Italy presents great contrasts in the ways of localization of its rural population, with settlements strongly centralized in compact villages and large hamlets, with houses all scattered on the grounds and with multiple mixed or intermediate forms. The southern regions and the islands still retain in many places the forms of greater centralization, in which the entire rural class lives in the “country” and the peasants travel twice a day between it and the cultivated fields, sometimes located at a considerable distance: the countryside is devoid of houses and has only “pagliare” (straw huts) or the more modern “casini”, used for the custody of tools or provisions and for a temporary stay. The great demographic development in the century. XIX made many such villages (Sicily, Puglia) real rural cities. This type of settlement, common to many regions of the Mediterranean, has historical, ethnic and physical causes, such as the poor political or social security of the past, the nature of the southern people prone to urban life, malaria and the scarcity of water. ‘food: but it rests above all on an old type of agricultural economy based on extensive cereal farming and tree crops (olive trees, vines), conducted with the help of a large class of laborers and accompanied by a very modest animal husbandry (sheep). The introduction of specialized crops (citrus, almond, tobacco), or the development of breeding, especially of cattle, or the transition to mixed crops, has everywhere led to the foundation of farms, farmhouses, isolated farmhouses. In many southern regions, the old village now contains rural,
Outside southern Italy, the centralized settlement generally coincides with the presence of an unfavorable agricultural environment, p. ex. the mountain. The topographical conditions and the reduction and fragmentation of the cultivated area, however, have given the centralized settlements of the mountain particular characteristics: in the Apennines, also dividing the inhabited area, which therefore appears to be formed by a number of small compact nuclei, villages and farmhouses: in the Alps, integrating also with the temporary residences placed at different levels for the exploitation of pastures and woods. These types of settlements have also given rise to mixed forms, especially in the Prealps and in the hilly areas of the Apennines, therefore in the more fertile marginal areas, which are perhaps the most widespread forms.
The need for isolated rural farms was probably felt at first in the regions where the existence of vast expanses of grazing land favored the development of livestock and related industries. Thus, more than other types (farmhouses in the Lazio countryside, old manor farms of the southern plains), the type of the rural courtyard, formed by several buildings arranged around an enclosed space, suitable for the custody of animals, fodder and crops, also easy to be defended, which today are still found in large areas of the Po-Veneto plain and in the Campania countryside. But the isolated court is, in general, an exception and, with regard to the shape of the settlement, its tendency to group together so as to form small rural aggregates and, in some cases, appears characteristic. even large centers composed solely of rural courts. This fact and the ease with which the court lends itself to serve as a dwelling for several families allows it to be placed between the intermediate forms of settlement between centralization and dispersion.
The Italian regions in which the dispersed rural settlement has clearly established itself are, first of all, those in which the agricultural contract of sharecropping dominates, with the division of properties into farms of an entity proportionate to the working capacity of a peasant family ( Tuscany): then, various districts of old and new hydraulic reclamation and, here and there, the particularly favored areas in which the small property has developed. The area of the most recent Padana reclamation, on the other hand, presents an intermediate type of settlement, with houses aligned and sometimes concentrated along the roads and on the embankments. A type to be mentioned is also that of the villages with scattered houses that prevail, outside the main valleys, in the German population area of Alto Adige.