We all know what an Italian town looks like, don´t we? Perched on mountain tops. Old, medieval stones. A piazza with the duomo and the gelateria, tourists with books by Frances Mayes or Rich Steve in their left hand, cameras in their right and old men watching life. Small shops, many of them with artisans selling goods for the tourists. A bakery. A butcher. Car parked on a square the size of a matchbox. I have been to many, and I love them.
Together with friends we were enjoying coffee and dolces on the outskirts of one of my beloved Italian towns, Terracina, discussing our plans for the coming days. I had a long list of things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see. Naples, Sermoneta, the medieval garden of Ninfa........."wait a minute", my friend stopped me, starting to tell the history of the land where we were sitting. "You see this canal?" The water runs smoothly here now, and the land is dry. Did you know that all this area, the Agro Pontino, the Pontine Marshes, used to be a complete marshland. It was almost impossible for people to live here because of the mosquitos, because of malaria. Over the years many people tried to dry the land, Benito Mussolini was, according to the tales, the one who succeeded. Well, now I know this is not completely true, but more of that later. Let me take you to Sabaudia, and I´ll show you something."
A few days later, after all these lovely places which had been on my list, we found ourselves driving into Sabaudio, the costal town which was built by Mussolini in 1933 in only 253 days.
If I had come to this town by myself, by chance, I am sure I would have found it kind of boring. Where is the twon center? Is there any thing of interest here? Why are there no old buildings? As it was now, we had used the last hour, in the car, to listen to my friend sharing her knowledge about the town. And her knowledge was much better than what I have read in any guidebook. As a matter of fact, my friend is an architect, and she had studied Sabaudia and other "Ideal Cities" with special interest a few years previous.
What you first see when you come to Sabaudia is the towner of the municipality house. This is the highest tower in the town, the church tower comes second only, and it is from the municipality tower the time hours are rung. Italy was growing in the 1930ies, especially the big cities. Mussolini fought agains this urban life and had the Pontine Marshes drained by his order. Then he built several towns, to demonstrate the fascists regime´s superiority, and to provide housing for the increasing urban population. People, especially from the poor areas in northern Italy, were forced to move south, and it is said that there are architectural element from the north to make the people less homesick. Like the stripes in the stone structures of the church.
To design Sabaudia, Mussolini sponsored a competition which was won by the architects Gino Cancellotti, Eugenio Montuori, Luigi Piccinato and Alfredo Scalpelli. The builting of the town started on 5th of August 1933 and was finished 253 days later.
While walking around, in this different city, with open squares and green parks, with a Roman grid road layout and rationalist architecture, a blue building caught my interest. Italian Ways have a much brighter photos of the building than I have, and they also tell the history of this building.
I wanted to sit down there and then, on the post office blue tiled steps and write a travel letter.
Michael Z. Wise has a very interesting article about Sabaudia in Guernica.
Today Sabaudia is a popular holiday restort, and tourism is the town´s main industry.
An afternoon in Sabaudia taught me something new about Italy, about Italian towns, well, acvtually about towns in general. Next time I go to Italy I will look at the places I visit with new eyes.
You can read more about the canal project and the Pontine Marches in Antonio Pennacchi´s book Canal Mussolini