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Inhabitants of heritage: the dwellers of an Italian Renaissance palace and their problematic eviction in Ferrara, 1900–1940

  • Michele Nani (a1)

Abstract

This article examines the eviction of tenants and squatters from a Renaissance palace in Ferrara, purchased by the Italian state in 1920. The case stands at the crossroads of three processes in European history between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the social and material ‘decadence’ of aristocratic residences, the birth of ‘national heritage’ and preservation policies and the explosion of the ‘housing problem’, following changes in urban demography and social structure. Considering a large range of sources, the article offers new insight into the conflict between different urban bureaucracies and inside them. It also explores the different forms of agency of working-class dwellers against the background of troubled post-war years followed by the advent of fascism.

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*Corresponding author. Email: michele.nani@cnr.it

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I am grateful to the archive staff in Ferrara, Ravenna and Rome and to Ferrara's municipal demographic office for their collaboration; to Daniela Ciccolella, Nando Fasce, Franco Ramella, Andrea Rapini; and, not least, to the anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions and to the journal's staff for the improvement of the text.

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1 ‘Il Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 21 Jan. 1920; Ministero delle Finanze – Ministero dell'Istruzione, Approvazione dell'atto del 20 gennaio 1920, Rome, 29 Feb. 1920, Consiglio di Stato, Sez. I, Adunanza of 19 Sep. 1919, and Ispettore to Sottosegretario, Ferrara, 20 Jan. 1920, all in Archivio Centrale dello Stato (ACS), Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (MPI), Direzione Generale alle Antichità e Belle Arti (DGAABBAA), Divisione I, 1908–24, b. 1259, f. 3. Corrado Ricci (1858–1934), director of antiquity and arts from 1906, initiated the operation: he was one of the key players at the beginnings of Italian heritage politics; see Quintavalle, E., ‘Corrado Ricci: un costruttore di identità alla Minerva’, in Balzani, R. (ed.), I territori del patrimonio (Bologna, 2015), 133–90.

2 The phrase ‘biographie d'un immeuble’ comes from Pinol, J.-L., Les mobilités de la grande ville. Lyon fin XIXe – début XXe (Paris, 1991). The approach draws on the French sociological tradition: Coing, H., Rénovation urbaine et changement social. L’îlot n° 4 (Paris 13e) (Paris, 1966); Boudon, P., Pessac de Le Courbusier (Paris, 1985; orig. edn 1969); Grafmeyer, Y., Habiter Lyon. Milieux et quartiers du centre ville (Lyon–Villeurbanne, 1991). It also refers to the Durkheimian conjugation of space and population in the ‘social morphology’ of Halbwachs, Maurice, Morphologie sociale (Paris, 1970; orig. edn 1938). In France, it has its roots in the nineteenth century – see the examples quoted in Gribaudi, M., Paris, ville ouvrière: une histoire occultée (1789–1848) (Paris, 2014) – and a literary genealogy stretching from É. Zola (L'Assommoir, 1876, and Pot-bouille, 1882) to G. Perec (La vie mode d'emploi, 1978).

3 Borsay, P., ‘Why are houses interesting?’, Urban History, 33 (2007), 338–46; Lawrence, R.J., ‘Integrating architectural, social and housing history’, Urban History, 19 (1992), 3963.

4 For Italian examples, see Gribaudi, M., Mondo operaio, mito operaio. Spazi e percorsi sociali a Torino nel primo Novecento (Turin, 1987); Foot, J., ‘Micro-history of a house: memory and place in a Milanese neighbourhood, 1890–2000’, Urban History, 33 (2007), 431–52; Grandizio, F., ‘La negoziazione dello spazio. Storia di un monastero tra Ottocento e Novecento’, Contesti, 1 (2014), 51108; Laino, G., ‘Nel palazzo delle donne sole. Dinamiche urbane in un condominio napoletano’, Territorio, 11 (2016), 725.

5 On the addition, see L. Finelli, ‘Ferrara. L'addizione di Borso (1450–1471): il modello della città nuova’, and F. Gigli, ‘Ferrara. Corso della Ghiara, dalle vie d'acqua alla città’, in S. Ricci (ed.), La città del Quattrocento, Storia dell'urbanistica, 18 (1998), 81–8 and 89–99. On the palace, see Aprato, G. Piconi, ‘Il palazzo detto di Ludovico il Moro in Ferrara’, Musei ferraresi, 2 (1972), 117–45; Varese, R., ‘Il Palazzo Costabili (detto di Ludovico il Moro)’, in Alfieri, N., Spina. Museo archeologico nazionale di Ferrara (Bologna, 1979), vol. I, I–XXV; Baretta, S., ‘Il Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro’, Bollettino della Ferrariae Decus, 7 (1998), 621. On the division, see Vicentini, C., La collezione Calcagnini d'Este (Rome, 2016), 130–40.

6 Further information on the property is in ACS, MPI, DGAABBAA, Divisione I, 1908–24, b. 1259, f. 3, ssff. ‘Francesco Vallini, Documentazione…Antinori’ and ‘avv. Giovanni Baldi, Documenti…Giovannini’. On the inhabitants, see Archivio Storico Comunale di Ferrara (ASCFe), Ruolo di popolazione 1812, ff. 4730–1 and 4732, Ruolo di popolazione 1836, ff. 4730–1 and 4732–3, Censimento 1853, 676–7.

7 On the commercial activities, see ASCFe, Carteggio amministrativo (CA), XIX, Strade e fabbricati, Strade urbane, b. 74. Further details in Archivio di Stato di Ferrara (ASFe), Camera di commercio, primo versamento, sezz. 2 (Tasse e ruoli, 1815–99) and 13 (Registri…, 1803–1907).

8 J. Burckhardt, Der Cicerone (Basle, 1855), 212.

9 On the occupation, see ASCFe, CA, XIX, Militari e guerre, b. 250.

10 ACS, MPI, DGAABBAA, I, 1860–91, b. 444, f. 220, ssff. 6 and 9; 1898–1907, b. 562, f. 953, sf. 4; ASCFe, CA, XIX, Strade e fabbricati, Strade urbane, b. 74; ASFe, Prefettura, Commissione governativa Antichità e Belle Arti, b. 2, f. 1, ins. 3 and f. 3, ins. 2; Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio, Ravenna (SABAP), b. L4–1962.

11 On the ‘pile of trash’, with ‘a certain number of hens scratching on it all day long’, see ‘Il palazzo di Lodovico il Moro’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 14 May 1904.

12 ‘Il cittadino analfabeta…scrive!’, La Domenica dell'operaio, 20 Oct. 1918; ‘Il laborioso arresto di tre pregiudicati in rivolta’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 23 Feb. 1919; ‘Una violenta rissa’, La Provincia di Ferrara, 30 Jun. 1921.

13 Parisini, R., La campagna e il governo della città: trasformazioni economiche, identità locali e sviluppo urbano a Ferrara, in Parisini, R. (ed.), I piani della città (Bologna, 2003), 147207; L. Spano, Urbanistica e sviluppo edilizio a Ferrara fra le due guerre, in Moretti, W. (ed.), La cultura ferrarese fra le due guerre mondiali (Bologna, 1980), 173–81.

14 On industry in the Giolitti era, see Roveri, A., Dal sindacalismo rivoluzionario al fascismo. Capitalismo agrario e socialismo nel Ferrarese (1870–1920) (Florence, 1972), 135–47. On demographic dynamics, see Nani, M., Migrazioni bassopadane. Un secolo di mobilità residenziale nel Ferrarese (1861–1917) (Palermo, 2016).

15 Nani, M., ‘La “crisi degli alloggi’: conflitti sociali e politiche pubbliche’, in Maria, C. De (ed.), Dalla fine della guerra alla nascita del fascismo. Un punto di vista regionale sulla crisi del primo dopoguerra (Emilia-Romagna, 1918–20) (Bologna, 2020), 173–98.

16 See the sources for Table 1.

17 Only 11 households per 40 persons refer to the remaining five typologies, with different combinations of people born outside the province and people born inside the province.

18 For Maria's death, see the letter of Soprintendente to the master builder Alessandro Baraldi (Bologna, 17 Dec. 1928), in which the former suggested walling up the apartment in order to prevent its occupation (SABAP, b. X5–2224). Maria is not mentioned in the servants’ registry (ASCFe), which only considered people living in the employer's house. The conscription sources are unfortunately not available, due to the damage caused by the earthquake of 2012 to the State Archive in Ferrara (ASFe).

19 For the context, see the first part of Nani, Migrazioni. On the relationship between cities and migrations, although in a different scale and period, see Badino, A. and Ramella, F., ‘La grande migrazione interna: due generazioni dal boom alla crisi’, in Musso, S. (ed.), Storia del lavoro in Italia. Il Novecento, vol. II: 1945–2000. La ricostruzione, il miracolo economico, la globalizzazione (Rome, 2015), 292331.

20 Ramella, F., ‘La città fordista: un crocevia di movimenti’, in Belloni, M.C. (ed.), Torino. Luoghi urbani e spazi sociali (Soveria Mannelli, 2011), 1933. On the importance of not focusing solely on the study of big cities see Authier, J.-Y. and Bidou-Zachariasen, C. (eds.), ‘Ces villes dont on ne parle pas’, Espaces et sociétés, 48 (2017).

21 Laslett, P. and Wall, R. (eds.), Household and Family in Past Time (Cambridge, 1972); Wall, R., Robin, J. and Laslett, P. (eds.), Family Forms in Historic Europe (Cambridge, 1983).

22 For similar cases, see Fabre, D. and Iuso, A. (eds.), Les monuments sont habités (Paris, 2010), and Gravari-Barbas, M. (ed.), Habiter le patrimoine (Rennes, 2005).

23 U. Vasè, ‘In difesa di Ferrara artistica. Il “palazzo di Lodovico il Moro”’, La Domenica dell'operaio, 9 Oct. 1921 (‘lercio asilo di paltonieri wictorhughiani [sic]’); ‘Contro la devastazione del “Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro”’, ‘La Domenica dell'operaio’, 2 Oct. 1921 (a letter sent by the Venetian sculptor Ugo Bellotto to the weekly Catholic magazine). The reference, well known at the time, was to Hugo's first novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris, 1831).

24 One sign of existing tensions was the resignation of an important figure in the cultural organization of Ferrara, Giuseppe Agnelli, as honorary inspector of monuments and president of the provincial commission for preservation (see Intendente di Finanza to Prefetto, Ferrara, 8 Mar. 1920, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998) and the denunciation of Ugo Ojetti in the principal national newspaper (‘La salvezza e la rovina del Palazzo di Lodovico il Moro’, Corriere della sera, 2 Jun. 1920).

25 See ‘Italie’, in Les problèmes du logement en Europe depuis la guerre (Geneva, 1924), 200–34, and Bortolotti, L., Storia della politica edilizia in Italia (Rome, 1978).

26 Unfortunately, there are no documents in the central archives (ACS, Ministero dell'Interno (MI), Direzione Generale Amministrazione Civile, Divisione Affari Provinciali e Comunali, 1922–24, cat. 15.100.73), except for several on the activity of the two commissioners, Bordignon and Monti, see ASFe, PG, b. 24, ff. 978–95.

27 Among the possible sites were the former convents of San Vito, Sant'Apollinare, San Girolamo, San Giovanni and San Paolo, already designated to war refugees or to the local lower classes.

28 The main actors in the palazzone affair were different branches of the state. Ruled by ‘clerical-moderate’ governments, then by ‘royal commissioners’ sent by Rome, Ferrara's administration chose to take a marginal role in cultural policies, in part for budgetary reasons. Mortara barracks were a former convent; in the 1830s, under the state of the church it was a shelter for poor families and for flood victims (ASCFe, CA, XIX, Fondi comunali, b. 28bis).

29 ‘Lo sgombero del Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro’, La Provincia di Ferrara, 30 Jul. 1921; Prefetto to Regio Commissario del Comune, 5 Aug. 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998; Ispettore ai Monumenti to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 17 Aug. 1921, in SABAP, b. N5–2164; ‘Come si pensa di risolvere la questione edilizia a Ferrara’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 12 Sep. 1921; ‘Proteste di inquilini’, La Provincia di Ferrara, 15 Sep. 1921.

30 Corner, P., Fascism in Ferrara, 1915–1925 (Oxford, 1975). Little consideration has been given to struggles over housing despite their importance in the social conflict and in the origins of fascism. The mobilizations in Ferrara in 1919 (see the local press and ACS, MI, Direzione Generale Pubblica Sicurezza, 1919, b. 66, f. ‘C1 – Ferrara’, sf. ‘Agitazione inquilini sfrattati’) and the polemics around a general inquiry into housing by the socialist administration in December 1920 (‘Un editto croato dell'amministrazione comunale socialista’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 16 Dec. 1920; ‘Il congresso degli amministratori socialisti’, La Scintilla, 8 Jan. 1921) both surely played a role in the experience of the tenants of Palazzo Costabili.

31 ‘I fascisti in XX Settembre’, La Provincia di Ferrara, 22 Jul. 1921; ‘Revolverate a un fascista’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 23 Nov. 1921; Podestà to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 16 Nov. 1928 and reply, Bologna, 22 Nov. 1928, Soprintendente to Ispettore, Bologna, 22 Nov. 1928, Podestà to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 23 Mar. 1929 and Soprintendente to Ispettore, Bologna, 1 Apr. 1929, in SABAP, b. X5–2224.

32 ‘Una scenata tra donne nel Palazzone della Sussistenza’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 30 Aug. 1920 (this article alerted the Intendente di Finanza: see his letter to Prefetto, Ferrara, 1 Sep. 1920, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998); Commissione provinciale per la conservazione dei monumenti…, Processo verbale della Seduta 27 gennaio 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998.

33 For the stone-throwing, see ‘Voci e proteste del pubblico’, La Provincia di Ferrara, 12 Mar. 1920, and ‘Relazione del R. Ispettore onorario circondariale [Arturo Giglioli] sullo stato presente del Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro e provvedimenti’, in Commissione provinciale per la conservazione dei monumenti…, Processo verbale della Seduta 27 gennaio 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998. A few days after the state purchase, a 12-year-old boy living in the palace was arrested for helping a peer pickpocket a woman on the main square of the city: ‘Due giovani borseggiatori in disgrazia’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 31 Jan. 1920. For further episodes during the war, see Gazzetta di Ferrara, 22 May 1918, and La Provincia di Ferrara, 2–3 Jul. 1918.

34 Soprintendente to Prefetto, Ravenna, 16 May 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164; Prefetto to Intendente di Finanza, Ferrara, 9 Mar. 1920, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998.

35 Ispettore to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 5 and 12 Mar. and 4 Apr. 1921, in SABAP, b. N5–2164; Soprintendente to Prefetto, Ravenna, 11 Mar. 1921, Prefetto to Ingegnere capo del Genio Civile, Ferrara, 14 Mar. 1921 and reply, Ferrara, 11 Apr. 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998.

36 A copy of the injunction by the Ferrara municipality (20 Apr. 1921) is attached to the handwritten minutes of the meeting held on 19 Apr. 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998.

37 Atti parlamentari. Camera dei Deputati, XXVI, Prima sessione, Discussioni, 28 Nov. 1921, Allegato: Risposte scritte ad interrogazioni, 382*; Prefetto to Ministro, 27 Nov. 1921, in ASFe, PG, b. 25, f. 998; ‘Verrà restaurato il Palazzo di Lodovico il Moro?’, Gazzetta di Ferrara, 2 Dec. 1921; Ecchia to Annoni, Ravenna, 9 Dec. 1921, in SABAP, N5–2164; Soprintendente to Direzione, [Ravenna], 31 Jan. 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164. During this period, the superintendent functions were carried out by Costantino Ecchia.

38 Ispettore to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 14 Dec. 1921, and Soprintendente to Direzione, [Ravenna], 31 Jan. 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164. At the end of 1922, the town commissioner Masi reported that he had placed 80 families in Via Mortara 70 (ASCFe, Atti del consiglio comunale, 1922–23, 5): the evicted from Palazzo Costabili therefore contributed to the birth of the so-called Settanta (seventy, the street number), a place that for more than 40 years has been identified with misery, vice and crime by the local population (see www.listonemag.it/2016/06/16/ferrara-amarcord-il-tugurio-di-mortara-70-rifugio-degli-ultimi/, accessed 11 Oct. 2018, in which there are interventions by former tenants rejecting that labelling). There are at least three references to ‘Via Mortara's big palace’ in Bassani's work: in one of his first short stories (1940), the main character Lida Mantovani had been living there with his Jewish boyfriend after World War II; in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962), Bassani wrote about the ‘hardened, savage, insufferable people’ who occupied it after World War II; there is also a brief reference to the ‘big palace’ in The Heron (1969). See Bassani, G., Opere (Milan, 2001), 10 and 40–1, 327, 722.

39 ‘Verbale di presa di possesso da parte del Demanio dello Stato del Palazzo di Lodovico il Moro’, Ferrara, 25 Jan. 1922, SABAP, b. R-248; lists filled by the local Office for the State Property and by Soprintendenza during 1922 (attached to Soprintendente to Ricevitore demaniale, Bologna, 18 Aug. 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164) and in Mar. 1923 (attached to Soprintendente to Intendente, Bologna, 26 Mar. 1923, in SABAP, b. X5–2225). I am grateful to Alberto Lodi (Register Office of Ferrara's Municipality) for letting me know the residence of the heads of household after 1921.

40 Ricevitore demaniale to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 23 Mar. 1922 (with notes of Soprintendente), Ispettore to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 3 May 1922, and Soprintendente to Prefetto, Ravenna, 16 May 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164.

41 Soprintendente to Ispettore, Bologna, 18 May 1922, in SABAP, b. N5–2164; Soprintendente to Ricevitore, Bologna, 24 May 1923, in SABAP, b. X5–2225.

42 Initially, the shared purpose was to turn the palace into the historical archive of Legazione (the large Papal State administrative unit around Ferrara): the first mention I found of this plan is the letter from Soprintendente to Giuseppe Agnelli, Bologna, 5 Aug. 1924, in SABAP, b. X5–2225; after a dispute on financing between the province and the state, the project was abandoned in 1927.

43 Letters between Intendente and Soprintendente, 4 and 6 May and 3 Jul. 1926, in SABAP, b. X5–2225; R. B.[eretta], ‘Un'opera d'arte dimenticata. Il Palazzo di Lodovico il Moro’ and ‘Ferrara Artistica. Il Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro’, Corriere padano, 20 Aug. and 6 Oct. 1927. See also the violent attack by m. c.[alura], ‘Compianto delle antichità di Ferrara. Una reggia, un pozzo e dei burocrati’, Corriere padano, 5 Feb. 1928, and R. Beretta, ‘Il palazzone’, Corriere padano, 9 Jun. 1928.

44 ‘Le Case Popolari costruite dal Comune di Ferrara per i “senza tetto”’, Bollettino statistico del Comune di Ferrara, 56 (1929), 1, XI–XIX. For an interpretation of the episode in terms of ‘cultural needs’ and attention to the ‘popular classes’, see Pavan, I., Il podestà ebreo. La storia di Renzo Ravenna tra fascismo e leggi razziali (Rome and Bari, 2006), 8991 (these pages inspired my research).

45 Intendente to Demanio and Soprintendente and Intendente to Podestà and Soprintendente, Ferrara, 16 Mar. 1929, Soprintendente to Podestà, Bologna, 20 Mar. 1929, and Intendente to Soprintendente, Ferrara, 29 Jan. 1930, in SABAP, b. X5–2224.

46 For a detailed analysis of the geography of expulsions, see Nani, M., ‘Expelled from the heritage: the urban trajectories of the tenants of Palazzo Costabili (Ferrara, 1921–1940)’, in Canepari, E. and Crisci, M. (eds.), Moving in Town (Rome, 2019), 101–15.

47 Zunino, P.G., L'ideologia del fascismo (Bologna, 1985); Rochat, G., Italo Balbo (Turin, 1986), 181–4; Pavan, Podestà, 79–96.

48 ‘Un furto nel Palazzo di Lodovico il Moro’, Corriere padano, 22 Oct. 1935. For the history of the actual Museo Archeologico Nazionale, see Andreoli, A., ‘Un museo per Spina. Cronistoria di un'istituzione culturale’, in Storia di Ferrara, vol. II: Spina tra archeologia e storia (Ferrara, 2004), 329–66.

I am grateful to the archive staff in Ferrara, Ravenna and Rome and to Ferrara's municipal demographic office for their collaboration; to Daniela Ciccolella, Nando Fasce, Franco Ramella, Andrea Rapini; and, not least, to the anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions and to the journal's staff for the improvement of the text.

Inhabitants of heritage: the dwellers of an Italian Renaissance palace and their problematic eviction in Ferrara, 1900–1940

  • Michele Nani (a1)

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