Towards Illuminism and the French Revolution

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ILLUMINISM AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  (go Back to the main menu of History of Italy)

Economy, Society and Culture

The next fifty years saw a period of relative political stability and economic progress for all the various Italian States. Judicial and administrative reforms were carried out, generally marked by increased efficiency in state structures. This was also due to the actions of statesmen and enlightened sovereigns like Maria Teresa of Austria and Joseph II in Lombardy, Bernardo Tanucci at Naples, Pietro Leopoldo in Tuscany and Pius VI at Rome.
Following this brief but intense period came first the echo of the French Revolution (1789) and the tragic end of the French monarchy (1792) and then the resounding reality of the Napoleonic armies. The latter's first Italian Campaign (1796) carried with it the hope of an independent Italy before too long. Spanish predominance in Italy, extending over some two centuries, had rather negative consequences for the country, whose economy, especially in the rich northern and central regions underwent a disastrous decline. This brought in its train social and cultural repercussions. The imbalance between the southern regions and the rest of the country increased, above all in the agricultural sector. The south had mainly large feudal agricultural and pastoral estates and exported considerable quantities of traditional Mediterranean crops (cereals, wine and olive oil) and sheep products (wool and cheese) to the great urban areas of Central Italy and the Po Valley. The north, meanwhile, alongside its large-scale irrigation cultivation was developing the production of silk (with its main working and trading centres in Lombardy) and the characteristic landscape of mixed farming (especially in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche).
Besides silk, which was very profitable, other industrial-type activities were prospering (even if in this period the production of the finished goods still had the character of a craft and an organization based on the medieval corporations), such as the weaving of wool and flax. The Alpine and Apennine forests provided the raw material for boat building, a particular speciality of Venice and Genoa. In addition, the pre-Alpine Lombard and Venetian regions had well-developed metallurgy, due to the presence of metal-bearing deposits that had been utilized since ancient times. Other important areas of production were the manufacturing of glass at Venice, paper at Fabriano and the continuing quarrying at Carrara of the splendid marble of the Apuan Alps.
Also in the commercial sector the difference between the north and south of Italy was apparent in the active presence of merchants from Tuscany, Genoa and Venice in the Spanish viceroyalty where they had fondachi or permanent commercial bases. Moreover the Central and Northern regions were in constant contact with the rest of Europe through their own trading offices at Lyons, London,


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