when Urbex is becoming increasingly popular to the point of having thousands of 'followers' in Italy as well, there are many discussions about its ethics that people are trying to remedy with more or less acceptable justifications. While one wonders if it is right to explore places that could be - and often are - private property and share information on the web on how to access them (openings, where to climb...), on the other hand, enthusiasts of this hobby declare that they have a responsible and respectful approach towards the ruins they visit. The urbexersIn fact, they claim to leave the place exactly as they found it without damaging it and without depriving it of even a piece of worthless paper. This willingness is evidenced by the photograph of a desk from the Olivetti factory in Ivrea abandoned after the 2013 fire, which looks almost like a post-modern still life.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

You can now subscribe to the newsletter or scroll down the page to continue reading the article!

Wine Urbex: a provocation... or maybe not?

The Wine Urbex could be the activity of exploring abandoned wine cellars all over the world. It may seem a provocation, but it could actually be very interesting to understand the very evolution of the history of wine in different places, from winemaking technologies to storage, from presentation to sale.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

Not only wine cellars, but also the private cellars of abandoned castles and villas often hold treasures, even if they are undrinkable. But for a treasure to be considered such, it only needs to have a story to tell or be rediscovered. For example, this Barbera tells of a Cacciatori Restaurant... does it still exist?

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

These shots were taken in the cellar of Villa Minetta by urbexers who kindly shared them with Sommelier Suite (like all the other photos in this article). The villa was built by entrepreneur and deputy for the historical left Edilio Raggio (Genoa 1840 - Novi Ligure 1906), at the time the richest man in the Kingdom of Italy. It subsequently changed hands several times and it is natural to wonder who was the glutton for Barbera wine in the 1968 vintage given the huge quantity of bottles.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

The solution is simple: as the label says, it is the barbera wine of the Spinoglio brothers, the family that bought Villa Minetta around 1950 and retained ownership for about half a century. The beautiful mansion was therefore also a storage place for the bottles produced by the owners' wine cellar.

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

You can now buy my book dedicated to aspiring sommeliers, sommeliers and winelovers or scroll down the page to continue reading the article!

Chiara Bassi book sommelier illustrated manual

Sommelier: the illustrated manual

All my notes on wine and food in one book. Maximum portability to study where you want, when you want... and even with your smartphone unloaded! To all aspiring sommeliers... drink the wolf! 😄🐺🍷🍀

Chiara Bassi

Urbex: some reflections between legality and commitment

I would be lying if I said that wine urbex does not fascinate me tremendously: everything that is linked to history and knowledge is a reason to live for me. Discovering abandoned wine places can provide a lot of useful information to understand how we got to where we are today, but it can also be a pleasurable hedonistic amusement for its own sake. Yet the idea that a place can trigger the desire and need for further research into a family, a technique or an event that has marked even an infinitesimal part of human history is something exhilarating for me, particularly when combined with wine.

Admittedly, this is a borderline activity in terms of both safety and legality, which is why intelligent solutions must be devised to enable it to be practised properly. Sharing the photos and stories of these places is something that goes beyond historical memory and the rediscovery of a forgotten past, but is rather a desire to enhance the melancholic beauty of these places through important redevelopment work on architectural spaces that all too often become mere witnesses to the fluidity of the very lives of most of the people who inhabit this planet today.

Chiara Bassi

Writer, sommelier & gastronome

Urbex and Wine Urbex: Final Considerations

Urbex is an unquestionably dangerous and irresponsible activity on the border of legality. The structures are unstable and subject to the risk of collapse, and in the event that the urbexer were to be seriously injured, whose responsibility would it be, being on private property that is not subject to regular maintenance because it is abandoned? There are actually many more questions that can revolve around this controversial hobby, but the presence of associations and organised groups that also work closely with the owners of the modern ruins they wish to visit in order to gain legal access bodes well. After all, urbex can be a way of showing the potential hidden treasures of a region, extraordinary places that, if subjected to careful redevelopment, could be transformed into extremely fascinating multifunctional spaces. In this regard, an invitation: why not set up a structured association that moves legally and safely to practice the wine urbex and go exploring abandoned cellars all over the world?

Wine urbex italia industrial urban exploration

Loading