The central area of Pontinia (Pontine Marshes) in construction, 1939. Source: Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, n. cat. 45948 (Public domain).



The land reclamation schemes carried out under Fascist rule (1922-1943) replaced malaria-ridden marshlands and plains with neatly designed productive landscapes, interwoven by a dense network of roads, drainage and irrigation canals. Nearly 150 new settlements were founded – hamlets, villages, small and mid-size towns – throughout Italy (Pontine Marshes; Sardinia; Istria; Apulia).

Their tidy geometric layout reflected the new Fascist values, but their townscape featured squares and towers, churches and town-halls which evoked the sense of community embodied by the medieval city. A new system of public facilities (People’s houses, Case del Fascio, Town halls, Working Men’s Clubs…) promoted new behaviours, and their bold modernist architecture symbolized the conquest of the new land, ie. the ‘epics’ of inner colonization.

Fascist Agricultural Development and Colonization Schemes resettled WWI veterans as smallholders, to consolidate the regime’s popular support, but also to establish an autarchic economy. The interwar debates around Agricultural Development and Colonization Policies and Schemes continued after WWII within the frame of the Marshall plan, through the Italian Christian-democratic State’s intervention and ambitious land reform laws.

Within MODSCAPES, two Italian Modernist Rural Landscape case-studies are examined: the Pontine Marshes, and the Apulian tableland. The first was basically realized from scratch, the latter insisted on an existing and well established settlement system. The Italian case-studies stand among the most documented and advanced experiments, widely publicized and observed by an international audience at the time of its implementation, although scholars are still tracing back undocumented settlements.

The Pontine Marshes, as the Fascist pilot experiment, serves as a common case-study for 3 MODSCAPES teams, and as a testing ground for the project’s methodology.

Specific research questions still to be addressed relate to:

  1. the relevance highlighted by literature and scholars across time of the Pontine Marshes’ architectural expressions and urban layouts in shaping new identities and inclusive communities;
  2. the narratives of memory and identity developed by local communities, a renown reservoir of nostalgic nationalists, and their availability to debate their place in the building of European identity;
  3. the topicality of the Fascist often praised environmentally-aware planning attitude (the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes entailed the establishment of one of the fist Italian national parks, the Parco Nazionale del Circeo) in the face of present-day sustainable development challenges.

In the Apulian tableland, the Capitanata area (near Foggia) was, after WWI, a latifundia area with many unemployed day labourers. The Fascist plans resettled them as sharecroppers on 14.000 ha of reclaimed land, radically transforming the landscape structure: the existing radiant pattern of settlement changed into a new network-like one. This case study questions the coincidence between Fascist adcs and the Regime’s strategic views on the Balkans across the Adriatic, when Apulia was considered as the ‘gate’ to the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, to what extent did Fascist adcs contribute to foster the Apulian peculiar settlement pattern, which is today considered a model of sustainable urbanization, with its dispersed yet dense networks of villages and small towns ideally blending the advantages of town and countryside (Viganò, 2001)?

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