Pietro Niccolini's Centenary

Written by  Luisa Carrà Borgatti

Memories of an important figure, both as mayor and politician.

The “Dante Alighieri society” in Ferrara recently celebrated the 140th anniversary of the birth of Pietro Niccolini (1866). Niccolini quickly became a prominent figure in the public and cultural life of the city, being much talked about in the local and national press. As mayor he was responsible for a unique period in Ferrara’s economy when both farming and industry flourished as never before. Very active in the public sector, during his term as mayor he achieved a great deal: construction of economical housing outside the city walls, the city aquaduct and school buildings in and around Ferrara; setting up secondary education for girls, enlarging the public library Biblioteca Ariostea, and the renovation of Palazzo Schifanoia and Palazzina Marfisa, to name but a few. When he became a member of Parliament in 1904, the city rejoiced and yet again the newspapers gave the event plenty of coverage. As a politician he took up the issues that were dear to him, above all the agricultural ones. He called for legislation that would protect the more modest workers’ rights and social laws that would “allow harmony for all classes”. As a Liberal he was able to address the issues arising with the arrival of more social justice. In 1921 he organised a committee with Giuseppe Agnelli to celebrate the sixth centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri; in the same year he wrote the essay L’amore e l’arte di Dante (Love and the art of Dante).

As fascism takes a hold in Italy, Niccolini appears to be less invoved in politics, dedicating his time to culture. However on a political level he is most committed. In 1925, as chairman of the Hirsh-Odorati factory he is forced to explain in a letter to agrathe “Gazzetta” newspaper why the factory building was not flying the flag and why 28th October, the day the 1922 March on Rome was celebrated, was considered a normal working day.

Niccolini, elected chairman of the Cassa di Risparmio in 1928, was admired by all over the years for the integrity and zeal that he put into developing the bank. A year later, at the age of seventy three, he died suddenly. The unforgettable images of his funeral are published in the 18 October issue of the newspaper Corriere Padano: the people of Ferrara paid him an emotional tribute, thronging the streets by the thousands. The funeral procession was interminable and the hearse, which Niccolini had expressly asked to be of the utmost simplicity, bore only one wreath, that of his widow, Vittoria Bevilacqua.