Beginning in 1928 with Mussolinia in western Sardinia, the Fascist government created at least twelve new towns in Italy, along with roughly sixty smaller villages or service centres (borghi); several areas of newly developed farmland; and a few mining and industrial centres.2 Although they have attracted less scholarly attention than other architectural and urban developments in interwar Italy, there is a considerable literature on these settlement programmes.3 By and large, though, this literature has addressed only two aspects of the settlements: architecture and planning in the town centres, and Italy’s internal migrations during the Fascist era (1922-1943).4 In contrast, the present chapter focuses on one of the programmes’ humblest elements: the houses that were provided for farmers, far from the town centres. The designs for these farmsteads (unlike those for housing in the industrial and mining towns) were rhetorically saturated with allusions to traditions of rural life, as were the social roles – citizen, farmer, daughter, son, wife, husband, mother, father, etc – advocated by the settlement programmes, and implemented under the watchful tutelage of administrators and other government personnel. The Italian Fascist new towns offer an unusually transparent instance of the simultaneous naming and dismantling of tradition that has characterized onslaughts of modernity. In general, scholars, politicians, and administrators in Fascist Italy identifi ed, manipulated, and reinvented traditions within various state programmes intended to rationalize and centralize Italian institutions – i.e., to modernize and detraditionalize how Italians lived.5 Overall, such programmes (including the new towns) aimed to increase the population’s economic productivity and political loyalty to the state, and this entailed reducing Italians’ ties to the old aristocratic order and to their regional identifi cations

while increasing their belief in (or at least their surrender to) the ‘nation’ and its Prime Minister and dictator, Mussolini. Paradoxically, the administration’s repetitive invocations of tradition directly served new (i.e., non-traditional) political, social, spatial, and economic programmes to redirect historically entrenched (i.e., traditional) socio-economic and political relations in the lives of rural Italians. For instance, settlers in the new towns had to demonstrate allegiance as they had done ‘traditionally’, but rather than remaining visibly loyal to the old landowning classes, they had to direct these sentiments to the state and the organizations in charge of their settlements.6 Thus, at the same time that the government proactively altered Italian economic and political structures, it retained some of the outer, so-called ‘traditional’, indices of civic and social life that had been associated with these structures in the past – in effect, making the profound changes under way more opaque. This is especially evident in the new towns, where the de-traditionalizations imposed by the regime were routinely disguised as ‘returns’ to ‘tradition’. To some slight extent, scholars have already deciphered architectural designs in the new town centres with respect to the designs’ explicit quotations of ‘traditional’ elements in the service of modernist agendas. But even more than the town centres’ civic buildings, it was the newly-settled farmers’ houses which embodied Fascist designs for the physical environments of Italians who had uprooted themselves from their various regions of origin.7 The houses seemed ‘traditional’, and yet, did not allude unambiguously to a particular ‘tradition’ – i.e., to a single Italian region. Just as settlers had to overcome differences in dialect and social-cultural patterns in order to live among their neighbours, the apparently ‘traditional’ qualities conveyed by the new house designs were, in fact, part of a generic neo-vernacular architecture that ultimately attenuated the specifi cities of various Italian (regional) ‘traditions’ (Figures 8.1 and 8.2). In addition, the self-conscious ‘traditional’ appearance of the houses belied the ways in which they provided tangible vehicles for the state’s break with past patterns of Italian agrarian life, and facilitated new tactics of invasiveness into the daily lives of individuals. The Fascist apparatus penetrated the Italian private sphere in many ways. In urban settings, Italians were almost constantly exposed to propaganda – not only in the press,

8.1 1930s settlement programme farmhouse, Apulia region

but also in portraits and quotations of Mussolini on town walls, and in the amplifi ed sound of Mussolini’s speeches in the streets. In their houses and apartments, though, they could count on some measure of privacy, especially if they were judicious in their choices of friends and discreet in front of their children. Meanwhile, for many rural dwellers, Italy’s political upheavals were remote, and it took some time for Fascism’s implications to become clear. The resettlement organizations (and by extension, the government), however, shaped the domestic sphere in the new towns even before settlers took possession of their houses. Settlers encountered the state and its politics at home, even before reaching the street, the piazza, the school, or the town hall. In the farmers’ houses in particular, the number and placement of designated sleeping areas implemented the administrators’ goal of controlling ‘promiscuity’, i.e., excessive contact, between the sexes and between humans and livestock. In other words, farmers in the new settlements were both more intimately and more inescapably exposed to the regime’s goals than most other Italians. Rather than focusing on the new towns’ architectural modernism, this chapter views them as particularly legible sites of the Italian Fascist government’s quest for modernity, with respect to themes of hygiene, political control, and uniformity.8 The ‘traditions’ which planners relied on for the designs of the new towns were as contrived as the new Italian ‘modern’ that was staged there – which is why both terms bear quotation marks throughout most of this chapter. Not that these ‘traditions’ had no basis in the Italian past; but their status as ‘traditions’ was abrupt: their ‘traditionality’ was only pronounced in conjunction (and contrast) with the modernity that the Italian government was imagining and proclaiming at the same time. As we shall see below, the reconfi guration of ‘traditional’ life in appearance was an integral part of the government’s efforts to put an end to pre-Fascist (‘traditional’) civic life.