photo © Louise Shapcott
The Industrial Development of Atina and the Val Di Comino
In 1734 the Bourbon King Charles VII was crowned King of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. In 1759 he passed the title to his son who became King Ferdinand IV. In 1798 King Ferdinand ordered the construction of an iron works in the district of Canneto in the Val di Comino. However ten years later the works were forced to close when the area was invaded by Napoleon’s troops and for a time came under French rule. This saw the abolishment of the feudal system. However Napoleon’s rule was fleeting as in 1814 he was defeated. The Southern half of Italy then became the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies and was the largest of the states of Italy prior to its unification.
There followed a period of further industrial development within the Val di Comino with Atina as its centre pin. A new paved road, known as the Via Sferracavalli, was built and inaugurated in 1824 and the cemetery was established in 1849. As the town of Atina continued to grow in size it expanded along the routes of Via San Nicola and the Via Sferracavalli.
The local economy of the inhabitants of Atina was traditionally based on agriculture. However, the population grew steadily until there was not enough work or food to sustain many of the poorer families. Following the Italian revolution and the Unification of Italy there was a wave of emigration, as many poor peasants left their homeland in search of a better life overseas. They sought to build new lives in distant destinations such as America, South America, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany.
The Cartiera or Paper Factory
A branch of the Visocchi family greatly influenced the economic development of Atina. Pasquale Visocchi (1817 – 1908) planned a project to construct a paper factory, la cartiera, that could provide work for many of the local people of Atina. The factory was built on the banks of the River Melfa on the site of an existing mill with a waterfall that could power engines. The construction work quickly made progress and finally the opening of the factory was celebrated on the 8th May 1845 with a grand inauguration ceremony. Pasquale Visocchi and his brothers Francescantonio, Giacinto and Alfonso went on to become experts in the art of paper manufacture.
The Ironworks or Ferriera
In 1850 Ferdinand II commissioned a new Iron Works – la Ferriera, to be built in the hamlet of Rosanisco, on the right bank of the River Melfa. Work commenced in 1855 and the works opened in 1858. It soon began smelting iron ore in its blast furnace and producing good quality cast iron. It became known locally as la Mangona. Production went well until the fall of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies and the dawning of the Unification of Italy. Therefore the iron works was forced to close down.
The Visocchi Family
Pasquale Visocchi, as well as being an industrialist, was a notable agronomist. He experimented in producing new wines, by planting vines of French grape varieties. Before long the vineyards began to yield excellent results and the Stabilimento Enologico Fratelli Visocchi was founded in 1868. See Atina Cabernet DOC
The philanthropic Visocchi family had been much involved in improving the working and living conditions of the local people of Atina. The first public school was opened in 1857, at the family’s expense. Following the tragic death of their daughter Beatrice in childbirth, Alfonso and his wife dedicated themselves to establishing a Nursery School for the children of Atina aged between 4 and 7 years old. It was named the Asilo Infantile Beatrice.
Angelina and Alfonso Visocchi also created a recreational club where children could also practice gymnastics and go on educational outings and a soup kitchen to feed the poor. They also provided for the renovation of the hospital which became the emergency hospital of the Val di Comino. Alfonso Visocchi also founded the Banca Popolare Cooperativa di Atina in 1881.
An agricultural school was established to educate local country folk of advancements in agricultural techniques.
In 1929 Giuseppe Visocchi opened a new elementary school for the children of Atina. He also set up a free school of drawing and design to educate young people in arts and crafts.
Several members of the Visocchi family took up roles in public administration and some were elected as mayors of Atina and lead active lives in politics.
Alfonso Visocchi (1831 – 1909) became a Deputy and a Senator in the Italian Government.
Archille Visocchi (1863 – 1945) became a Deputy, a Senator and a Minister in the Italian Government. He campaigned for improved conditions for the peasants in the southern provinces of Italy and Sicily.
In 1898 electric current was introduced at the paper factory powered by a hydro-electric plant of Castellone near Picinisco. This allowed the use of new machinery and the recruitment of an increasing number of skilled workers. An electric power station was built in Atina in 1906, the town was one of the first in the area to have electricity.
On the 13 January 1915 there was a truly devastating earthquake that struck much of Ciociaria, its epicentre being sited in Avezzano in the Abruzzo region. It caused catastrophic damage to this area and in all over 30,000 people lost their lives.
Note – I hope to be adding more information about the interesting Visocchi family, the Cartiera and Industrial development in the Val di Comino soon.
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