Update: thanks to all those who have taken the trouble to point out that the language on the road signs on the way to Torviscosa is Friulian.
It’s raining. It’s cold and grey, my incipient Raynaud’s phenomenon is about to start up again when out beagling. Happy days.
Last year we took a very late summer holiday, and around this time found ourselves in Udine, where as a result of happenstance in the tourist office we spent a wonderful afternoon in Torviscosa. Let’s do that again!
Udine, a town of 100,000 souls in the north eastern corner of Italy, is 25 miles from the Slovenian border and surrounded by mountains. The last stop on the night train from Venice to Munich, Udine is a place to enjoy the good life, boasting a compact Venetian town centre inside a rather more prosaic ring road. Our hotel consisted of an old palazzo plus a modern extension set in an overgrown garden, offering a spectacular breakfast cum brunch. Fully replete we took in the Piazza Liberta, the castle, a gallery in the stil Liberty fish market, the cathedral and a church or two, but then my eye was caught by a leaflet about Torviscosa, a planned town from the 1930s…
The lady in the tourist office burrowed in her backroom to find us an English booklet dating from 2010 entitled Autarchic geometry in the southern Friuli, written in somewhat idiosyncratic English. Armed with a tear off map from the blotter on her desk, easily folded into a pocket size, we set off for the bus station and a leisurely round-the-houses’ journey 20 miles south.
Torviscosa (or Tor; formerly Torre di Zuino) dates back to the 13th century, becoming a model town for viscose production in the 1930s, and is one of a number of planned towns dedicated to a single industry built during the Fascist era. The further the bus drove out of the city centre the more Slav things became, with road signs in
Slovenian Friulano as well as Italian, although the campaniles punctuating the horizon made it clear we were still in the land of the Venetians. Arriving during siesta time, we lunched with a group of old men playing draughts in the 1970s style cafe.
The town’s museum is only open on weekends, but from our booklet we managed to glean the basics. Situated on flat marshland around the castle of the Counts Savorgnan (destroyed during the retirement of Caporetto in 1917), the area was settled by farmers (of rice, tobacco, wheat and mulberry trees), shepherds and fishermen. In 1929 SNIA Viscosa, an Italian textile company, made an alliance with il fascisti to produce rayon and cellulose, and spotted the potential of the area around Tor. With the land drained and fields relaid according to strict rules the landscape changed entirely. Satellite photos reveal the contrast between Torviscosa’s regular rectangular fields and the rather less ordered surrounding countryside.
The town itself was designed by architect Guiseppe De Min, who based its construction on rows and symmetries represented in concrete, retaining though an 18th century church, a mill and several farmhouses, as well as a tobacco drying house. In October 1937 the construction of the factory started, with the town inaugurated on 21 September 1938 by Mussolini. Factory head Franco Marinotti commissioned the founder of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, to write Il poema di Torre Viscosa, celebrating the exploits of industry and victories of modernism on the Friulian plain in verse.
At the entrance to the factory complex stand two statues by Leone Lodi representing agriculture and industry. A 1km central axis leads to two tall towers, higher than the town hall, topped by an iron blade representing the Fascist littorio fasces. Piazzale Franco Marinotti, formerly Piazza Autarchia, houses the museum, formerly a chemical research centre built from 1960-62, a tower with viewing platform and a 1971 monument to Marinotti. On the other side of the road is the esedra, a half octagon shaped space between factory and town with a theatre and refreshment room.
The ‘deity of geometry’ continues in the town centre, made up of a central trapezium with the church, the green and a school on one side of the via Tagliamento and a swimming pool and the tower building of the worker’s canteen on the other. At the top of the trapezium is the Piazza del Popolo, containing the town hall and other public buildings, in a rather different architectural style from the red brick factory buildings. Here there are plastered surfaces with arcades, curves and arches recalling ancient Roman art. The square is closed off by buildings with shops on the ground floor and flat for employees on the first floor.
To the north is another area with sporting facilities along the viale Villa, ending with villas built for the factory managers. Houses for the workers are found to the south, defined by hierarchy – colombaie laid out in an east-west direction, a row of five blocks with two floors featuring arches, balconies and other features aimed at recreating the rural house in the town, and 12 rather simpler blocks of yellow houses in three rows in a north-south direction, different from typical Friulian constructions, lacking common spaces and coutryards and rather further from the factory and the centre of the town.
Due to the bus schedule we sadly lacked the time to explore further, but our afternoon in the early autumn sun of Torviscosa made a deep impression all the same.