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TURIN'S HISTORYas portrayed by its commemorative plaques
Part 5 of 5: The 20th Century
Continued from part 4
The outbreak of World War I was actually a great boon for Turin's industry, especially its motor manufacturers. Fiat expanded so dramatically that its workforce numbers rose from 4.00 in 1914 to 40.000 in 1918. This indeed were the years in which Fiat built its Lingotto factory complex, one of the greatest achievements of early twentieth century industrial architecture.
The war years produced a fierce disagreement between interventionists and anti-interventionists. One of the many engaged in the struggle to defend (as the plaque in the street named after him puts it) national values against foreign domination was Cesare Battisti. Another plaque in the Palazzo Civico preserve in marble the Victory Announcement signed by Armando Diaz, commander of the Italian armed forces.
In the early decades of this century Turin nourished a genuine coterie of thinkers and intellectuals. These were the people who laid the theoretical foundation for the nascent trade unions and workers 'movements'. There was Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the newspapers "Ordine Nuovo" and "l'Unità" whose plaque in Piazza Carlina describes him as 'leader for liberty and socialism, who forged the Italian Communist Party'. Plaque commemorates Piero Gobetti, a name of ten linked with Gramsci's, and a man whose short life and literary career was dedicated to opposition to the emerging Fascist movement.
The Turin of the period was also, however, the crepuscular city of lyric poets like Guido Gozzano who 'sang the city of Turin in the loving sweetness of his verse'. Turin was also the home of musicians who made a significant mark. Alfredo Casella, for example, was one of the first in Italy to recognise the need for a revival in instrumental music.
An often contradictory symbol of political commitment and existential despair was provided by Cesare Pavese, a man who has come to epitomise Turin in the post-Gobetti period but his also recognise as one of the 20th century's most important Italian writers.
Once the Fascist dictatorship came to power it took action against its opponents, including 'la Stampa', the newspaper created by Alfredo Frassati, which was silenced for many years. This were not easy years and there were many victims. Plaque appears in the square that itself commemorates a murderous attack by a band of Fascist thugs on December 18,1922. And at Porta Nuova Station we find a plaque that reminds whose of those who were the ported in sealed trains to the Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
Turin was one of the most anti-fascist cities in Italy but it was not until war actually broke out that the Resistance movement became properly organised, continuing the struggle up to the moment of liberation. On the first anniversary of that liberation the civic authorities reminded the people of Turin why the city had been given Italy's most honoured medal: 'for 19 months it held out against oppression, indifferent to blandishments and threats alike.
The Second World War left our city in desperate straits, struggling against hunger, poverty, unemployment and the devastating effects of bombing. In the arduous task of reconstruction it was Fiat that directed the economy of the city and transformed it into the working capital of the nation.
From the Fifties on, Turin's engineering industry went from strength to strength, both in the national and the international market. The centenary of Italy's unification in 1961 offered an opportunity to celebrate the economic boom in the complex now known as Italia 61, which was constructed on the left bank of the River Po and includes such architectural masterpieces as Pier luigi Nervi's Palazzo del lavoro and the Palazzo a Vela created by Annibale and Giorgio Rigotti. Industrial expansion brought massive immigration from the South and city spread like an oil slick in an utterly unplanned fashion. Wall districts emerged like the Falchera, lucento and le Vallette quarters which might have been self sufficient new towns but remained no more than dormitories for many years.
The Seventies were Italy's Dark Ages of extreme left and right wing subversion and terrorism. After a long period of silence in which nothing of note appeared to have happened a new series of plaques emerged to commemorate the victims of the so-called 'bullet years'. One of them is dedicated to the State Procurator, Bruno Caccia , ambushed and killed in 1983, a reminder of Turin's experience of violence at the hands of organised crime.
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