Italy is full of history. You can't visit the country without encountering something historical that is hundreds of years old...perhaps even over a thousand years old. Ancient history abounds. However, there is more "modern" history that can be found here as well.
To the west of Signa, a town located about 20 minutes to the west of Florence, there is Il Pitto.
Il Pitto is a large villa, which can be seen on satellite views with a formal garden and surrounded by forest. Looking in the forest, you can see what looks to be remnants of buildings from long ago, overgrown by trees and vegetation.
Simone and I were intrigued and curious about this area. It is gated off and private. There are security cameras at the gate on Via Santa Barbara. What is this place? What was this place?
After doing some research, we discovered that Il Pitto and the large area surrounding it, had been used as an explosives factory.
In 1912, the property was purchased by Alfred Nobel's company. The location was a good one for them - located at the confluence of the Ombrone and Arno Rivers in the central part of the country. It was far enough away from enemy borders, yet close enough to the port at Livorno by rail.
Nobel then developed the area, erecting buildings on the grounds and hiring hundreds of workers (at its peak, the complex employed around 3000 people). The main road from Signa to Comeana that had passed through the property was moved and the vineyards that grew on the property were removed, replaced by a man-made forest. Tall, dense trees were planted in order to camouflage the factory from the possibility of spy planes by enemy air forces. The factory complex began to take the shape of a mini-city with roads, buildings and tunnels.
During WWI, the factory manufactured high caliber explosives/ammunition for cannons and dynamite. After the war, in 1925, the factory and land was sold to Montecatini, a chemical and mineral/mining company that also acquired in the mid-1930's a general munitions and explosives company and formed Nobel-SGEM.
|Abandoned chemical laboratory|
In the years of peacetime between the two wars, the area was utilized for agricultural experiments and experimental chemical production. Then, with war once again looming, it resumed its explosives production, increased the amount of buildings on the property (now totaling over 100) and constructed a small rail system to transport materials between the various buildings and ultimately to the main railway.
|Tracks of the small rail system|
In 1944, the factory fell to the German Army who exploited it for their own use. After this, the area became a target for sabotage by the resistance. On 11 June, 1944, a few members of the Italian Resistance attempted a major sabotage of the area by blowing up some of the wagons that were loaded with dynamite. The group was successful. The explosion destroyed the internal railway, created a huge crater near the Arno and destroyed many buildings. However, four of the saboteurs - Alighiero Buricchi (19 years old), Bogardo Buricchi (23 years old), Ariodante Naldi (20 years old), Bruno Spinelli (42 years old) - were killed by the blast. These brave men are considered heroes. Because of their actions, all manufacturing at the compound ceased.
|Monument to the fallen heroes|
Today, the villa "Il Pitto" is being utilized as a nursing home. The villa and gardens surrounding it are lovely and in great shape. Not far down a small road, however, the grounds where the factory complex existed are mostly overgrown by vegetation. Although many of the buildings are crumbling, several buildings are surprisingly in good shape. There have been discussions over the past few years on how to reclaim this area and the remaining viable buildings. Everything from moving a University in to letting it be used by movie producers. However, none of these ideas have yet to come to fruition and what is left of the old Nobel site sits empty and waiting.