Feuding Italian cities forced together in cost-saving measure
Historic Italian cities such as Pisa and Lucca, which have been feuding since medieval times, are to be forced to coexist under cost-saving measures to slash the number of provinces in half.
Mario Monti, Italy's prime minister, hopes to shave the country's two trillion euro national debt by reducing the number of provinces from 110 to just 43, in a redrawing of the country's administrative borders.
Only provinces which have a population of at least 350,000 and a land area of 2,500 square kilometres will be spared, as the government tries to tackle Italy's bloated bureaucracy and its four overstaffed tiers of government – national, regional, provincial and local.
But the austerity-driven reform will throw together ancient towns and cities which boast different food, architecture, cultural traditions and dialects, and whose inhabitants often resent their neighbours just down the road.
"Better a corpse in the home than a Pisan at the door," goes a saying from the nearby town of Livorno.
Rival towns swap insults over the quality of their cuisine and the beauty of their women, and regional identity is often stronger than the sense of being Italian.
The reforms will mean, for instance, that the Tuscan cities of Pisa and Lucca, which have been divided by intense rivalry since the Middle Ages, will be lumped together in a new expanded province.
Siena and Arezzo, which are also in Tuscany, will be forced to give up their autonomy despite a centuries-long history of bloody feuding.
"We will never submit to rule by Udine," said Alessandro Ciriani, the president of the north-eastern province of Pordenone, which faces extinction.
A similar spirit of resistance was expressed by provinces around the country.
Regional rivalries remain strong in Italy, which was a patchwork of competing city states, kingdoms and papal territories before it was unified in 1861.
At the time of unification, there were just 59 provinces, but over the next century the number ballooned.
The reforms will sound the death knell for several provinces established by Benito Mussolini during the Fascist era, when he built new towns such as Latina, south of Rome.
Provincial governments have responsibility for matters such as local planning, transportation and local police and fire services, but critics have long wondered whether they are really necessary.
Filippo Patroni Griffi, the minister of public administration, said the reorganisation would be carried out by the end of the year.
But similar proposals in the past have elicited protest from across the country, and the government is likely to find that it has a fight on its hands.
Mr Monti, who replaced Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition in November, warned on Friday that it was essential to maintain the pace of reforms.