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The first tobacco manufacturing factory was established in Turin in 1740, on Via della Zecca (nowadays Via Verdi). The consumption of tobacco quickly became popular, and its growth soon necessitated the opening of a new tobacco manufacturing facility. A second plant was established at the ancient Viboccone castle.

The Viboccone castle

The Viboccone Castle was built by order of Emanuele Filiberto starting in 1568. His desire was to have a castle with an attached hunting estate in the northern part of the city.

A village near the confluence of the Dora Riparia, the Stura, and the Po rivers was chosen for the castle, and it was named “vicus bocconis” (from which the castle derives its name). Carlo di Castellamonte also worked on the project, completing a construction of modest dimensions but very sumptuous and elegant. The interiors are decorated by Moncalvo, while the park features splendid water features.

Pillars of Viboccone castle

However, the palace was soon damaged during the war in 1640. Subsequently, with the death of Carlo Emanuele I, the House of Savoy lost interest in this castle. So much so that when the palace was practically destroyed during the French siege of 1706, it was already in ruins. After the siege, the park (from which the neighborhood gets its name) remained and was granted for public use.

Later, part of the palace grounds were used for the construction of the Monumental Cemetery and the Tobacco Factory. Today, apart from the base of some pillars visible in the current Piazza Abba, nothing remains of the castle.

The Tobacco Factory

The Manifattura Tabacchi (Tobacco Factory) was completed in 1768 based on the design by Benedetto Ferroggio. It quickly became the most important industry in Turin. By the mid-19th century, the Manifattura Tabacchi employed approximately 600 workers, mostly women. Starting in 1855, the entire production process was moved to a new facility, leaving only the final stage of cigar processing at the historic location on Via della Zecca. This final stage was eventually transferred to a new location in the early 1900s.

In 1875, there were 2,500 employees, with only 400 of them being men. During this period, it was one of the most significant industrial establishments in the entire Kingdom of Italy.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the production of “spagnolette,” which are the current cigarettes, was introduced. The production process was modernized with the acquisition of new machinery, leading to a gradual but inexorable reduction in manual labor.

Tobacco factory
The Tobacco Factory

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were approximately 2,000 employees, but the decline in demand for cigars and loose tobacco reduced the number of female cigar makers (called “sigaraie”) to just 598. However, cigarette production remained constant, along with the workers dedicated to it. In 1937, the Manifattura Tabacchi adopted new machinery, replacing artisanal methods with a more industrial process. Production increased, but the demand for specialized personnel decreased once again.

During World War II, the factory and its machinery suffered significant damage, especially during the bombing on July 13, 1943. Post-war reconstruction led to the installation of new machinery, further reducing the workforce and marking the decline of the tobacco factory.

In 1960, the sections dedicated to pipe tobacco and cigars were closed. Finally, on March 19, 1996, all activity ceased completely. Today, the premises are part of the University of Turin.

Le sigaraie

As mentioned, the personnel employed in the tobacco manufacturing factory were predominantly women. In 1907, there were 793 women out of a total of 946 employees, and by 1925, the number of women increased to 1,436 out of a total of 1,706. Male workers were primarily involved in machinery management, while the cigar packaging was carried out by women known as “sigaraie” or “tabacchine”.

The production process was entirely manual and artisanal, requiring highly specialized personnel. The training of the sigaraie took place within the factory, where they learned the trade and acquired the necessary skills under the guidance of more experienced female workers (known as “maestre”).

Sigaraie at work

Despite the high level of specialization required, working conditions were very strict. During working hours, no breaks were allowed, and the sigaraie had to wear head coverings. They were directly responsible for maintaining and washing their work clothes. The work was paid on a piecework basis, involving the production of 800-900 cigars every day.

Inside the factory, there were also inspectors who monitored the production process, controllers who weighed and counted the cigars, and visitors who searched the workers upon exiting to prevent tobacco theft.

The continuous exposure to tobacco and glue affected the health of the workers, often leading to respiratory diseases and eczema on their hands. The heavy work pace was sometimes accompanied by excessive alcohol consumption outside the factory.

However, the sigaraie were close-knit and supportive of each other. They organized and participated in many labor strikes, advocating for better pay and working conditions. For example, in May 1906, they went on strike to reduce working hours, which eventually resulted in a reduction to seven hours of work instead of eight.