Sentinelle solitarie – Le case Cantoniere

Sentinelle Solitarie
Le case cantoniere

Italian text

On 13 April 1830, the Royal Decree of the King of Sardinia, Carlo Felice, established the figure of the cantoner. His task was to control and maintain the canton, i.e. a 4-5 km stretch of road, for which he was responsible and in which he had to reside. Constructed mainly in two phases, the first in the second half of the 19th century and the second during the fascist era, in 1938 a census was taken of 1365 cantoniere houses along all Italian state roads. Today, most are no longer in use or have become private property, but there are still 1244 owned by Anas – Italian state.

Immediately recognisable by their Pompeian red colour, the case cantoniere Anas are fascinating because of their widespread distribution throughout Italy, even in the most remote places. Starting in 1981, they began to be decommissioned due to the abolition of the figure of the cantoniere and the downgrading of many state roads.

The repeated formal features (the colour of the walls, windows and stringcourse) must have been a recognisable sign, because they signalled a building with a public function, identical from north to south and across the Italian islands. However, what makes these now melancholic little red houses fascinating are the small, imperceptible variations in the structures. In their construction, local traditions were preserved in both materials and hints of decoration, for example: in South Tyrol the covered wooden balconies, in central Italy the Roman Baroque influences with white arches.

These Sentinelle solitarie, i.e. solitary sentinels, are a unique sign of the Italian landscape: they cadence roads and places and over the years have become visual, topographical and, for me, also emotional landmarks. Sergio Contu, echoing Eugenio Turri's essay, defines the case cantoniere as an icon of the Italian landscape: their precise dislocation in the landscape makes them landmarks that accompany a given route, marking kilometric references on their side facades and defining themselves through the typical white plaques with black lettering on the front.

Their silent presence brings to mind hints of an almost forgotten history that, to my surprise, not everyone knows about: perhaps because they are taken for granted as one of the many relics of the landscape, in their plaster that is no longer red.

The photographic project was born in 2018 and is proposed as a utopian cataloguing of the case cantoniere, in order to tell their story and create a mapping, but also out of a curiosity to exalt the different types of structures, in the paradox of their singular and ambiguous repetitiveness, which is also reproposed, when possible, in the shots.

Telling their story through photography is for me an opportunity to collect a very precise typology of historical buildings that are in danger of being demolished by time and neglect, but also to reflect on the perception of and relationship with elements of the minimal landscape.

Sofia Podestà


All photographs are available in limited editions of 5, in different sizes