THE MONUMENTAL STATUE OF CHRIST AND THE FABULOUS FIFTIES
MARATEA – If we consider the present situation, what with the crisis of values, the collapse of idealism, the financial debacle, and the slow but relentless weakening of the welfare state, it seems impossible that in Italy there has been a period in which everything appeared to flourish and shine enticingly in the light of promises that were – unbelievable! – all fulfilled.
Italians had left the war behind them, and had worked through the pain, grief and suffering it had caused. They were rolling up their sleeves and beginning to think about the future.
The reconstruction began, and was sustained by people’s enterprising, optimistic attitude.
That “long decade for a short century” – as the nineteen-fifties have been called – laid the foundations of the economic boom of the nineteen-sixties, and of the future development and progress.
For the country it was a “second Renaissance”, and the creativeness that spread out and imbued all sectors of activity was the mainspring of the upturn.
Art and industry came to an understanding at last; reality and utopia intercommunicated and merged.
Words were not deflated balloons dropped on the sidewalk by jaded children. On the contrary, they contained significant concepts and projects; they were mixtures of practicality and beauty, functionality and lightness. They were uttered by enthusiastic, forward-looking captains of industry – many of them artistically minded – who made factories, roads, bridges, buildings, and also cars (the celebrated Seicento), refrigerators, TV sets, and washing machines, paying attention to the needs and requirements of the new men and women.
Experimentation and research appeared in all sectors. Like a long-awaited, life-giving wave, they invaded all areas: from the tertiary industry to art and culture, and from sports to music.
People lacked everything, but nothing seemed impossible.
Everybody took part in this development process, actively, enthusiastically, aware of being the makers of their own destiny, in an atmosphere of widespread buoyancy and desire to make progress.
They converged and diverged, joined each other and opposed each other, and were all permeated with creative euphoria and an undisputed faith in tomorrow.
Coppi and Bartali, De Gasperi and Togliatti, the Vespa e and the Lambretta, television and cinema, the advertisements of Carosello, the discovery of industrial design, the experiments with materials, the emergence of plastics, the growth of graphics… this list might go on and on; but the chief force that drove this new world, so full of opportunities and teeming with realisable dreams, that created the great infrastructures as well as the works of art and intellectual works, that boosted daring instead of desisting, was the spirit of the age.
The vitality of those years had concrete effects and a range of action that are documented by a datum: from 1952 to 1970, the Italians’ average income increased by 130%.
At the very beginning of the nineteen-fifties, the sixth De Gasperi government established the Fund for the Development of Southern Italy with Law no. 646 of 10 August 1950, in order to provide financial support for industrial enterprises that intended to encourage the development of Southern Italy and to close the considerable gap between Southern and Northern Italy.
Apart from any evaluation of the effects and defects of the law that created this state agency, its noble goal was to work for the good of the weakest part of the country, and was the praiseworthy result of an advanced economic policy.
Meanwhile Southern Italy was already involved in the migrations toward Northern Italy and the countries beyond the Alps or even beyond the ocean.
The spirit that drove the crowds of migrants was always the same: they were passionate, hopeful, eager to emerge and to be honestly successful, far apart from the narcissistic exhibitionism and unbridled hedonism of our time.
They migrated as poor people, but to the sound of a triumphal march, not to the gloomy, resigned music of the defeated. It was thanks to that law of 1950 that Oreste Rivetti, descendant of a family of wool manufacturers from the area of Biella, decided to travel down the countless kilometres of the (still) narrow, winding roads that connected Piedmont to Southern Italy, then to Basilicata and Maratea.
To imagine how uncomfortable that journey was, we should remember that the first National Motorway Plan was ruled by Law no. 463 of 1955, while the agreement for the construction and management of the Milan-Rome-Naples motorway, totalling 755 kilometres, was contracted in 1956.
The A1 motorway – known as Autostrada del Sole – practicable from Milan to Rome and Naples, was officially inaugurated on 4 October 1964.
Oreste Rivetti was a practical, strong man, who cared for his family, his children and the prosperity of his establishments: a successful industrialist who managed, with resourcefulness and indubitable entrepreneurial skill, the woollen mill that had been founded in 1872 by Giuseppe Rivetti at Mosso, in the present-day province of Biella.
In 1879 the production was carried out by no less than four mills, which specialised in the production of rayon waste in the first years of the twentieth century. As the years elapsed, the industrial complex expanded to Biella, under the name of Lanificio Rivetti S.p.A., and attained a total area of 47,000 square metres, employing at least 20,000 workers.
In March 1953, Oreste Rivetti arrived in Maratea, together with his son Stefano, who held a degree in economics and had specialised in textile engineering in Germany.
They got in touch with the mayor of Maratea, Biagio Vitolo, who just then was not in the municipal premises. This fortunate, auspicious meeting marked the beginning of the story of the establishment of the Rivetti woollen mills in Maratea and in the nearby Calabria, and of many other enterprises.
The pragmatic Count Oreste was not completely sure that this undertaking would be profitable, but his son Stefano was bewitched by the charm of what he saw there: a sleepy, wild little town, stretched out between the mountains and the sea, bare of vegetation but full of fresh-water springs, kissed by the crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea, and inhabited by people who were courteous and warm-hearted in spite of their wary, retiring attitude.
Although Maratea’s history had been characterised by a position of proud, privileged independence, in those years the town (like all Italy after the war) was a blank sheet of paper on which it would be possible to rewrite history.
In the documentary titled “Italy seen from the sky” – Basilicata and Calabria, shot by Folco Quilici in 1967 and produced by Esso Italiana, Southern Italy, though involved in the excitement of the promises of a new future, still looked like a vast, bleak, heart-rending landscape formed of plains, mountains, sloping rocks and sheer cliffs; a land of simple people who laboriously extracted their livelihood from the earth.
Here Count Stefano Rivetti, who inherited his father’s activity, established his factories. But he also realised that the greatest possibilities of the place were in other areas. One of them was tourism (he built and managed, among other things, the Santavenere Hotel, which is still one of the most exclusive, refined Italian hotels). Others were the environment (he carried out a tree planting operation that helped modify the bare look of the territory) and agriculture (he created Pamafi, a fruit and vegetable producing firm, a plant nursery and also, at the beginning, a dairy). Lastly, one of the great resources of this land was the one-thousand-year-old culture of a population that had been Greek and Latin: despite occasional clashes and misundersandings, he admired, respected, and learnt to love these people, feeling that he was one of them.
The enterprises and actions we have mentioned were only a few – the best known, most striking ones – among the many that characterised his human and professional life in the little town in Basilicata.
Stefano Rivetti was one of those enlightened, far-seeing industrialists who allowed themselves to be guided, rather than by the concrete aspects of business, by their utopian obsession and by an artistic feeling for beauty.
He was the most genuine son of those passionate, dynamic years, whose enthusiasm bordered on exhilaration, and whose goals were followed regardless of the difficulties and obstacles to be met on the inevitably uneven path.
He travelled all over the world for his work, looking around with curiosity and interest; he was full of ideas and projects that referred to Maratea. They all aimed to make it become the undisputed hub of an original form of industry that was dawning just then: tourism.
In Rio De Janeiro, flying over the Corcovado, he saw the white statue of Christ that dominated the bay, welcoming and greeting modern travellers with its perfectly stretched- out arms.
He decided to make a similar statue in Maratea.
The project was already drawn up in his mind, and he developed it during his nighttime fantasising and his pensive strolls in nature. Being increasingly persuaded that it was a good idea, he set out to find the artist who would be able to give concrete form to the work envisaged by him: a great, monumental, imposing statue, his personal tribute to a land that – he was sure – was about to become the most attractive seaside location for holiday-makers in Italy and all over the world.
He was not worried by the fact that there were no roads wide enough for carrying up the tonnes of materials needed for building the statue; he did not care how much work and responsibility and money would be involved; nor was he daunted by the fact that the whole enterprise appeared to be quite arduous, and that the slow bureaucracy of Italy was out of step with his brisk, untiring pace.
The spirit of those fabulous fifties and sixties was glowing inside him, and made the impossible become possible, allowing utopia to take shape and become a concrete reality.
Impediments, no matter how objective and reasonable they were, were disregarded by him: he was already beyond them, already inside his dream come true.
It is only thanks to his visionary capability that now the monumental statue of Christ – 21.20 metres tall, and with an arm spread of 19.75 metres – stands there with that mysterious, faint smile that is both seductive and knowing, and benevolently watches you, whether you be melancholy or chatty, full of admiration or almost dazed, as you walk up the lane from the square of the Basilica of San Biagio to the summit where you are beckoned to be told, besides all the rest, the story of a man and his time.