Abstract: A Public Company as a Challenger to a Private Monopoly: Providing Water to the Eternal City, 1865-1964

Denis Bocquet


Rome is an exception among European capital cities: the thousand-year-old capital of the Pope's State only became the capital of the Italian national kingdom in 1870 and then grew rapidly. The Eternal City benefited from the infrastructure of the Roman Empire, modernized under the last ruling Popes. Supplying water was not a major technical problem. After 1870, the municipality became a political refuge for Catholics against the Italian central government, seen as sacrilegious for having stolen the city from the Pope. Public service firms were also in the hands of Catholics, who opposed Italian national projects for the new capital. In this paper, I follow the evolution of the relationships among the water supply firm, the urban space, and the local society during decades of struggle for control of public services. In a fast-growing city, with new settlements built year after year, financial, spatial, technical, and social choices were made in response to different stakes: financial profit, political profit, and administrative advantage against a rival administration. There were three major phases in the process expanding the provision of water: first, a private company was in charge; second, local authorities promoted a municipal company against the private company monopoly; and third, debates about municipalization. What was unique in Rome among European capital cities was the way in which different companies were operating in an unequal way. For very specific political, historical, economical, and institutional reasons, in Rome the public company was the challenger, giving historians an unusual situation to study.

BEH On-Line Paper