Europe's Best Kept Secret

by Randy Peyser

Imagine a model society where people live in harmony with the land and each other; a society which boasts a zero per cent crime rate and not one single act of vandalism; where people live in the absence of fear; where the young and the old are cared for; where nurturing the beauty inside of each person is of utmost importance; and where no one ever needs Prozac. Fairy tale or reality?

Tucked in the Alpine foothills of northern Italy sits Damanhur, a community of 500 adults, their children, and approximately 350 affiliated others who are living this dream.

Artisans abound at Damanhur, where all are encouraged to express their talents. In a science laboratory, for example, one can explore the use of sound with plants, while others learn the art of mosaic in one of the community's art studios. The community seeks to nurture that which is beautiful in each person in order for that person to express their unique gifts and purpose for being on the planet. Instead of delving into one's painful past to heal one's inner being, the idea at Damanhur is that by nurturing that which is of beauty in each person, all will flourish.

Damanhur has a self-made political infrastructure, its own constitution, and a small council of respected members who serve as mediators in those rare times of unresolved dispute. In addition, Damanhur operates its own schools, produces a daily newspaper, and uses its own currency, the Credit. Over forty businesses, privately owned by Damanhurians, honor the Credit, as well as other local businesses.

Damanhur is comprised of numerous towns in which members reside alongside the local people. In four such towns, members sit on the regular town councils in order to actively engage in policy making decisions which benefit the entire community.

Members live collectively in group houses, and each home strives to embrace a wide age range, the idea being that learning is enhanced when people live in a multi-generational context. The oldest member of the community is eighty-five.

Originally considered outcasts by Italian society, the federation of Damanhur now receives greater validation for improving the quality of life for the entire valley in which it exists. Damanhur has both ecologically and financially regenerated the area which had largely been deserted due to poor economy. Now enterprises flourish, while forests, mountainsides and farmland have been restored. The community also raises its own cattle for meat and grows its vegetables organically.

Members of the Damanhur community are comprised of professionals such as geologists, architects, scientists, and teachers, as well as farmers, decorators, gardeners, tailors, etc. At Damanhur, all tasks are considered worthy and members engage in all of the activities necessary for a society to exist and thrive.

About half of the members work within the Italian mainstream, while the other half work within Damanhurian enterprises such as a textile company which has gained notoriety for its weaving of luxurious clothing on century-old looms. Members pay regular Italian taxes in addition to financially contributing to the community.

But there is even more to Damanhur than all of this...Deep beneath a quiet hillside upon which an occasional meditator may be found sitting in repose, exists what is now referred to as, "The Eighth Wonder of the World," a temple of such profound beauty that all who witness it are immediately in awe of its magnificence-as well as the fact that it is completely hidden underground with no evidence above ground of its existence.

For sixteen years, construction of the "Temple of Mankind" was carried out in secret by no more than thirty workers at a time who entered into the mountain via a small house sitting on the hillside. Built on the juncture of the earth's crust, the temple is larger than a football field. It also contains the largest Tiffany dome in the world, backlit to show off the beauty of the glass.

Damanhur and the temple were created by Oberto Airaudi, a master of the esoteric arts. Witnessing the increasing destruction of the planet's resources as well as the falling apart of communities everywhere, Oberto had a vision to create a civilization based upon a new understanding-where the soul of each person could be nourished so that humanity could evolve in a better way.

Oberto sought to create both an internal and external environment where "there would be no separation between what you thought, your connection with the Divine, and what you did in your every day life," says Esperide Ananas, the international publicist for Damanhur. "He believed that it wasn't enough for people to be spiritual on weekends. If you really wanted to live a spiritually-based life, your life had to become a 24-hour meditation."

Oberto was speaking from personal experience. Born in Balangero, Italy in 1950, from a young age, he displayed exceptional paranormal abilities. Through meditation and other non-traditional forms of study, Oberto taught himself hypnosis, out-of-body travel, how to materialize objects and levitation.

In order to teach and to conduct further studies in paranormal experimentation, in 1975, he founded the Horus Centre in Turin. Members of the Horus Centre became the founding members of the community known as Damanhur, acknowledging Oberto as their spiritual guide.

Although he held the vision for the temple, being in his early twenties, he had neither the money nor the necessary skills to build it. But he reasoned that if cathedrals could be built in the Middle Ages by people who weren't engineers or architects, then he could do it, too. Discovering that no laws existed regarding building beneath a mountain, he decided to go ahead without anyone's permission. Referring to books and research papers, as well as through experimentation with the actual land and rock itself, digging for the temple began.

As a way to raise funds, Oberto first sold encyclopedias, but then decided that becoming an insurance agent would yield higher profits. Setting up an office in Turin, he employed disabled people, none of whom could find jobs elsewhere. At age twenty-three, he was the youngest insurer in Italy. His business experienced an astounding increase of 1500% per year for the first three years, and then a steady increase of nearly 300% each year thereafter. Eventually, Oberto gave the business to a friend, but continued to privately support the funding of the temple by setting up centers for healing in different parts of Italy.

Although the temple was built in secrecy, over the years authorities in the surrounding area developed suspicions that something unusual was happening on the mountainside, but no one could provide proof. Then in a strange twist of fate, in the early '90's, a map of the secret temple fell into the hands of a local judge, courtesy of a former member of Damanhur.

Armed with this crucial piece of evidence, the judge contacted the Italian army to "destroy the terrorist cult under the mountain." While helicopters pivoted overhead, hundreds of armed soldiers descended upon the entranceway ready to storm the temple. But when they pushed through the door and gazed up at the magnificent structure with its mammoth columns, exquisite stained glass, custom mosaics, and monumental size, they stopped in their tracks. Overwhelmed, the judge cried. The troops left.

Instantly, the judge became one of Damanhur's greatest supporters from the outside community. To prevent Italian authorities from ever seizing the temple, he "seized" it himself, so that no one could ever interfere with its existence again.

According to Esperide Ananas, the international publicist for Damanhur, "At this present point in history, numerous living species of plants and animals are disappearing, impoverishing culture and diversity, as well as the precious resources of our world. Damanhur is like the formation of a new cell in opposition to this involution. Our intention is to create a new people with a new culture and civilization-a people based on the exhaltation of differences in which everyone, thanks to their own characteristics, represents a precious piece of the whole mosaic."

Now that the temple is open to the public, Oberto is taking a less active role in the community in order to pursue his lifelong interest in research. For example, under Oberto's guidance, the Damanhurians have revived a form of healing from ancient times known as "selfica," involving the use of alchemical liquids and metals to help people recover from life-threatening conditions. Far from being a "woo-woo" experiment in New Age-ism, Damanhur has attracted the attention of the University of Turin for its groundbreaking work in this field. Local hospitals even refer terminal patients whom they can no longer treat successfully, and results appear to offer promise.

Another area of research at Damanhur involves what is called, the "Music of the Plants." Rather than hooking up a biofeedback sensor to a plant to then threaten it and watch it shrivel in response, the Damanhurians interact with plants in one of the most positive ways imaginable-they hook up several sensors to a plant, then using a MIDI-synthesizer, assign a musical sound to each of the different "blips" that the plant emits. By assigning a sound to each blip, the plant, in effect, makes its own music. The Damanhurians have discovered that each plant has its own song, and once it becomes aware that it is making music, it will improvise with the humans who are interacting with it.

According to Esperide, one reason the community has been so successful is because of its willingness to embrace change. If a system works, it's kept, and if it doesn't, it's discarded. For example, initially the community operated from a communistic perspective where members shared in all possessions. But when the communally shared car broke down and no one wanted to take responsibility for fixing it, it became clear that that particular system wasn't working, so it was discarded.

Based on the idea that nothing lasts forever, the community offers various forms of marriage, including one year renewable contracts as well as other arrangements for those who desire to be lifelong partners.

If a couple desires to have a child, they can make arrangements for the community to financially support their child until age fourteen, provided they make that arrangement before the child is conceived. Children are not acknowledged as members, but are considered to be guests of the community until they are eighteen when they are invited to choose whether or not they wish to become members.

Those who choose to become members change their names to that of an animal and then that of a plant as a way of being reminded of the interconnectedness of all species. Names of members include, "Skipper Butterfly Pineapple," "Clam," and "Gorilla." According to Damanhurian values, life-like one's name-is meant to be fun; no one should not take themselves so seriously.

People now travel from all over the world to experience the wonder which is Damanhur. Arrangements can be made to visit for a three-day or seven-day tour. Festivals, celebrations and workshops are offered throughout the year. For those who are seriously interested in studying Damanhur as a model for community or to conduct research, individual arrangements can be made to stay for longer periods of time.

Visit Damanhur's web site at


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 © Copyright 1998 Randy Peyser.  All Rights Reserved