Long Ago in Spoleto | Spoleto to Norcia before the railway

«Between Spoleto and Norcia there is currently a stagecoach service connecting the villages of Piedipaterno, Cerreto, Triponzo and Serravalle along the route […] Since it has been proposed to replace the current horse-drawn stagecoach service with a car service, and since we have been commissioned by the City of Spoleto to study the technical possibility of such a replacement, we report as follows». This is the opening of a project report, dated November 1901, on a new car service between Spoleto and Norcia.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, with the unstoppable advance of technological development, in the wake of the great scientific innovations of the second industrial revolution, the city of Spoleto also undertook a series of actions to keep up with the times and intercept the magnificent fate and progress of modernity. Thus, in addition to public lighting and the introduction of the telephone, an attempt was made to exploit the extraordinary capacities of a new marvel, the automobile, to solve the problem of connections and break down isolation between territories.

However, excessive ambition, technical complications and unsustainable costs dissipated all hopes and led the project to a dead end; it was therefore decided to limit the project’s range to the Spoleto – Valnerina area till Norcia, replacing animal traction with the unprecedented speed and dynamic capacity allowed by the new motor vehicles.

The project report that opens the booklet, kept at the Carducci Library, bears the signature of Vittorio Arcioni, a brilliant engineer from Spoleto – bound to achieve great things with Olivetti – who was commissioned by the former Spoleto mayor Tito Sinibaldi to draw up a feasibility report for the company. In addition to Arcioni’s report – which forecasts an investment of 100,000 lire and argues in favour of using cars with steam engines rather than electric or petrol engines – the file also contains a paper by Sinibaldi himself, who at that time, since he was working almost full-time as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, was a deputy councillor in the city council headed by Oliviero Sansi. Sinibaldi compares Arcioni’s report and budget with the data of engineer Bernasconi, representative of the French company “De Dion Bouton”, which had produced three cars equipped with with a 35 horsepower steam engine and could seat 20, already tested a month earlier in the first experimental trip of 2 October.

The costs were all but low, but Sinibaldi, tireless advocate of the modernisation of the city and its territory, was confident that the initial shortfall, calculated at around 10,000 lire, could be absorbed thanks to the support of the cities concerned and the ever-increasing number of passengers attracted by the service. And so, amidst growing enthusiasm, demonstrations of jubilation and celebratory articles (such as the one in one of the first issues of the weekly magazine “La Stampa Sportiva”) the car service between Spoleto and Norcia, one of the first in Italy, could be officially inaugurated on 12 October 1902.

Optimism pitifully faded into resignation: the running costs soon proved prohibitive, the accidents along the route worrying and the technical problems hard to solve. A few years later, in 1905, the service would be handed over to private operators, and from 1909, steam-powered cars were replaced by petrol-powered ones.

The ever-increasing difficulties of the car link were to lead to a new project and a different solution, which coincided with the previous idea of the railway line. This was the embryo of the legendary Spoleto-Norcia railway, whose project was delivered in 1909. But that’s another story… that we have already discussed in this column, as you can read here.


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