I had not pedalled half an hour before I was in the middle of the surprising town centre which develops around the steel tubes factory. The fortune of the modern settlement, the one I was aiming to take a look at, is due to this very plant, recognisable from afar by the squat chimney bearing the name of the company in white bold letters.
The headquarters is a sober building lined with grey conglomerate stone, designed according to a rigorous rationalistic style. Opposite stands the graceful church, with more classical curved lines but still permeated by the simplicity of modernism. Then the school and a pleasant square, where a band was playing music for an audience sitting on plastic chairs around the musicians and further afield on the sides of the fountain.
This square is named after the victims of 6 July 1944. This sounded an unfamiliar date to me until I read a caption explaining it was on that day that Dalmine was bombed. So I remembered my great aunt telling me of her experience. She was riding her bike along a country road when a drove of planes came down and started letting the bombs down. She got such a fright that she threw herself off the bike and took shelter in a muddy ditch. A few hundred people died in that attack, which was motivated by the suspicion that the factory might be manufacturing war material for the Germans, by then confined to the north of Italy under the Repubblica di Salò because south of the Gothic line the country had already been freed.
In spite of the bombing the square is still flanked by the original buildings with porches sustained by steel columns, in celebration of the local production which is literally extolled in the central roundabout. Here soars a 20 m high steel oblelisk, that popularly goes by the name of antenna. It is the area between the company headquarters and the antenna that saw the big planning effort of the 1930’s. I was able to find interesting buildings such as the town hall and the former Casa Littoria, plus other constructions, some of which have presumably maintained the same colours, not just in the cream plasters but also in the shutters that are painted an incredible aqua hue.
A beautiful alley lined with majestic pine-trees gives shape to a very nice perspective and infuses a Mediterranean warmth into this town of the industrial North.
Vast areas of semi-detached or detached houses are spread around the factory. Apart from the architecture, the names of the streets give a clear hint about their origin. Planned in the aftermath of WW1, they consecrate to collective memory its famous battles and conquests.
As I gadded around the residential streets on my bike, I felt enthusiastic to have found such a wonderful place that was tantamount to an open-air museum. While I was avidly taking in all the suggestions that came from the observation of every nook and cranny and every detail in the decoration, I was also aware of the eccentricity of my visit. I had come on purpose to explore a town that nobody values as an attraction. And yet, the industrial village of Crespi d’Adda, built only a few decades before Dalmine, was granted the Unesco world heritage label and is visited by tourists.
Dalmine had fulfilled my expectations as regards modern history. Coming to the present, the factory is still in operation and I couldn’t help turning a sad thought to my friend Raffaele who was employed here and died in a fatal accident on his way home. For many good reasons he used to nourish a visceral hate for the workplace. They gave him and many others a most unfair treatment disqualifying them from office to furnace workers. I may be mistaken, but for all the social advancements in the last century, this place seems to have been more humane in the 1930’s when the entrepreneur took good care of his employees and built them dwellings; and the State took the matter in its hand and built a functional and agreeable town designed to reconcile the two conflicting interests of capital and workforce. Now it’s just the aberrant profit logic that drives the economy and crushes the individual to satisfy an abject greed for money at whatever cost.