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Italian Capital of Culture: (even) Settimo Torinese has a go

by Augusto Grandi

Settimo Torinese, Piedmontese municipality just outside Turin, boasts no Renaissance or Baroque architecture, no unmissable museums, must-see masterpieces or archaeological finds that can attract cognoscenti.

Yet it has applied for the title of Italy’s Capital of Culture: a challenge rather than a dare, since its citizens are persuaded culture does not just mean a great heritage or a majestic past. It can also mean the ability to confront the present.

What are the town’s merits, according to the city government? First and foremost, its smooth transformation from a village on the outskirts of the region’s capital to a city counting almost 50,000 inhabitants – without becoming a strife-fraught banlieue.

Settimo has managed to integrate considerable immigration from southern Italy and Veneto, has lived with heavily polluting, architecturally atrocious factories. Then gradually, it transformed itself; investing in higher-quality, environmentally-friendlier activities, including industrial ones.

It has initiated an urban regeneration project, torn down numerous obsolete buildings and created a multimedia library, Archimede, which has become a model for Turin itself.

A library that generates culture related to books, music and innovation. Music has been a further means of achieving growth thanks to the events organized by Suoneria, together with the avant-garde, experimental theater of Laboratorio Teatro Settimo, created by director Gabriele Vacis. Not forgetting collaborations with the Turin Polytechnic and University.

A completely different cultural model from what a foreign tourist would expect in Italy; yet a model that works – one that’s led to a major project for a new, futuristic district. The latter, though behind schedule owing to a three year recession, has already managed to get new entrepreneurial endeavors to take up residence on local soil.

Pirelli has torn down its original headquarters and created a new, avant-garde plant where research and technology combines with on-premise shows that are set up within the factory and open to the public. There are innovative start-ups, and a new luxury megastore is being developed.

Virtually every project, though – like the ability to attract the best young brains, professionals and skilled workers – appears to radiate from Archimede, the library that has become Settimo’s veritable hub of culture, innovation and experimentation, even inaugurating a science festival: yet another success for a city that can only partly count on literary culture, and has therefore chosen to zero in on science.