Sulcis-Iglesiente: in Italy, in Sardinia, you will find one of the most economically depressed provinces in all of Europe. Of its 130 thousand inhabitants, 30,000 are unemployed.
At the entrance to the Serbariu mine, on the outskirts of Carbonia, a message penned by Benito Mussolini still stands out: “The people I prefer are those who work hard, quickly, soundly, obediently, and, if possible, silently.”
In the 20th century, there were 94 mines in the area: they extracted lead, zinc, copper, and iron, manganese and antimony, anthracite and lignite. In 1927, there were close to 15 thousand miners.
Here, the mine has forged the people of the territory: with hard work and sweat, solidarity and sharing, satisfaction and suffering, silicosis and pensions. Now that it no longer has any reason to exist, the mine has left holes in the rocks and an emptiness in people, as well as something even heavier: the hundreds of hectares of polluting debris that have never been reclaimed.
Already in 1988 the University of Cagliari spoke of “ascertained biological damage” referring to a study on the alarming quantities of lead in the blood of middle-school children. According to the latest report by the Regional Environment Agency, published in June 2017, samples taken from disused industrial areas reveal dozens of toxic substances in quantities hundreds of thousands of times over the limits. In Portoscuso, sheep’s milk cannot be consumed, nor can meat be eaten, blueberries and shellfish be collected, or fruit and vegetables sold.
Sulcis is no longer important. Or at least what’s beneath its ground. Above it, however, there remains a piece of Italy inhabited by people who feel abandoned by their own country.