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Undoing Time

The Cultural Memory of an Italian Prison

Series:

Eleanor Chiari

The walls of Le Nuove prison in Turin are scarred by graffiti, bullets and blood. Opened in 1870, Le Nuove was one of Italy’s first panoptical prisons. During the Second World War it was occupied by the Nazis, who executed and deported anti-Fascist and Jewish prisoners held there. In the 1970s it housed left-wing ‘terrorists’, who spearheaded violent riots that spread to prisons across Italy. The prison staff became targets and four were shot dead. When Le Nuove finally closed down in October 2003, the memories of the tragic events that occurred there became obstacles to its demolition.
Combining oral history, anthropology and micro-history, this book examines the cultural memory of Le Nuove via interviews, archives and the material traces left within the building itself. The volume examines issues such as the relationship between memory and place, forgetting, and the problems of a global cultural heritage increasingly focused on places of suffering. By following the architecture of the prison in her narrative, the author actively engages with the many layers of time competing to give meaning to the prison today, as well as addressing the hidden stories, myths and silences that condition any study of cultural memory.

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6 The Outer Walls

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206 Chapter 6 On a Sunday morning Corso Vittorio is deserted. The sky is Madonna blue, the air crisp and cold, and the last yellow leaves on the boulevard trees rustle in the wind. When my father was a teenager, living in the small provincial town of Carmagnola, outside Turin, he and his friends participated in a treasure hunt, which involved taking a picture of themselves in front of Le Nuove. I stand in the exact spot in which they nervously smiled back at the camera, pretending to imitate protesting prisoners by banging on metal pots with spoons, thrilled by the danger of the forbidden activity; today there is nothing to intimidate me there. Le Nuove is, after all, just an old innocuous building and the street is clear. Le Nuove can still come to embody potentially dangerous meanings for the city, however, whenever it is linked to its tumultuous past, as occurred during a demonstration just outside its walls. In 1998 a court case brought: ‘tremors down the city’s spine from the depth of the 1970s’,1 according to Fabrizio Ravelli, a journalist reporting at the time. Three young environmentalists – called ‘eco-terrorists’ by the press and then ‘squatters’ for living in occupied housing – were accused of forming an armed band and placing explosives along the construction sites of the high speed train line (known as TAV) being set up in Val di Susa, a valley between France and Italy, just west of Turin. The high-speed train line threatened many...

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