The village of Crespi d’Adda was founded in 1876 by the Crespis near the river Adda and is developed completely around the cotton mill, that is the true fulcrum of the town. In 1995 it became UNESCO’s World Heritage site. But what has made it so particular and glorious during this century of life? Come and walk with us through its streets and we will tell you the story of this unique place in the world.
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The access to the village is via a single road, Via Crespi (which becomes a little further on Corso Manzoni) that leads and ends without another outlet in the cemetery. For a more conscious and studied visit of the village we suggest you take the slightly uphill road that from Via Crespi branches off to the left (Via Stadium): a few minutes later, a wonderful 360° viewpoint opens up in front of your eyes. You immediately can notice the harmony and the maniacal order with which the houses are arranged for a hypnotic and fulfilling visual effect. It is not a coincidence that all the identical houses were placed in an aligned and equispaced way. It is in fact the Silvio Crespi’s project, who took over from his father Cristoforo in the direction of the cotton factory, about which we will tell you shortly. Other items to pay attention are: the cotton mill, on the right and along the entire extension of the village, recognizable thanks to the tall chimneys and the typical shed structures, the 3 “palazzotti” and in the background the castle; behind you there are two identical buildings overlooking the village from above (the houses respectively of the doctor and the chaplain), in front of you there are a multitude of small houses and other buildings; at the bottom of the village you can see the villas and finally the cemetery.
From this overview you can see that the village is deliberately divided into 3 important areas: the residential area, where are placed the workers’ houses, the villas of the foremen and the managers’ villas, the working area with the factory, the palazzotti and the main castle, and to separate the two realities, in the central part of the town is placed the area of public services such as the church, the washhouse, the afterwork, the school, the theater, the hotel, the hospital, public toilets, firefighters station and beyond the cemetery.
Now you can come back to Via Crespi and start your visit to the village from Corso Manzoni.
The “palazzotti”, the first houses that you meet when entering in Crespi d’Adda, were the first buildings to be built in the village, in fact it was necessary to quickly bring work force to start the activity of the factory and here many families could find accommodation.
The castle, an architecture of the past with modern details and finishes, which stands behind the “palazzotti” buildings, was the summer home of the Crespi family. Such a sumptuousness is to emphasize the owner’s role and the economic power of the family: in fact, the village exists thanks to the Crespi family and it is they who move the ranks, almost like a neo-feudalism.
The cotton mill, the beating heart of the village, was built starting from 1876 by Cristoforo Benigno Crespi and inaugurated in July 1878. Then it has expanded more and more until it reaches the remarkable dimensions of 4000 employees, whereupon it started its slow decline and the divestiture occured in 2005.
After the first years of activity of the factory, Silvio Crespi felt the need to improve the quality of life of the employees, thinking that a general welfare could affect positively the working time and the productivity in the cotton mill. So he started the construction works of small indipendent houses for one or two families, well spaced, with small gardens and separated from each other by fences, in this way were minimized sources of disturbance and disputes between the workers and their families.
When you reach Via Vittorio Emanuele II, turn left to admire the heart of the village and continue on Viale Mazzini.
The workers’ houses, simple, basic, square-based, with a small garden and low fences (made from the waste materials of the factory raw cotton packaging), were assigned to the worker’s family at the time of recruitment and could be withdrawn once the employment relationship has ceased. In 1929, thanks to Silvio Crespi, the houses underwent a modernization intervention with the introduction of the bathroom (the parallelepiped outside the perimeter of the walls, clearly visible at the back of each house), in order to improve hygiene and privacy of the villagers. The maintenance of the houses was completely at the expense of the factory, so that once back home the workers could enjoy the rest and free time with their loved ones without other concerns.
The villas of the foremen are placed along Via Mazzini, at the height of Via Fiume; they represent the point of conjunction between the houses and the villas in the arrangement of the village, in the same way as the foremen mediate in the life of the factory between the workers and the managers. There are 4 asymmetrical houses arranged around a garden, destined to be inhabited by 3 families each, with raised entrances, balconies and decorations under the roof.
At the end of Viale Mazzini, separated from the rest of the village in a privileged position far from the factory and the workers’ houses, there are the 9 villas of the managers, namely multi-stages houses built with precious finishes and valuable materials, all different from each other (for style, plant and decorations) and immersed in gardens full of trees and hedges. Each villa was assigned to only one family and the service staff could also find space inside it, one more time, to underline the important hierarchical position of the managers.
In order to admire all the villas, follow a circular route from Piazza Piemonte along Via Filzi, Via Oberdan and Via Battisti and then return to the factory road via Via Trieste.
It is here, on the opposite side of the village, that all the roads converge on a single large avenue framed by cypress trees, leading to the cemetery. The imposing mausoleum of the Crespis stands and dominates the entire tomb complex; in the center of the cemetery there are the simple gravestones, all aligned and equispaced, of the people buried at the expense of the factory, especially note in the first line those of children who died after only a few months of life; along the outer perimeter there are the more refined gravestones belonged to whom chose to support the funeral expense by themselves.
Now you can go back, zigzagging through the streets and houses to pay attention to all the public buildings and the beautiful decorations of the gardens of each single house and admire the way in which the crespian community of today, descended from the families of those who worked in the factory , continue to take care of and enhance this unique architectural jewel.
Walking through Crespi d’Adda is like taking a dip into the past and reliving the ambitious vision of the industrial city that the Crespi family had tried to realize over the years. In his project Silvio Crespi pursued the ideal of agreement and harmony between the employer and the employee because only the mutual complicity would lead to the wellness of both. This idea justifies the numerous modernization interventions in the houses and the introduction of new services and public buildings for the convenience and recreation of the citizens. Walking through Crespi d’Adda aware of what has been its glorious past you will completely change the cognition you have of this small town.
See you soon