Mayor and Banker

Augusto MombelloAugusto Mombello was born on 7th July 1847 in Savona.
The son of Antonio, a notary, and Teresa Becchi, a fervent Mazzinian, after several years of training at the Military College of Asti and at the Academy, he gave up his military career to devote himself to finance and politics.

He was employed at the Credito Mobiliare in Turin, a city that allowed him to meet Garibaldi, who enthused him so much that he followed him to Mentana, where on 3rd November 1867 he was wounded in combat against Franco-Pontiff troops.

He then moved to Sanremo where he became the director of the Credito di Nizza, but above all he began to propagate the ideas of the socialist movement which was then taking its first steps.
In 1896, the Socialist party won the municipal elections and Mombello was elected mayor.

His measures included reducing taxes and distributing medicines free of charge to the poor.

In addition, in February 1897, he introduced free school meals on the basis of income, the first example in Italy.

He approved the widening of Via dell'Arenella, the public garden in the upper part of the city, the relocation of the barracks from Piazza Colombo to San Martino, solved the problem of public and private lighting and obtained a reduction in the price of gas. He approved the new town plan, the project for the new slaughterhouse and the new Corso Mazzini; during his administration the contract for the construction of the Casino was also signed.

In December 1897 he resigned as mayor, but was re-elected in 1902 with an administrative programme that included support for the development of commercial, agricultural and floricultural activities, strengthening port facilities, providing incentives for tourist activities, beautifying the city, widening roads and increasing rail links.

In the social field, he set up night schools, improved the aqueduct and gas lighting.

On the evening of 12 January 1905, he officially opened the Casino.

During his term of office there was also great cultural development, including the founding of the Università Popolare Sanremese.

In 1906 he was succeeded as mayor by Orazio Raimondo.

He died in Genoa on 8th December 1941.

He wrote a memoir "Mentana. Memories of a veteran", a copy of which is kept in our Museum.

With a resolution of 1949 the Corso, built in 1878 by Bartolomeo Asquasciati, was dedicated to him. It took over a large part of Pian di Nave and was named Corso Umberto, which was changed in 1943 to Nicola Bonservisi's name, which he lost at the end of the war.

Mombello and Raimondo

« Orazio Raimondo, lawyer, and Augusto Mombello, banker, showed and still show themselves to be strong supporters of socialism, which many modern democrats have taken as a symbol of their faith. This is what Astraldi noted in "Sanremo Rinnovellata" (pg. 302), and continued: "The first has a mind full of many and varied knowledge, a lively intellect, he is a tireless fighter, his eloquence is lively and full of splendid images and effective figures. In the heat of disputation, he never goes beyond the limits of parliamentary convenience, and becomes fiery, pressing, stringent, in the moments that he considers decisive and supreme. The second has an easy eloquence, an accurate attitude; he is very skilled in discussions, especially on financial and administrative matters; he draws strength from the indignation of those proposals that he considers harmful to the people and dangerous to freedom. Orazio Raimondo's word enkindles, moves, drags; Mombello's enlightens, persuades, leads; and that is why they both succeeded in exercising an undisputed authority, not only over the popular masses, but over a great number of intelligent bourgeoisie ».

The Garibaldino of Mentana

The man who, after the brief but notable Escoffier and Drago administrations, was to be elected Mayor of Sanremo had been a valiant Garibaldian. The book "Mentana. - Memories of a veteran. Mondadori - Milano 1932" (written by Mombello at the age of eighty-four) provides us with abundant material on his own Garibaldian activity. He was a daring and generous Italian, and was also a great benefactor of our Sanremo.

He was originally from Varazze, where his father worked as a notary. In 1860 he was placed to study at the Savona Seminary Boarding School "when the talk of the Sicilian uprisings began".

« I immediately became turbulent: I was constantly propagandising in favour of the Sicilians among my more adult companions of the upper classes, resisting the prohibitions of the prefects, and even attempting to propagandise them too ».
Until one day, copies of the "Saggiatore" and the "Movimento" (Mazzini's newspapers) were confiscated, as well as nothing less than Guerrazzi's "L'Assedio di Firenze".
« The Rector humanely let me finish the course, as exams were imminent, but after my promotion, he begged my father not to send me to boarding school any more ».

The young Mombello's free and patriotic education was undoubtedly helped by his family environment, especially on his mother's side: « my mother's relatives, his old father - a convinced Mazzinian who held with veneration a portrait of the Master he had himself - his brother who had a flat in the same house, and my mother's brother: all Mazzinians who were happy with me because I was no longer a seminary student...". "But my father was tired of my restlessness; I begged him to allow me to volunteer to go to a regiment. But I was only fourteen, and it was not possible". It was only when "the newspapers published the admission programme for the third course of the Asti Military College that my father thought, 'If I could be admitted, it would be the best solution. Military discipline would have contained my restlessness and opened the way to the future for my patriotism". "It would take too long to tell you how, after three years at the Military College and one at the Academy, I gave up my career. My military education left something to be desired at the time, but I recognise that it contributed to the development of some good qualities in my character; when the test came for me too, I met it with a firm heart and a strong will, without hesitation ».

This was followed by years in which Mombello was employed in Turin at the Credito Mobiliare. There he acquired, also by natural disposition, great expertise in matters of finance. In this period, one can see the preparation for the future self-employed banker, as well as for the very skilful administrator, which he will demonstrate in Sanremo as Mayor.

From Turin, where he was in the meantime, he went to meet Garibaldi and got to know him: « For the first time I found myself very close to him and heard his excited and solemn words. The impression I got was calm, serene, profound, but also filial, as if I had always known him, had followed him in the past, and should always follow him in the future. In shaking his hand I did not refrain from saying to him: "Always ready General, see you soon". I was the youngest of those present, almost immature; my words seemed to represent the feeling of youth ».

The Mombello Programme and the Opposition

In his own time Bartolomeo Asquasciati had already worked happily on the road to progress and social well-being in Sanremo, parallel to the fortunes he was tirelessly creating for his city.
He had, moreover, pointed out the problems that would soon become peremptory to those of his eventual successors who wanted, like him, to be bold, industrious, and thoughtful of the conditions of the people.

Astraldi notes, in fact, on pg. 292: « Asquasciati foresaw the need for a forthcoming upheaval of that part of humanity which, in order to earn a crust of bread, has to work all day like a blind man, while many are satiated with the superfluous and are proud of cowardly demonstrations of reverence, not unlike contempt, He thought: nature did not make this smiling sky of ours, these luxuriant hills to contrast the misery of the inhabitants. He always had in mind the belief that the foreign colony would be a source of profit for all the citizens in general, and would give them the security of obtaining by their own diligence earnings that would improve their economic condition and make their souls more temperate and tranquil ».

On these premises, in 1896, with the arrival of Augusto Mombello as head of the Municipal Administration, the problem already mentioned became even more active in Sanremo, at least from a social point of view: Spiritual progress and the rapid shortening of inhuman and excessive distances, even in material wellbeing; a programme to be developed, however, in harmony with the aims of those characteristics, now firmly realised by Asquasciati (and Mombello always had them in mind), of a Sanremo as an international tourist city with great resources that would benefit all Sanremo inhabitants of all classes, provided they were hard-working and of good will, and the national economy.

But not everyone, in spite of Mombello's equanimity and balance in both his political and administrative programme, understood it as he did. Asquasciati, despite his tireless, ingenious and practical activity as a confident builder, and even if supported by public suffrage for almost fifteen uninterrupted years, was during his administration, and more and more in the end, harshly fought both by obscure retrogressive currents and by other openly anti-democratic and anti-social currents, especially when his achievements became more and more far-sighted and progressive for the spiritual and material elevation of all his fellow citizens.

In fact, he could not conceive of it being separated from the bold and grandiose works he was carrying out for his native city. And he had fallen. Re-elected, he had retired from public life.
The election, a few years later, of Augusto Mombello was to find old... and new adversaries.
Like all new ideas, socialism was fiercely contested and, above all, vilified.

Astraldi notes on p. 305: « When the banker Augusto Mombello was elected mayor on November 3, 1896, the citizens who saw their efforts to overthrow him die, and who disdained to compose their souls to receive his civil opinions, new Virgiles, raising a face as long as melancholy, hastened to portray him in the opposition (conservative) newspapers as a real little Augustus, who had succeeded in usurping the northern hills and supplanting their owners. And he, who well knew that the hundred eyes of Argos were fixed on him, once he had become an official, with the necessary boldness for good successes he set about starting an administration that would produce the fruits that the population had reason to expect, and to promote, with a strong will, that contrast of opinions that pushes the opposing party to advance towards free and civilised living and to achieve real ideals ».

Mayor Mombello's public works

We always quote from Astraldi on page 306:
« Under the administration of Augusto Mombello, the widening of Via Arenella was decided upon, which was then carried out under Balestreri; t
- he cutting of Via Palma was carried out by his successors, and the public garden in the upper part of the city (the former Queen Elena garden) was built;
- negotiations with the Minister of War began for the transfer of the barracks from Piazza Colombo to San Martino, followed by the Royal Commissioner Cav. Rebucci, and cut short by the Gismondi administration;
- The contract for the construction of the Kursaal (formerly the Asquasciati project) was signed with the contractor, Mr Foisnou, who was to have spent over a million on it and then lost about one hundred thousand francs for failing to meet his contractual obligations;
- a project was drawn up to reform the tax on focatico, raising the maximum to 1,000 lire and abolishing quotas of less than five lire; 
- the study for the municipalisation of funeral services was initiated;
- school meals were introduced before those in other Italian cities;
- the issue of public and private lighting was resolved by obtaining a reduction in gas prices (lighting at the time) for both the municipality and the citizens.
- the socialist administration, always victorious, freed the municipality from the monopoly of the Tuscan with a sentence in which it was recognised the right to establish another lighting system both for the public and for the private citizens;
- it also obtained, with another dispute, the recognition of the contractual right in favour of the farmers to pay annually 30.50 lire for irrigation water instead of 100 lire per cubic metre (later, during the Gismondi administration, a settlement was reached, which did not satisfy the socialists, of this dispute between the municipality and Giovanni Marsaglia. Giovanni Marsaglia; the councillors Mombello, Orazio Raimondo, G. B. Rubino and G. Gaglietto then resigned. Gaglietto);
- it approved at first reading the new town planning scheme for the city, which was then further extended by the Gismondi administration; and a new building regulation, also modified by the latter;
- it also definitively approved the project for the public slaughterhouse to be built in the Armea river, a project which was then unhappily carried out during the Gismondi and Balestreri administrations;
- the straight stretch of Corso Mazzini, modifying the project agreed upon with the province and work began;
- he compiled a new organisation chart of the offices, schools and municipal services, which was later approved with slight modifications by the following administration;
- he reformed the regulation of public porters and made a new one for public vehicles (Mombello was an administrator who also paid attention to minute but not negligible details);
- he reorganised the regulation for the collection of taxes on domestic animals, exempting beasts of burden from the tax, etc. ».

His name, among the many good deeds for the people, is particularly linked to the institution (as already mentioned), before any other municipality in Italy, of the providential school meals for the particularly needy primary schools children, and for having (as regards Sanremo as a tourist town) taken up the far-sighted projects and resolution of Bartolomeo Asquasciati for the erection of a Kursaal.
Sanremo Socialism, which had reached the public administration, succeeded in implementing the resolution for the Kursaal, despite obstacles and endless and fierce opposition.
Not only that, but it promptly turned it into a successful competition with the Kursaal, which was then being built as a gaming house (Casinos), according to the evolution that was beginning to take place on the nearby French Riviera.

« And if the Casino exists today, as a necessity of the Municipality and the population, we know (as Brizio already said: "Au Pays du Soleil. History of Sanremo. Bartolomeo Asquasciati ". N. 53 - 10°) to whom to give thanks: to Bartolomeo Asquasciati and to Augusto Mombello ».

And with Mombello, patriot, Garibaldi's fighter, politician, banker and finance man, meritorious mayor of Sanremo, linear and persuasive writer in "Mentana" (Mondadori 1930), very effective journalist and sharp and witty polemicist in history, politics, sociology, in "Lavoro" of Genoa, the exemplary history of the local XIX century, which we could define the age of the great mayors, ends.

Giacomo Gandolfi, founder of L'Eco della Riviera », wrote about him to his son Ernesto in December 1941: « Augusto Mombello always loved Sanremo more than his native town. In 1896 Sanremo elected him as its Mayor and he showed a far-sighted spirit of initiative, the wisdom of an administrator, a complete vision of the peculiar needs of an international centre such as our beautiful city.
He always loved Sanremo, perhaps more than his native Savona and Varazze, the land of his fathers where he spent his childhood.
As the head of a socialist administration, the first in Italy to be won by socialists (so he could boast of being the dean of socialist mayors), he was always able to reconcile his ideals with the interests of this climatic resort, trying to give it modern tourist facilities, studying the organisations of the nearby French coast. Among other things, as mayor, he always collaborated sincerely with the Society of Local Interests, which had the functions of today's tourist boards. Paolo Marini, made up of personalities opposed to his administration. And so - overcoming difficulties of all kinds and sometimes violent opposition - he succeeded in endowing San Remo with the Municipal Casino. This problem had been addressed several times in vain by moderate administrations.
These days (December '41) Fascism has granted school meals in all the cities of Italy, trumpeting it as one of its conquests.
False! This beneficial institution is due to Augusto Mombello who was the first to implement it in the schools of Sanremo in 1898. And after the first year of experiment, the Municipality of Milan (Mayor Mr. Caldara) sent two councillors to study how it worked and then adopted it in its primary schools. The good seed then sprouted throughout the peninsula and in France.
In 1908, Augusto Mombello municipalised the Sanremo aqueduct and subsequently improved its efficiency.
Another of his concerns was the construction of country roads to encourage floriculture and also to facilitate tourist excursions. He also widened the two main streets to the west and east of the city (Corso degli Inglesi and Corso Cavallotti). He established a staff of primary schools teachers who had previously been in difficult circumstances, gave a boost to the municipal library and, on the initiative of the San Remo Press Association, set up the Università Popolare, which functioned brilliantly for a number of years.
Mombello also gave his active collaboration to the municipal administration headed by Orazio Raimondo, who was always concerned about the future of his adopted town.
The neighbouring municipalities never turned to Augusto Mombeilo in vain for their needs: I remember that many years ago a terrible fire had partially destroyed the hamlet of Aigovo in the municipality of Molini di Triora. He immediately went to the site and realised the extent of the damage, so Mombello arranged for the municipality to provide a substantial sum of money to help the rural population.
I would add that, as a man of sides, he always had the greatest respect for his political adversaries with whom he maintained friendly relations.
An enemy of violence, his life was always marked by the utmost serenity ».

Towards the end of the last century, the free school meals, instituted by Mombello and mentioned by Gandoifi, had a wide resonance in Austria and Germany: this is demonstrated by the publications of Berlin and Viennese newspapers of the time and letters from members of parliament asking for details and advice on the subject.

(texts taken from the book "I Grandi Sindaci dell'Ottocento", published by the "Comitato Arti e Mestieri").

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