The term "Piemonte" refers to both a geographical entity—as an administrative district of the Italian state—and to a linguistic entity, distinct enough from Standard Italian to be treated as a language in its own right. Piemonte is comprised of the districts of Alessandria, Asti, Cuneo, Navarra, Turin, and Vercelli. It is bordered on the west by France, on the north by Val d'Aosta District and by Switzerland, on the east by Lombardy, and, between its southern border and the Ligurian Sea, by Liguria. Its principal city is Turin (Torino). The northern portion of the region is subalpine, with the remainder formed by the northern Italian plain. Piemonte is a part of "continental Italy," as distinct from "peninsular Italy" to the south. It is exposed to polar air in winter and warm winds off the Atlantic in summer. Winters are characterized by fog and frost, with snow at elevations above 1,500 meters. The portion of Piemonte that verges on the Alps differs climatically from the plains region, in part because the latter enjoys the shelter from winds provided by mountains on three of its sides. In the plains region, while temperatures may drop to below freezing in winter, snow is rare.
Piemonte is one of the more densely populated of Italy's regions, with more than 4.5 million inhabitants. Much of its population growth in recent decades has been fueled by Immigrants from the economically depressed regions of Southern Italy, who are drawn northward by the possibility of employment in Piemontese (and Lombardian and Ligurian) industries.
Piemontese is a Gallo-Italian dialect, along with Lombard, Ligurian, and Emilian. Illiteracy, historically a problem in Italy because of its wide range of linguistic diversity, occurs at a substantially lower rate for Piemonte than for any other administrative region of the country. This may in part be the result of the long-standing tradition of lay education that distinguishes Piemonte (and its neighbor, Lombardy) from the rest of the country.
In Piemonte, one finds both major urban centers and nucleated rural villages. In agricultural regions, the towns and Villages provide services, shops, and administrative institutions for the smallhold farms that surround them.
Piemontese agriculture is characterized by smallhold peasant farms. Traditional crops centered on wheat production, and in the early twentieth century, farm mechanization and successful land-reclamation practices gave rise to markedly increased yields, compared to other agricultural regions in the nation. With the introduction of new techniques, old systems of land tenure (sharecropping and small-plot rentals) gave way to a method of agriculture involving limited-company ownership.
Manufacture was strongly established in the region by the final quarter of the 1800s, and it emphasized the production of silk, cotton, and wool. Other industry included mining, engineering and metals, ceramics, and glassmaking. In the early twentieth century, Italy's "breakthrough" into the then-revolutionary industry of auto manufacture was led by Fiat, founded in 1912 in Turin. This breakthrough led to the development of several subsidiary industries, including coach works, tire factories, and the manufacture of automotive parts. This development resulted in Piemonte becoming a major car-manufacturing center for Europe, and it established the region as a key element of the "industrial triangle" (demarked by Turin, Milan, and Genoa) wherein most Industrial development in twentieth-century Italy has taken place.
Unlike the women in the south, Piemontese women fully participate in economic life—there is no preferential social status accorded to women who do not work outside the home. In the agricultural areas of the region, women and men work side by side in the shared enterprise of farm production. In manufacturing, there is a certain association of women with particular industries—they are more strongly represented than men in textile production, for example.
Piemontese recognize descent through both the maternal and paternal lines. The single most important kinship unit is the nuclear family, which operates in relative autonomy. Multi-generational extended families are not uncommon, however, particularly in agricultural regions. The normative expectation is that people ought to give assistance to maternal and paternal kin whenever needed, but in practice such aid tends to depend on the economic resources available in a given family.
Late marriage is most common, with average ages at time of marriage being about 28 for men and 24 for women, and with many individuals remaining unmarried well into their 30s. Until fairly recently, Italian civil codes held that adultery could only be committed by women and that divorce was not possible—although a man could have his marriage annulled on the grounds of adultery or on discovering that his bride was not a virgin. Legal policy encouraged large families, with the sale or purchase of contraceptive devices being illegal until 1971. Still, Piemonte's average family size has through most of this century been less than two children per married couple. Although abortions became legal in Italy only in 1978, the practice was not unknown prior to that time. Civil marriages have become common since the 1970s, with the legalization of divorce.
Family structure is, as noted previously, strongly influenced by socioeconomic factors. Whether nuclear or extended, the family is normatively thought to form a tight, unified group when confronting the outside world. Within the family itself, however, dissension is not uncommon, as Individual interests (such as competing claims to heritable property) and personality clashes often cause problems among siblings. Within the household, the wife plays a strong decision-making role, often extending to control of the family budget.
Responsibility for the care and socialization of children during the early years of life falls to the mother. As the child grows older, the church and schools take on much of the Socialization process.
There is a strong army tradition in Piemonte; since the 1800s its soldiers have dominated the officer corps of the national army. This dominance was also apparent in the upper ranks of the civil service throughout the nineteenth century. Although regarded as "honest" in its aims and efforts, this Piemontese dominance in the early state was not suited to the task of developing a modern state structure. The system's reliance on personal contacts and the "politics of influence" made the transition to a twentieth-century bureaucratic model of government difficult.
Modern Italy has been described as possessing a "party-dominated" political system, driven more by the influential leaders of the political parties than by formal governmental Institutions. Characteristic of such a system is a strong reliance on patronage. Until the mid-twentieth century, government was based on a nineteenth-century document (the Albertine Statute) that originally provided the constitutional basis for the then Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia and later for the united Italian state. In 1948, a new constitution established a parliamentary republic for all of Italy. Under this constitution the head of state (president) occupied a primarily ceremonial office. Decision making was the province of a Council of ministers, and legislation was to be the responsibility of two houses of parliament.
Strong local government has a long history in Italy. The local unit of governing is the commune, which consists of an urban center plus its surrounding area. The commune is governed by an elected municipal council. Within the commune, many governmental services and decision-making powers are vested in neighborhood councils. Thus, much of day-to-day government is quite decentralized.
Regional government—based on regional councils—takes two forms in Italy. Five regions (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Val d'Aosta) have extensive autonomy granted them by the Italian constitution. All the others, including Piemonte, are "ordinary" regions and are more directly subject to national authority.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Catholicism is the majority religion throughout Italy, but one Protestant group in particular, the Waldensians, is important in Piemonte. The original members of this group, begun as a movement within the Roman Catholic church but considered heretical, were excommunicated in 1177. The Waldensians did not formally join the Protestants until 1532. Although freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed, provisions of the constitution effectively make Roman Catholicism a state religion. Since the late 1960s, many of the privileges constitutionally accorded the Roman Catholic church have gradually been eliminated or reduced.
Piemonte participates in the National Health System,, the purpose of which is to extend free health-care services to all Italian citizens and resident foreigners.
See alsoPiemontese Sinti
Clark, Martin (1984). Modern Italy: 1871-1982. Longman: London.
Le regioni italiane e l'Europa: Atti del Convegno internazionale promosso e organizzato dalla Regione Piemonte (1976). Milan: A. Giuffore.
NANCY E. GRATTON