Sardinian Mussels in a Fascist Town
“Nieddittas” our friendly host told us, “Take the cozze di Arborea, those are the best.” We had asked him which type of mussels we should buy in case we wanted to cook them ourselves, during our holiday in Sardinia. We had already eaten a fabulously delicious zuppa di cozze e arselle in a nearby restaurant in the small village of Cabras, at the western coast of the island. But where to buy these gems of the sea? Antonio helped us out and was right: the ones of Arborea are the best.
Arborea turned out to be located close to our holiday house, a little further south, at the same bay of Oristano. We decided to have a look and found this small village to be situated in the center of a maze of, very un-Italian, rectangular roads, named Strada 22 Ovest (West 22nd St.), etc. Just like Manhattan, but with blocks of cornfields instead of skyscrapers. To our surprise the houses and offices of Arborea were all built in the same architectural style: a mixture of neo-Gothic and Liberty (essentially Victorian, but with an Italian twist).
As we learned, the city was built from scratch in the 1920’s, during Italy’s fascist era, to become the center of a new agricultural area. This Terrealba area used to be a malaria infested swamp before Mussolini ordered it to be reclaimed. Originally Arborea was in fact called Mussolinia and it is just one of several examples of “Mussolinian” cities. The most famous of these is Latina, close to Rome, in the Agro Pontino agricultural area, also originally a swamp that was drained by the Fascists. To relive the history of this particular project, read the great and Strega prize winning novel ‘Canale Mussolini’ by Antonio Pennacchi.
It was a strange experience to be walking in this open air museum of dubious origin. While perhaps feeling a bit guilty for liking this fascist creation, we nonetheless enjoyed Arborea’s harmonious and friendly atmosphere.