This squat is mucho impressive. First taking in 1968, it has been open for nearly 25 years, with some of the original occupiers still in residence. From the outside, a main gate leads into a corridor with music rooms on one side and the mess hall on the other, before opening up into a cross roads, where a middle corridor divides the space up into two areas, connected internally.
The squat operates on three levels: the top with little troll houses complete with gardens and a vegetable patches built into the woodland; in the middle two large courtyards stand in front of workshop rooms, while underground the tunnels lead into little alcoves decorated by a variety of residents and visitors together with an enormous basement kitchen.
At the top on a grassy pitch overlooking the main public areas are little outbuildings. Banners adorn railings which looked out over it in front of little gardens carefully tended in front of the doors leading to the tiny dwelling spaces of the long term residents. A vegetable patch at one side provides a range of vegetables for the needs of the residents. While works of art are scattered amongst the grounds.
They run both gigs and festivals on a regular basis as well as other political and cultural events. They explained to me that most of the people here had just got sick of the rat race and wanted a different kind of life, one in which they determined their own priorities rather than being driven by the needs and wants of the outside world. They noted that not everyone who came here, or stayed here was political, but its very existance and people’s participation in it gave them a taste that another world was possible and a drive to create that world.
As with almost every other anarchist community I’ve met on the continent, most people spoke a variety of languages – almost all spoke a little bit of English and regular classes are held for people to learn other European languages, when I asked if that was a general Italian thing they said no, that in the centre of Rome people would speak English, but not in most of the suburbs. People in the squat spoke English (and French, and German, and Spanish) because they needed to – there was always people arriving from all across europe so people got a good chance to practice their language skills and were keen to so that they could properly communicate with visitors.
The majority of the people there were male, however there were a good number of women both visiting and as long term residents, the first person I asked about a safer spaces policy, looked confused and told me that this was a safe place. Despite thousands of people being here for gigs and concerts and alcohol being sold, he couldn’t remember a fight breaking out. They told me that the place just made people respect one another and you just didnt get hassle here.
Talking to another activist however who had lived there over 20 years, a different picture emerged, there had been an incident not long before I arrived where a fascist appeared at the gate of the squat and held a knife to the throat of another activist. After calls to increase the security at the gate, the decision was taken that the best protection that the squat had was the culture that it engendered, and it was decided that the gate was to remain open from 11am each morning until the close of the day with no security, to encourage people to come in and that a defensive attitude only encouraged hostility towards the squat both from the local community and from antagonistic forces.
He told me that they did get problems, particularly when people were drunk, however there were people trained to deal speak with them to explain that their behaviour, who were identified and identifyable within the community as people who could be relied on to support others when they were feeling unsafe, threatened or an incident occured. They would initially tell people their behaviour was not acceptable, most accepted this and moderated their behaviour, however there were occasions when others had to get involved to back up the person dealing with the incident. Should all else fail, people would be physically ejected. He explained that although it was a continual issue dealing with it, most of the visitors who came for events knew and respected the behaviour expected of them within the community.
This seemed to be a bit of a cross between the other large squatted areas that I’ve visted. Christiana operates much more as a small town within a city, while Can Mondeu has more of a feel of a well organised and seemlessly run collective. This one was clearly well run and astonishingly extensive, which you would never guess from the modest entrance. A concert was due to take place just after I left and the preparations for it were well underway. It was such a shame that my flight was already booked and I wasnt able to see Forte Prentestino in all its glory. Apparently there had been a move to evict the squat about ten years prior and the local community had risen up to defend it, as part and parcel of the area. Its clearly a valued and important part of the community and one highly valued not only by its residents and radical visitors, but also by the locals.