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  • Final Report Summary - CTA-VLC COMPARISON (Catania and Valencia’s way to modernity. A multidisciplinary comparison between two port cities within Mediterranean Europe (1850-1915))

Final Report Summary - CTA-VLC COMPARISON (Catania and Valencia’s way to modernity. A multidisciplinary comparison between two port cities within Mediterranean Europe (1850-1915))

− Reasons and timeliness of the project

Project’s main goal lied at analyzing the path towards modernization of two specific sub-regional areas of Mediterranean Europe between 19th and 20th centuries. For this purpose, the two contexts of Valencia (Spain) and Catania (Sicily, Italy) have been compared through a multi-thematic approach and by assuming an urban and territorial focus, going from local to global scale.
The choice to compare, among all the maritime cities of the European Mediterranean, just Catania and Valencia turned out to be heuristically significant and well-founded because it allowed to exemplarily emphasize shadows and lights of modernization processes in the euro-Mediterranean between the XIX and XX century.
Also the choice of the adopted chronology proved itself pertinent, especially with regard to terminus ‘ad quem’: the emergence of strong nationalist dictatorships (fascism in Italy, Primo de Rivera’s regime in Spain) has redirected the economies of the two considered contexts towards their national spheres, weakening their autonomy in building relations with foreign markets and areas. The 1850-1920 phase represents one of the periods in which the international horizons of the local socio-economic actors and of the spatial dynamics having characterized the port and maritime cities of the Mediterranean area – before the consolidation, even totalitarian, of Nation-states – climaxed.
At the beginning of the project, its main novelty with respect to extant historiography on both cities refers to the goal of disentangling the two urban contexts of Catania and Valencia from a merely national and traditional perspective. In Spain, such perspective adheres to a logic of comparison between autonomous communities and the State, while in Italy concerns comparison between the North and the South of the country. Moreover, the project tried to derive a more Mediterranean rather than ‘southern’ dimension from such comparison, which has been able to interpret lights and shadows of such an urban pattern of socioeconomic growth of two European cities without any ‘comparative’ anxiety.

− Project’s goals and results. Description of the research

As already stated, this project has been based on a multi-thematic analysis, whose set of questions has been gathered in the three following main topics:

1) The roots of modernization. From the conquest of hinterlands to the access to the global market. Economies, infrastructure, territorial and urban hierarchies
From the point of view of territorial and geographical conditions, both Catania and Valencia have historically had a nonlinear relationship with their waterfront.
Starting from the second half of the XIX century, railways started to connect the cities with their respective ports (in 1852 in Valencia, in 1864 in Catania). If Catania, since 1860s, was able, through the construction of railways to intercept the productions – high-value crops and sulphur, above all – of an increasingly vast hinterland, in Valencia the construction of railway tracks connected the city to a much larger territorial space and to other hinterlands beyond the regional scale. From the analysis of the processes of construction of the infrastructures, it has been possible to note how the difference of amplitude of the two different contexts spatial influence have determined the parabola of the two cities towards modernization. In Valencia, the favourable geographical location in the centre of the Mediterranean coast and its good connections with Madrid, Murcia and Barcelona, made the city of Túria fully embedded in the national economy. Catania, however, was in a remote location with respect to the centers of the national economy and its maritime role was not so influential in the Mediterranean maritime scenario.
However, at the roots of the processes in both cities there is a dynamic and a rich agriculture that boosted a sort of ‘Mediterranean’ industrialization. The battle for conquering larger spaces of these rentable rural hinterlands is the main reason for the emergence of inter-urban and inter-regional rivalries and conflicts lying on the base of the construction processes of strategic infrastructures. At the same time, the ability of a city to ‘chase' a space of influence does not just concern its regional or sub-regional agricultural or mining hinterland, but it also depends on the possibilities offered by the international market. To sum up, the definition of the model of economic growth of Catania and Valencia relates to 1) the relationship between the development of high-value crops and their export to international markets and 2) the construction of new infrastructures (i.e. railways, ports) connecting cities to each other or to their hinterlands of reference. In substance, according to Chastagnaret (2005), the ‘Mediterranean way to industrialization’ consists in a ‘coexistence between different levels of spaces and the complexity of their articulation for trade practices’.

2) The local elites. Entrepreneurs, politicians and capitals between centers and periphery

The research has demonstrated that in both two cities, politics, economy and entrepreneurship merged. The profile of José Campo Pérez best expresses the character of local capitalism in 19th century Valencia. The Marquis de Campo was concerned with both the management of urban development, through its influence on the creation of public services, and at the same time also invested in maritime entrepreneurial activities. Similar figures are also present in the Catania of that time (e.g. the Marquis of Casalotto or the Trewellas). The concrete analysis of strategies, patrimonies, practices and discourses of these economic-financial-political elites, which character is strictly 'urban', permitted to better understand the mechanisms behind the management of the urban growth and, consequently, to add one more crucial piece for defining modernization in the two analyzed contexts. Although Catania and Valencia during this period could be considered as two secondary ports if compared to those belonging to their respective national contexts of reference – as their local maritime dimension was poorly developed and export trade took place thanks to foreign steams or other national vessels – however, we can notice some differences between the two contexts. Firstly, if in Catania the transition from sailing to steam had not created a local shipping company, even in a context of expanding of maritime trade, in Valencia, on the other hand, in 1884, the Compañia Valenciana de Navegación was created. Moreover, starting from 1879 the famous Valencian businessman José Campo Pérez founded another company that did trade with the Philippines and South America. Having a local shipping company was considerably important for promoting and exporting their own products to foreign market.

3) Modernization in the cities. Exhibition and representations of the idea of modernity and progress.

The cultural issues related to the idea of progress – i.e. positivism, darwinism, realism, socialism – widely permeated Catania and Valencia between the 1880s and the 1910s. In that period, as already mentioned, the two cities were the most important literary centers of their respective nations, due to the presence of authors like Vicente Blasco Ibañez, Giovanni Verga, Mario Rapisardi, Federico De Roberto. Besides its social implications, the economic development became a scenographic element of the urban theatre. In 1907 Catania hosted the Esposizione Agricola, whilst in Valencia in 1909 the Exposición Regional Valenciana took place.
These initiatives show an opening to the world by the local urban societies, which conformed to the trends coming from focal points of these processes of modernization. The integration of the local societies to an increasing global world, thanks to new communications and transportation, also had an influence on lifestyles, consumption, alimentary practices, ways and places of sociability.
If, in Catania, for instance, a new food trend with important implications for social practices and consumption – pastries, chocolate shops, brasseries – was mainly due to the Swiss community, in Valencia the presence of traders, businessmen, Irish-born entrepreneurs like the Trénors, facilitated the movement of food and social consumption patterns from the rest of Europe, as reflected in the 1909 Exposición Regional Valenciana.
With reference to the presence of foreign communities in Valencia and Catania coming from Northern Europe, it did not assumed the form of a 'colonization'. On the contrary, as well as regards the economic field, in which an integration and cooperation between the local capitalistic productive forces and foreign capitals occurred, also for social and cultural aspects a sort of hybridity between the two parts took place. Modernization and its socio-cultural aspects will be also analysed as a mirror to measure the gap and the distance between Northern and Mediterranean Europe.

− Potential impact of the project on a socio-economic level

Spreading this research beyond the strictly academic domain is a priority of this project. Desirably, this study could take the lead to closer collaboration between the two cities, not only in the field of historical research. Undoubtedly, the possibility of enhancing a closer cooperation between the two historical schools of the two cities would be the first goal and impact. By extending the collaboration from a strictly scientific domain to the institutional one, given the importance of infrastructure and ports played in the research, a further cooperation between the two port authorities, also in terms of cultural exchange, economic, strategic cooperation, could be established. It is very likely that two urban contexts that many have points in common (i.e. a citrus industry, tourism, a Mediterranean dimension) can find mutual benefit from deeply understanding each other. In the longer term, if the proposal were to be successful, this comparison could be extended to other Euro-Mediterranean cities, with the aim of building new avenues of research on the Euro-Mediterranean space in Modern History.
Moreover, recent developments of the economic crisis in the EU give us a framework that confirms the significant gap between the economies of the northern part of the continent and those of that part of Europe that could be roughly defined as ‘Mediterranean’. The different degree of competitiveness of the two ‘blocks’ of the European continent, punctually proven by several economic indicators, creates a clear imbalance, with economic, social and political consequences effects that jeopardize the very survival of the Eurozone and the European Economic Area.
However, even within the same Euro-Mediterranean zone there are considerable differences between the various areas that comprise it.
To compare two sub-regional contexts with similar characters and sharing in a certain period of their history a similar trajectory, can be extremely useful in order to highlight strengths and weaknesses of both cities and their hinterlands of reference.

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