Real Belvedere San Leucio
San Leucio is a concrete example of how the Bourbons built new villages to experiment with industrial installations based on industrial autonomy.
The site was acquired by Charles of Bourbon in 1750, but it was his son Ferdinand’s decision to establish a large silk factory here, whose products became famous and sought-after throughout the kingdom on account of their high quality. King Ferdinand IV converted what had been a hunting lodge into a model silk factory, which he considered to be the most important production site in the kingdom, so much so that he himself moved here for a period in order that he might supervise the works more closely. His specific interest, more typical of an enlightened entrepreneur than of a king, was to set up an avant-garde manufacturing centre that could become a means for the growth of southern Italy. The site began to expand and it was soon necessary to begin works to enlarge it further. The Belevedere was renovated and a silk mill, throwing machine, and various workshops were added.
Ferdinand IV made the most recent technical inventions and the most up-to-date machinery available to the workers, including a waterpowered spinner and a mangle with a hydraulic wheel. In the basement a complex system of wheels and levers, using the motor force of the water from the aqueduct, put the entire network in motion and activated the looms and machines for manufacturing textiles. Specialised workers were trained as part of this process. Ferdinand IV constituted the Colony of San Leucio, which was an autonomous entity (referred to as ‘Ferdinandopoli’), with a special statute that made the site one of the most avant-garde social experiments to be conducted in Italy. The reforming policy of the code of laws can even be seen in the architecture and town-planning of the village, which is inspired not by monarchical
absolutism but by principles of equality. In fact the town is organised with the Piazza della Seta (Silk Square) at the centre, and with the eighteenth-century portal providing access to the royal palace/silk mill and to the areas where the workers’ houses stand.
However, the dream of an ideal city with a theatre, hospital, cathedral and green spaces, came to an end in the late eighteenth century with the coming of the French Revolution. Despite this, the village survives, as do the workers and master craftsmen who still weave silk here.
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