Feeling at home: new spaces for the education of children without families in the Italian "Villaggio Belvedere" during the XX century

Anna Debe'*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


At least until the middle of the twentieth century, Italian orphaned and abandoned children lived in residential institutions – known as “institutes” – which were spread all over the country. At any one time, the large, anonymous and amorphous buildings, which were structurally ill-suited for educational purposes, hosted hundreds of children without parental care. These segregating facilities were characterized by depersonalization, rigid discipline and routine, and social isolation. The large dormitories and refectories did not allow young people either the intimacy they required or the opportunity to develop a sense of beauty, with educational activity being aimed more at the masses than at the individual. In the aftermath of the second world war, institutes were accused of being inadequate to meet children’s developmental needs and progressively began to be replaced by new initiatives, such as home care interventions to prevent child abandonment, foster care and adoption, community-based services which reproduce the family context. This process of “de-institutionalization” was at its height between the end of the Sixties and the end of the Seventies, particularly due to the appetite for reform triggered by the 1968 movement, the complaints of well-known figures in the European intellectual world (such as Erving Goffman, Erik Erikson and the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia), the reform of family law and the new role given to local autonomies in the social welfare system. In Reggio Emilia, a fairly large city in northern Italy, a significant act of “de-institutionalization” was realized at the beginning of the Sixties, when the two local orphanages, founded in the XVI century, were abandoned. These were still organized along highly traditional lines, in terms of, for example, their standardized management of spaces, the high number of inmates, the non-specialist staff, and the lack of individualized relationships between children and adult staff. In place of these orphanages, in 1962 the “Villaggio Belvedere” was inaugurated, a family-type community organized like a little village, where small groups of minors lived in an architectural setting that enabled the provision of educational, recreational and assistance services based on the primary interests of the child. Summarizing the results of archival and bibliographical research, this paper traces the history of the “Villaggio Belvedere”, paying particular attention to its connection with the wider historical and educational context of the time. The aim is to identify the social, political and cultural events that influenced the definition of its pedagogical proposal, highlighting at the same time the importance of spaces in the definition of a specific educational framework.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationISCHE 41, Spaces and places of education, Book of Abstract
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventISCHE 41 - Porto
Duration: 16 Jul 201920 Jul 2019


ConferenceISCHE 41


  • Italy
  • XX century
  • children without parental care
  • residential homes


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