We The Italians | Italian culture and history: Crespi d'Adda, the Industrial Village

Italian culture and history: Crespi d'Adda, the Industrial Village

Italian culture and history: Crespi d'Adda, the Industrial Village

  • WTI Magazine #90 Apr 14, 2017
  • 487

Crespi d'Adda, a genuine, ideal and picturesque village, was built by the Crespi Family in the 1800s and 1900s for the employees (and their families) of the textile factory that stands right next to the village. Crespi d’Adda - described as an "exceptional example of the company town phenomenon, the most complete and best-preserved in Southern Europe" – received a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Indeed, this village is the perfect model of an architectural complex that illustrates a rather significant historical period: that of the birth of Italy’s modern industry.

Not only, but the Site was maintained in its best possible form, and to this day still bears its original urbanistic and architectonic aspects.

Crespi d'Adda is situated in the Region of Lombardy, isolated within a low-lying plain bordered by two rivers, the Adda and Brembo, that form a peninsula known as the "Isola Bergamasca" (Bergamasque Island), and at the extremities of which lies Crespi d’Adda.

The Crespis at the time were textile industrialists that decided to give life to their concept of the "ideal modern work city,” in which they also realized their magnificent castle.

Specifically, the original idea belonged to Cristoforo Benigno Crespi and his son, Silvio Benigno; the two were captains of industry and philanthropists whose intention resembled the construction of a sort of feudal fief. Thus, the habitation of the masters themselves was symbolic for both authority and benevolence toward the workers and their families. 

The residents of the village consisted only of the factory’s employees, meaning the life of the community revolved entirely around the factory, its rhythms and demands.

It was the master that provided all the needs of the employees and their dependents; such included housing and all the public places necessary to a real and functioning community life: church, school, hospital, recreation club, theatre, public baths, clothing and food shops, etc.

The village’s urbanistic aspect derived primarily from the presence of the factory, built along the main roadway.  The factory is in the neo-Medieval style, with a splendid central entrance rich in decorative elements, and particularly tall smokestacks. Meanwhile, its warehouses are distributed in an orderly fashion along the main road; they are refined, with brick contours and friezes made up of eight-pointed stars. Finally, rose windows done in terra cotta embellish each facade.

Next to the factory rises the imposing, Medieval-style main villa  (14th-Century) with its tower, symbol of the Crespi Family’s power.

The workers’ houses are fifty English-inspired homes, lying to the east of the factory and lining perfectly-parallel streets. Decorated in terra cotta, with details in cast iron and brick, each house is surrounded by lawn and gardens.

Looking out over the village from on high are the doctor’s and priest’s houses, while the school and church are side-by-side, right in front of the factory. The church is a replica of the Renaissance Church of Santa Maria di Busto Arsizio (Province of Varese), the Crespis’ hometown.

Further south, in a separate zone are the homes of the factory’s managers, as well as the splendid villas reserved to the company directors.

The main street, almost a metaphor for the factory worker’s life, runs from the factory, past the village and to its cemetery, a national monument – on its interior is the Crespi Chapel, a majestic, decorated pyramidal tower constructed out of wooden logs and cement. The Chapel head up the field containing the workers’ tombs (resembling a church altar), arranged together with small, orderly crosses (also in the English style).

Other than being on the avant-garde in terms of infrastructure and services, technological innovations were also an important asset to this little city, and included electric lighting with the Edison system that helped to better the efficiency of production, and even the quality of life for the employees and manual laborers. 

Begun in 1878, Crespi d’Adda is a functioning community still today, made up in large part descendents of the original employees that lived and worked here. The very cotton factory around which the city was founded functioned until 2004.

For visitors looking to do more than pay a visit to admire the beauty of this village, the Adda River offers a series of itineraries (on foot or on bike) that begin right in Crespi.