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Piemonte - Population and Economy

The morphological nature of this region heavily conditions the size and distribution of the population. Plains intensively exploited by cultivation, livestock and industry contrast with thinly populated mountain areas where silvo-pastoral activities, the sole resource, yield modest incomes.

Consequently there is constant migration from the poorest mountain areas to the productive regions of the plain, especially towards the centres of high industrial concentration.

In recent years a certain slowing of this migratory movement has been noted, due to the introduction of a number of pilot schemes in the field of animal husbandry and to the expansion of agritourism.

The most densely populated areas, apart from the main cities, are those at the foot of the mountains with high concentrations in the Turin and Canavese areas, the lower Val di Susa, the Biella area, in the heart of the Novara area and round Alessandria.

Despite remarkable expansion in the industrial and service sectors, agriculture remains one of the fundamental resources: the principal crops are wheat, corn, rice (round Novara and Vercelli), vegetables and fruit, and fodder for the flourishing cattle and pig breeding sector.

In the hills the typical crop is grapes, from which famous wines (Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Gattinara, Sizzano, Ghemme, etc.) are made.

Industry, favoured by the availability of electric power, is concentrated mainly in the Provinces of Turin, Novara, Vercelli and in some areas round Alessandria.

The most highly developed sector is heavy engineering, led by the automobile industry (Torino, Chivasso) flanked by satellite industries.

The first Piedmontese industries, promoted last century by the House of Savoy, developed over solid traditions of craftsmanship in the textile and garment industries and the manufacture of weapons.

It was not easy, however, to make a success of industry. To a lack of raw materials and sources of energy was added the difficulty in communications, exacerbated by the barriers formed by the Alps and Pennines.

To make matters worse, with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, the capital was moved to Florence (1865) and then to Rome (1871), which appeared to relegate Piedmont to a position of peripheral importance.

Towards the end of the century, however, the new method of exploiting Alpine waters by the construction of hydroelectric power stations, gave Piedmont the electricity needed for industrial development: the Alpine circle which, fifty years earlier, had seemed a negative factor, now made an essential contribution to the work of man.

In 1899 Fiat was founded; on 19th March 1900 it celebrated the inauguration of the first workshop, which produced 70 cars in its first year. The new century brought the beginning of the automobile era.

Today, also of great importance are the textile, wool (Biella area, lower Valsesia) and cotton (Novara area) industries. Other sectors include metallurgy, steel, chemicals, food, confectionery, paper, printing and publishing, garments and wood.

Business and finance is largely concentrated in Turin, the chief city, and Novara, a town which benefits from its proximity to Milan. In spite of the obstacle of the mountains, rail, road and motorway communications are well developed.

The most important rail junction is Turin: linked with France and Switzerland, the railways run mainly towards Milan and Genoa, literally constituting the great lines of the industrial triangle (Milan-Turin-Genoa), the linchpin of the whole Italian economy.

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