There is a place, not far from Turin, that looks straight out of a fairy tale, where the clock seem have stopped.
Buildings and streets send us back a century ago. It is Villaggio Leumann (Leumann village), in Collegno.
“ He was the precursor and creator of a very modern social policy, when class collaboration was a myth. He had only one cult in his life: that of work associated with charity. And the wise intention of improving the standard of living of his employees made the essential purpose of his laborious existence. There were two ideals to which his work particularly addressed: the physical and moral well-being of his employees and the education and training of their children. To obtain the first, it was necessary to improve the hygienic conditions.”
From Napoleon Leumann’s obituary
The Leumann Village was born from the idea of an enlightened entrepreneur of Swiss origin, Napoleone Leumann, who wanted to build a residential complex around his cotton mill, a large and prestigious company of the time.
His father, from a simple immigrant worker, became the owner of the textile factory where he worked.
At the time the city of Turin granted land at a subsidized price trying to regain a new role of reference that would compensate the loss of prestige and the centrality of no longer being a capital.
A large supply of skilled labor at reduced costs completed the process of attracting capital and entrepreneurs and made Turin at least the new capital of industry.
The choice of the Leumann family fell on a large plot of land (about 60,000 square meters) in the countryside surrounding the town of Collegno, just outside Turin. In 1875 Isaac Leumann and his son Napoleon decided to install a new production site that processed cotton.
The presence of irrigation canals (the medieval bealere) and the proximity of the Turin-Rivoli narrow-gauge railway were fundamental for the choice of the place, which, running along the axis of the current Corso Francia, allowed a rapid connection between Turin, Collegno and Rivoli.
The village, entirely in Art Nouveau, was designed by engineer Pietro Fenoglio and built between 1875 and 1907.
Similar villages arose in the same period in Lombardy (in Crespi d’Adda), and in Veneto (in Schio), but the Leumann Village is the most extensive, complete and functional example of a new way of conceiving relationships between work and social life.
The factory was active at full capacity for almost a century, from 1875 until 1972.
After the serious crisis in the textile sector of 1970 Leumann factory was considerably downsized, even if it continued its activity until the definitive closure in 2007.
Later, the buildings became the property of the municipality of Collegno, which acted as guarantor for the safeguarding of the village. Numerous restoration works have been done over the years.
The complex, which covers about 60,000 square meters and originally housed about a thousand people, is inspired by the tradition of northern Italy of the time, contaminated by Swiss construction. It consists of two residential areas on the sides of the former textile factory.
The cotton mill and the adjoining residential area formed a well-defined complex, in which work, family life, leisure and social services were closely interconnected.
In addition to the houses for the workers, were built structures to guarantee their education, such as the elementary school, which today houses five classes, the Church of Santa Elisabetta in Liberty and eclectic style, the hotel, the boarding school of the young workers, a post office, the canteen, a clinic, a nursery and a sports club.
Near some structures it is possible to see plaques that tell the story.
Outside the complex, on the opposite side of the road there is the Stazionetta, the railway station of the time on the ancient Collegno-Rivoli railway.
At the entrance from Corso Francia you can admire part of the splendid wrought iron gate that once surrounded the entire establishment, requisitioned by the government during the Second World War and subsequently recovered.
What to see in the Leumann Village
The Leumann Church of St. Elizabeth
The church of Sant’Elisabetta is perhaps the only Art Nouveau church in the world.
Despite being of the Calvinist religion, Napoleon Leumann built a church for his workers. In 1907 he commissioned the project to the engineer Pietro Fenoglio.
The front elevation alternates a facing of exposed brick and strips of litho-cement. But what markedly characterizes the facade are the two bell towers decorated with geometric motifs, surmounted by wrought iron crosses. The small pronaos in front of the entrance portal is surmounted by four columns.
The Leumann school
Leumann was firmly convinced that proper education was one of keys for having good workers in the future and so, in 1903, his village had its one.
Located in the western district of the village, the building originally included six elementary classes on the first floor, and the kindergarten on the ground floor, dedicated to Wera, the daughter of Leumann, who died at an early age.
The school was frequented by the children of the workers and employees of the cotton mill, but also by some residents of Collegno, since, in addition to being the only school in the municipality, it was equipped with a rich library and provided free books of text.
To stimulate the commitment of schoolchildren, Leumann periodically organized awards that included gifts and small bequests in money. Particular attention was given to physical activity with gymnastics practiced daily in the courtyard or in the adjacent gym.
In March 1906, given the results achieved in the didactic field, the school was declared by Royal Decree and evening courses for workers were activated.
In 1910 the school was raised one floor to accommodate two more classrooms and services.
The following year, a report by the Royal School Inspectorate will judge the Leumann Village school as a model of education in all respects responding to the real needs of a working class.
Subsequently, the school hosted only the elementary classes. Since 2005, once the restoration work has been completed, the lessons have been regularly resumed.
The life of Leumann workers was facilitated by a series of free assistance possibilities: a health insurance, a pension fund and one for marriage.
The boarding school of the young workers of Leumann
The Convitto del Leumann (the boarding school of the young female workers), housed up to 250 girls between 13 and 20 years old far from their families for work. In fact, most of the employees of the cotton mill were women and girls.
Here they had a bed, linen and three meals a day.
The Convitto then became the seat of the Buona Massaia (good housewife ), established by Amalia, Napoleon’s wife. The girls were educated in housekeeping, hygiene and accounting.
The Leumann Theater
In 1909, inside the Leumann was built a small theater. The shows held there were educational, selected from Napoleon himself in order to control the morality of the workers.
The Leumann grocery store
Near the church, there was also a food shop. Here the employees had the opportunity to buy food and things for basic necessities at cost price.
To prevent other people outside the factory from taking advantage of the discounted rates, a special currency was created and only given to Leumann employees and their families.
The Leumann hotel
For suppliers and businessmen who came to visit him, Napoleon Leumann made a hotel built, today still opposite the factory entrance.
Leumann was concerned about the well-being of his employees and their basic needs, giving much more than what most companies offer to their employees today. But the effort and commitment had been amply repaid. Leumann was among the companies with the lowest production of waste, high productivity and had a very low abandonment rate.
These were probably the reasons why it prospered for almost a century.
How to get
If you are in the province of Turin it is possible to arrive at the Leumann Village by any means: on foot, by bike, by car and camper. Inside, car access and parking are allowed only to residents, but there is no shortage of places to stop all around.
By bus, arriving from Turin you can take the 33 or 33 barred from Via Sacchi to Corso Francia and from there bus 36 to the Leumann stop, on Corso Francia, at the entrance to the complex.
In the first half of 2019, began the construction of the extension of the M1 line of the Turin Metro, which includes a station serving the village itself.
Guided tours of the Leumann Village
Access to the Leumann Village is free.
It is possible to book a visit with a guide from the Association of Friends of the Leumann School (italian only), either for adults and school groups.
For individuals there is a guided tour every first Sunday of each month (except August and January), departing at 3.00 pm from the house museum in Corso Francia 347 in Collegno. Dates and times may vary.
In this case, a small contribution to help the association is welcome.
Such was the importance of the Swiss cotton mill that, in 1896, the Municipality of Collegno (italian only) titled the area Borgata Leumann.
Today the village is still inhabited by some workers of the Leumann cotton mill and by another hundred families to whom the houses have been assigned. Part of the ecomuseum network of the province of Turin, Leumann constitutes an important historical-architectural and industrial archeology relic.
Do not miss the opportunity to stroll among the small and beautiful houses with gardens, admiring the church, the small station, the shops and the other buildings.
For a complete list of possible solutions for parking see complete map of tolerated parking in the area .
This article was written in collaboration with Uxnovo Web Agency Turin.
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