Crespi d'Adda in a nutshell
Crespi d’Adda is a company town founded by Cristoforo Benigno Crespi in 1877 and completed at the end of the 1930s. Visiting the town today is like taking a journey back to a place suspended in time. The town remains essentially as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, as though it were preserved under glass as soon as the planning and construction were completed.
It is this extraordinary nature and the exceptional interaction between humans and the environment that convinced UNESCO to declare Crespi d’Adda a World Heritage Site.
The town lies at the end of a small valley, behind the cemetery, the Brembo River flows into the Adda River. Hence, there is only one way in and out.
The town has a symmetrical layout. Along the main road, to the south, is the textile factory, with a surface area of 90,000 square metres. The village was constructed to the north, facing the factory. Here you will find the labourers’ residences, school, church, co-op store, wash house, hotel, recreation club, and the homes for department heads and executives.
The only buildings that stand outside the town’s grid structure, though only slightly, are the Crespi family mansion, resembling a castle and overlooking the factory, as well as the cemetery, which was constructed at the end of the access road and provides a physical and metaphorical boundary to the town.
Crespi d’Adda was the brainchild of Cristoforo Crespi. Born in Busto Arsizio to a family of textile entrepreneurs, Cristoforo discovered the perfect site to build his cotton mill in the province of Bergamo, on the riverbank.
There were three factors in his decision: a wide, open space for construction, the nearby Adda River, necessary to provide power to the factory, and the availability of manpower, underemployed and ready to work in the new manufacturing industry.
In 1877, work began to divert the river, construct a turbine plant, build the spinning department, install 5,000 spindles, build the initial residences for the workers, and provide the most important services: cafeteria, pre-school, hotel and shops. On 25 July 1878, production was launched in the factory. The factory and the town grew quickly.
The factory expanded and, in 1886, the first workers’ residences began to appear. In 1889, Silvio, Cristoforo’s son, became manager of the cotton mill. With the support of brilliant architects and engineers, he designed the village with a symmetrical layout, creating zones dedicated to production, family life and community life.
The factory added new departments and cutting-edge equipment. The labourers resided in homes with plenty of natural light and ventilation and surrounded by a small garden. Later, the school, church, castle, theatre, wash house and cemetery were built.
The village’s fortunes depended entirely on the factory. The labourers’ lives were closely linked to the Crespi family, who provided services and assistance that compensated for the rigid structure, both inside and outside the factory.
With various peaks and valleys, the village continued to thrive until the end of the 1920s, but political changes, new market trends, some poor investments and the 1929 crisis brought the Crespi family to the verge of collapse. In the 1930s, they sold the village. Other managers took over, and other changes and opportunities altered the social and economic fabric of the village.
In 1995, Crespi d’Adda became a World Heritage Site. In 2003, the factory closed. In 2013, an entrepreneur purchased the factory as a site for a new business. The future is yet to be seen.