Author: Stefano MontesiAuthor: Alessandro Lanzetta

For about eight months from mid-1990 to 31 January 1991, immigrant squatters took over the “Pantanella” complex, an abandoned pasta factory in Rome. The Pantanella incident could be thought of as the most important, self-organised, intercultural laboratory in Europe.

During the occupation, the Pantanella complex played host to a series of well-organised commercial, social, and cultural activities. The largest mosque in Rome was established in the former factory garage, and several ethnic restaurants were set up at the Pantanella, which were frequented by residents from other parts of Rome. This positive experience with collective endeavours encouraged the immigrants to mobilise themselves for a series of political activities.

Immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh filled one of the buildings of the complex and Maghrebi immigrants (Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians) inhabited others. The occupiers were supported by Caritas and progressive non-governmental organisations such as Casa dei Diritti Sociali, which offered basic Italian language courses. All-in-all, nearly 20,000 immigrants passed through the Pantanella during the occupation, all of whom were men with the sole exception of one woman.

Most public agencies overlooked and neglected the needs of the Pantanella inhabitants, although the police frequently imposed searches and other controls on them. The immigrant community of the Pantanella elected representatives to participate in political assemblies organised by the students of the nearby “Sapienza” University of Rome, while students opposed to eviction of the residents of the former factory picketed the complex at night. Through efforts and activities like these, the Pantanella occupation gained sufficient recognition and standing to obtain temporary shelter in welcoming centres throughout Rome for 2,000 undocumented immigrants.

Following the eviction at the end of January 1991, the Moroccan members of the Pantanella community moved into a shanty town that would host more than 1,000 immigrants together with some Italian families. Many of the immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh started small businesses in other Roman neighbourhoods such as Esquilino (Piazza Vittorio), Pigneto, and Tor Pignattara.

Roberto de Angelis