In Italy, the comune, (plural comuni) is the basic administrative unit of both provinces and regions, and may be properly approximated in casual speech by the English word township or municipality.

Importance and function

The comune provides many of the basic civil functions: registry of births and deaths, registry of deeds, contracting for local roads and public works, etc. It is headed by a mayor (sindaco) assisted by a council of aldermen, the Consiglio Comunale. The offices of the comune, referred to as the Municipio, are housed in a building usually called the Palazzo Comunale.

As of the 2001 census, there were 8,101 comuni in Italy; they vary considerably in area and population.

For example, the comune of Rome (Lazio) has an area of 1,285.30 sq. km and a population of 2,546,804, and is both the largest and the most populated comune in Italy; Fiera di Primiero, in the province of Trento, is the smallest comune by area, with only 0.10 sq. km, and Morterone (province of Lecco) is the smallest by population, with only 33 inhabitants.

The density of comuni varies widely by province and region: the province of Bari, for example, has 1,564,000 inhabitants in 48 municipalities, or over 32,000 inhabitants per municipality; whereas the Valle d'Aosta has 121,000 inhabitants in 74 municipalities, or 1,630 inhabitants per municipality — roughly twenty times more communal units per inhabitant. There are inefficiencies at both ends of the scale, and there is concern about optimizing the size of the comuni so they may best function in the modern world, but planners are hampered by the historical resonances of the comuni, which often reach back many hundreds of years, or even a full millennium: while provinces and regions are creations of the central government, and subject to fairly frequent border changes, the natural cultural unit is indeed the comune, — for many Italians, their hometown: in recent years especially, it has thus become quite rare for comuni either to merge or to break apart.


A comune usually comprises:

  • a principal town, that almost always gives its name to the comune; such a town is referred to as the capoluogo of the comune; the word comune is therefore naturally used in casual speech to refer to the town hall.
  • other outlying areas called frazioni (singular: frazione, abbreviated Fraz.), each usually headed by a small town or village: for fuller details, see the article Frazione. These frazioni have usually never had any independent historical existence, but occasionally are former smaller comuni consolidated into a larger. In recent years the frazioni have become less important. Yet smaller places are called localitÓ (sometimes, as in the phonebook, abbreviated Loc.).

Some few frazioni are more populated than the capoluogo; and very occasionally, due to unusual circumstances or to the depopulation of the latter, the town hall and its administrative functions move to one of the frazioni: but the comune still retains the name of the


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