31 August 2010

Brief history of smuggling between Ticino and Italy

Smugglers carried goods (25/30 kg.) in their "backpacks" made of jute.
B/W images via swissinfo.ch


Smuggling between Italy and Ticino was since the early 19th Century an endemic economical trend, because of the very basic reason that roughly half of the Ticino boundary lies along the Italian one, and different tax legislations let a convenient income margin for goods that were not declared at the border: this borderland was a strategic hub for goods traveling from north to south Europe and vice-versa. With the construction of the Gottardo railway tunnel (1872-82) this "European" role was strongly enhanced.

Model: in black Ticino; from left Lake Maggiore, Lugano and Como.
White wires are smuggler's main routes. Brown piece of cloth is jute.

Governments in Ticino and Lombardy (Spanish, Austrian, French, and then Italian) always tried to address and stop illegal commerce, but since in Switzerland there is nearly no flatland to cultivate, grain and flour in great quantity was transported (illegally) from the "Pianura Padana" to the Swiss population and smuggling represented an opportunity for both populations, dealing with basic commodities, that is why this activity was seen as a relief for communities on both sides; to get what was necessary, not what was luxurious; a way to resist to the fiscal oppression of foreign powers, ruling the north of Italy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It also represented a way of communication between the two States, since it was necessary to set up a net of personal and fiduciary relationships.
After the French Revolution the Italian State (under the control of Napoleon) promulgated in 1803 the monopoly of salt, tobacco and gunpowder: these goods started coming then from Switzerland, where no monopoly was run, as well as coffee.

Support from the population was necessary: smugglers were well accepted.


In order to avoid patrols smugglers chose demanding routes.

Around 1848, when the constitution of the Italian Republic was still in progress, Ticino was fundamental in printing democratic pamphlets and distributing them illegally in Italy, or hosting central figures of the Italian Risorgimento, one for all, Carlo Cattaneo. As well in 1848, with the purpose of damaging the Austrian Government in north of Italy, in Brissago, on the Swiss shore of the Lake Maggiore, was founded a tobacco factory, producing the same products of Austrian factories: same quality but lower price. Cigarettes were then spread in Italy through smuggling.

Goods left along the way.

Patrolling around Lugano CH.

Towards the end of the 19th Century a fence was built along the border, and smugglers had to organize themselves better and more efficiently.

Jute "shoes" were need to minimize noise while walking.


Between the two World Wars, smuggling was reduced, because of better patrolling, due to the fear that enemies would invade the territory, and because much of the male population which was not fighting found a job in building infrastructure for the Army. Between 1943 and 1948 smuggling arose again: this time the main good to smuggle was rice, coming from Italy to Switzerland. From the 1950s on, smuggling started dealing with monopoly goods, rather than basic goods, as well as with drugs, becoming a international criminal organization.

A moment of rest cleaning out mud from shoes.
Post a Comment