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Summer Camps For Italian Children 1920-1970


La colonia (Summer Camp) conjures up memories of youth for the older generation of Italians. 

The tradition builds on the practice of heliotherapy, the therapeutic effect of prolonged exposure to sun, sea water, and open air. In the mid-1800, the medical community recognized the dire consequences on the health of inner-city factory workers, particularly on children’s health.

In Italy, the idea of Heliotherapy Centers for children was introduced by a Florentine physician, Giuseppe Barellai (1813-1884). By the early 1900, Italy had several “Sea Bathing Infirmaries” for the treatment and convalescence of children affected by tuberculosis and rachitis.WWI worsened the already precarious health conditions of Italians, particularly those living in poor neighborhoods in industrial cities of the Center-North. Heliotherapy camps offered children of working-class families the opportunity to spend several weeks during the summer in a healthy environment.

Italian Fascism in the 1920’s and 30’s expanded and transformed these camps into organized Youth Centers. They essentially functioned as hotels, health clinics and activity camps for children ages 6 to 16. They were places where children could live, learn and play in a healthy environment and be fed three meals a day. In addition to receiving appropriate medical care and prevention therapies, the children were indoctrinated into the Fascist way of life.

As the popularity of the colonie grew, there was a need for larger buildings that could host hundreds of children at the same time. This gave rise to the construction of massive and futuristic buildings designed by the best architects of the times.


The daily activities in the colonie were strictly regulated and included early wake-up calls, followed by personal grooming, room cleaning, marches, flag honoring sessions, political educational activities, meals, physical exercise, games and prayers. Central to the daily activities were the “treatments”, consisting in an immersion in sea water, laying on a mat under the sun or simply running around outdoors. Children would generally stay at the camp for a minimum of 30 days, and engaged in gender-specific activities. They were supervised by Signorine Vigilatrici, young women members of the Fascist party, that acted as educators, lifeguards and temporary mothers.Italian was the official language, which was not natural to most children who generally spoke dialect at home.All children were provided with a uniform and a set of regular clothes.

According to official sources, in 1935 there were more than 3,000 colonie primarily along the Adriatic, Terranean and Ligurian Coast, as well as in the Alps.By 1939, over 800,000 children attended summer camps.  

In the 1950s and 60’s, these camps lost their militaristic imprint and became popular again as recreational places. Big companies such as Eni, Agip, Fiat and Olivetti sponsored stays for the children of their employees.  

The popularity of these camps declined in the 70’s, as the income of working-class families increased and they were able to vacation together. Over the years, many of the grandiose buildings built in the Thirties were abandoned; some were turned into hotels or offices. More recently, there has been a renewed interest in these unusual buildings and some have been repurposed into wellness centers for adults and sports camps for youths.  

YouTube: ANNI '30 - COLONIA MARINA DI CATTOLICA (IT)

Article written by Astrid Garino in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team.


Grazie per averci letto.

We are happy to have shared these espresso-size articles on Italian art, language, music, food and other topics over the last 15 months. We hope you found them interesting. Our digital columns will now take a well-deserved

Grazie per averci letto.

We are happy to have shared these espresso-size articles on Italian art, language, music, food and other topics over the last 15 months. We hope you found them interesting. Our digital columns will now take a well-deserved vacanza. We wish you a wonderful summer and we look forward to seeing you in the Fall, when in-person classes and events will resume.   

vacanza. We wish you a wonderful summer and we look forward to seeing you in the Fall, when in-person classes and events will resume.    


Photo Colonia Solare: Biblioteca comunale Foryeguerriana - La Scuola in mostra, Pistoia 1929, quaderno n 173, Quarrata la colonia solare.

Photo Paolo Monti, Servizio fotografico: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paolo_Monti_-_Servizio_fotografico_(Italia,_1958)_-_BEIC_6361484.jpg

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