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Land Reclamation & New Towns in Sardinia (1924-1939)

As part of its commitment to public works programs in Italy, the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini undertook a number of land reclamation projects between 1924 and 1939. The best known of these was the draining of the Pontine Marshes, an area of about 775 sq. km (about 300 sq. miles) southeast of Rome. The success of that project made a large area of land available for agriculture and construction, giving us new towns such as Sabaudia and Lattina.

The regular pattern of fields and roads is typical
of Italian towns built on land reclaimed
from marshes.
 This satellite photo is of Arborea on Sardinia. (see text)

arborea sat shot

Sardinia, as well, was the target of ambitious land reclamation during the Fascist era. Reclaiming swamp land in Sardinia, however, should be seen as an extension of an earlier pre-Fascist water management program to bring hydroelectric power to the island, an area with almost no natural, useful waterways. That the island today is electrically self-sufficient with a number of large artificial lakes that produce hydroelectric power is an amazing achievement and goes back to the founding of the Sardinian Electric company in 1911, then the special law of 1913 that authorized the construction of damns and basins along the course of the Tirso river in northern Sardinia (the longest and most important river on the island), and then the founding of the Società Bonifiche sarde (Sardinia Reclamation Corporation) in 1918.

[Also see Lakes of Sardinia]

A large part of the overall water management program in the 1930s was dedicated to the draining of the large swamp in the Terralba plain near Oristano on the western side of the island (see map, above). That area, and others, had been a source of malaria, a disease endemic to Sardinia since the time of the Carthaginian conquest of the island in 500 BC. Sardinia was the most malaria-ridden area in Italy at the early part of the 20th century. Legislation in 1907 to provide free quinine (which attacks the malaria-causing plasmodium parasite directly in the bloodstream) and later reclamation by drainage of the area in the Fascist period greatly reduced the incidence of malaria by destroying the breeding sites of the anopheles mosquito that carries the parasite.

(The disease, however, was not definitively defeated until after WWII when the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds for what amounted to all-out DDT attack on Sardinian breeding sites of the anopheles mosquito. Between 1946 and 1950, 267 metric tons of DDT were spread over the island. Malaria was eradicated, but knowing what we now know about DDT, there is, at least in hindsight, some question as to the wisdom of that operation.)

You can pick up recent Duce wine in
Arborea. No sense wasting the name,
and tourists eat that stuff up!
Case del Balilla, ArboreaThree new towns that were born in the period between 1924 and 1939 on Sardinia are Mussolinia, Fertilia, and Carbonia. The town of Mussolinia, inland near the southern end of the Gulf of Oristano, was officially opened in 1929 with the name of Villaggio Mussolinia; the following year, it became Mussolinia di Sardegna; finally, after WWII it changed again to what it is known as today, Arborea (after one of the judge-rulers of medieval Sardinia. See this link.) Further north on the west coast near Alghero, another town, Fertilia, built on land reclaimed from the Nurra swamp, was opened in 1936. Both towns are sill there and are delightful centers of what was then known as Italian modernist architecture—not the mastodons of Art Deco Fascism, but smaller and charming. (The photo (above, left) is the Casa del Balilla [a Fascist Youth Organization] in Arborea.  [Also see Fascist Architecture.] A third new town, Carbonia, at the south-west tip of the island, was not built on reclaimed land, but rather in hill country and was meant to be a town for workers in the many local mines. It, too, is still there, but has fallen on tough times. [See Sardinian Mining.]


Caprotti, Federico. (2007). Mussolini's Cities: Internal Colonialism in Italy, 1930-1939. Cambria Press, London & Amherst NY.

Schmidt, Carl T. (1937). "Land Reclamation in Fascist Italy" in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Sep., 1937), pp. 340-363, pub. by The Academy of Political Science.

Tognotti, Eugenia. (2009). "Program to eradicate malaria in Sardinia, 1946–1950"  in Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Sep. 2009 Sep., published by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

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