Perugia: The Italian Town Haunted by Amanda Knox

The medieval city of Perugia is known for its chocolate, its well-respected universities, and for hosting one of the world’s premier Jazz festivals. But in the United States and Great Britain, this city of ancient, winding streets filled with fortress-like stone dwellings is inextricably linked to Amanda Knox, the American college student who was convicted and then acquitted of murdering Meredith Kercher.

The trials attracted a tsunami of reporters from around the world to this ancient Umbrian hill town and exposed a decadent sex, drugs and party subculture that has existed amongst the student population here for a long time. Various news reports indicated that the Knox-Kercher case has scared away British and American tourists and students but according to some in Perugia, the overall effect on tourism here may not be as grim as one might think.

Tourism officials here didn’t want to make an official comment on the effect of the Knox case on tourism in Perugia, but hotel managers and a local who rents apartments to tourists here told me that the publicity surrounding the case has brought more Italian tourists to Perugia, not less.

“Italians have a curiosity to come here and see where the murder took place,” said the apartment manager, who asked that I refrain from publishing his name. “They’re also visiting the island of Giglio to see where the Costa Concordia crashed. People have a fascination with these things.”The apartment manager and others here have told me that locals are nearly unanimous in their belief that Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffeale Sollicito, who no longer lives here, are guilty. The fact that Knox has received a book deal that could be worth close to $4 million has only hardened attitudes towards her here. (Kercher’s father is also set to release his own book) Sollicito reportedly finished a computer science degree in prison and, according to ABC News, recently had job interviews in the U.S.

Criticism of the Italian judicial proceedings, which were widely viewed in the U.S. as a travesty of justice, damaged national pride in Italy and created ill will towards Knox’s defenders in the U.S. I followed the trials and was relieved when Knox was acquitted on appeal because I don’t think there was anywhere near enough evidence to convict her of murder. I came to Perguia to see the city’s historical treasures but couldn’t resist taking a walk out to the house where Meredith Kercher was murdered. (see top photo)

As I arrived with my family in tow, a young Bangladeshi couple that now lives in the home were on their way out. They were accompanied by some relatives who were visiting from Great Britain who translated for us. The young man, whose name was Mohammed, just moved into the home four months ago, after emigrating from Bangladesh. The landlord never mentioned that a gruesome murder took place in the home but he wondered why tourists come by to photograph the place.

Initially, Mohammed asked me to take his photo and include it in this story, but I bumped into him later that evening- he sells novelty balloons on Corso Vanucci in the center of town- and he asked me to delete the photos of him from my camera.

The house is located behind an imposing fence on a busy street, very close to the University where Knox was a student. It’s considered a run-down area in Perugia but there is a very nice view of the surrounding countryside behind the home. I found no evidence of any memorial for Kercher, which is a shame.

After looking around the place for a few minutes, I felt like an intruder, even though Mohammed and his relatives were very friendly and seemed to want to ask us about the Knox case, which they had only a vague awareness of. The infamous house has new tenants and life goes on, but Perugia will never be the same.

For her part, Knox has stated that she still loves Perugia and would like to return to Italy, though it’s not likely she’ll do that anytime soon, given the fact that Italian prosecutors have appealed her acquittal. Her parents face defamation charges for comments they made about alleged mistreatment of their daughter by Perugia police officers and Knox is reportedly planning to testify via videoconference. For Perugia, there is no end in sight to the Knox case notoriety.