In a rare moment of free time I stumbled across the website of Damanhur, a planned eco-society physically located in Italy but with branches in other (mostly European) nations. The Federation of Damanhur is dedicated to the spiritual, artistic and social development of humankind. It is probably most famous for the hand-carved temples deep within a mountainous location in northern Italy. The Temples of Humankind are, from web pictures anyway, quite stunning, often earning the hackneyed accolade of the “eighth wonder of the world.” The temples are dedicated to Gaia, the earth, and humanity (often, unfortunately, its greatest enemy). The Temples contain a hall of waters, hall of earth, hall of mirrors, hall of metals, hall of spheres, a labyrinth, and the Blue Temple. Begun in 1978 as the vision of Oberto Airaudi, a tunnel was excavated and the temples were carved from the rock. A moving account of how government officials, determined to shut down this clandestine operation only to emerge from the temples emphatically stating that they must be preserved, came to the aid of the Damanhurians is presented on their website.
Like other utopian movements, the Damanhur society seeks a better world. Their vision of a planet in sync with rather than warred upon by humans is compelling. Their achievements are admirable. Still, it remains a sad commentary on the world that greed and capitalism have constructed. Every day self-satisfied faces of wealthy politicians glare out from the newspaper or Internet declaring that they know a better way. The evidence of our world belies their claims. Damanhur and other similar societies only thrive when they are small. Once paradise opens its doors, entrepreneurs enter.
The religion of Damanhur is far from orthodox. It is, however, peaceful and sensitive to the connection that binds all of earth’s inhabitants together. The society promotes education – a simple commitment that seems beyond the will or ability of many state governments in this wealthy, fully industrialized and technologized society. I wish the Damanhurians well. They have constructed a beautiful world for themselves. If they fare better than most utopian societies, perhaps they can continue to be a light for a world that sees only veins of potential bankable wealth inside mountains.