Text typologies and urban phenomena: Puglia in the early modern period
In the Europe of the ancient regime, the identification and classification of urban settlements was problematic everywhere, but was particularly so in those areas characterized by specialized and commercialised rural economies. In large swathes of Puglia, as in Sicily, Sardinia and Castile, urban settlements surprised and alarmed generations of travelers and observers of the 18th and 19th centuries, much as they did later geographers and anthropologists. According to them, these habitats were simply “paradoxical”: conglomerations of settlements appearing as “agrotowns” that were neither cities nor villages, due to their size and to the nature of their economy.
In time, the structure of these settlements and their socio-political profile came to be viewed within the more general context of the chronic malaise that effected the South of Italy. However, without denying these common topoi, more recent interpretative lines of enquiry have revealed the extraordinary wealth of history that can be retrieved from these settlements and the complex dialectics of power that they generated. By shifting the trajectory away from the scrutiny of traditional models, the communes of the centre-north of Italy, towards a more European panorama where the cities must cope with a series of presences, desires, protests and conflicts generated by a pluralist configuration of powers, it becomes possible to re-align the concept of the “quasi-city” of the South, and more specifically, for what concerns us, Puglia.
This approach allows us to study these sites no longer as places of weakness or the impotence of progressive forces, but as social and territorial spaces in which some of the most crucial nodes of institutional history in the Europe of the ancient regime can be recovered and re-read. It makes no attempt to be an exhaustive catalogue of texts, but selects just a few from the literature on the subject and from field work. Its aim is to explore these written documents, evaluating the levels of formalization of these texts and their role on urban memory - two aspects that appear to be inversely proportional to each other.