The Ghella family’s first construction site
Domenico Ghella, the family’s forefather, is born in Noviglio near Milan in 1837.
In 1850 he leaves for Marseille in France, working as a miner. The boy is just 13 years old and has a great career ahead of him.
It is 1867 when he departs for Egypt, where he will work as small sub-contractor for the construction of the great project of the Suez Canal.
Just three years go by before Domenico finds himself working in Istanbul in Turkey on the Pera-Galata funicular tunnel. He loves the work and is a natural born adventurer.
In 1877, at the age of 40 and following a life of sacrifices, he finally returns to work in Italy on the Novi-Acqui-Ovada line, constructing a deep well.
Adolfo Ghella is born into the profession. He is born in Colleretto Castelnuovo in 1877. Following in his father’s Domenico footsteps, he spends his summers gaining experience on the construction site. He too demonstrates a passion for hard work at the tender age of 13.
The Adolfo Ghella e Figli company is founded
In 1894 the Ghella company is founded. At that time there were construction sites in India, Persia and construction of part of the Trans-Siberian railway in Russia.
It is at the end of that very same year when the father, Domenico, passes away. Adolfo inherits two thousand lire, enabling him to complete the last two years of his university course at the Institute of Pinerolo, and to obtain a degree in Surveying. Following his degree course, he immediately sets off to see the construction sites established by his father in Turkey and Egypt. He is keen to learn about and improve the techniques used in excavation, his first passion.
Ghella builds part of the legendary Trans-Siberian railway
With his construction activities in Russia concluded, one of which is the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, that same year Adolfo begins training at the surveying office of Maddio in Castellamonte, Italy. His job takes him to Genoa where he is captivated by ships bound for the four corners of the world.
In 1901 Adolfo sets sail for Australia. He reinvents himself as a woodcutter, shepherd, miner and gold digger and crosses the continent on foot and horseback, but is unable to find construction work. He has however learned English and the experience has enriched his understanding of men.
Three years go by and he returns to Italy where he starts work on the Sempione railway line to Switzerland.
In 1905 he leaves for Tonkin, French Indochina territory, where a company is designing and building an enterprising railroad. He is assigned a lot of the line. Following yet another plague of tropical diseases, including malaria which results in the death of thousands of coolies (unskilled native labourers), the French company suspends the work. Its survivors return to Europe and Italy. Adolfo departs for Hong Kong on his own.
At the time a British company is building a railway complex in Hong Kong, but the works are delayed due to problems with a tunnel spanning over 7km. To speed up the work, a well is built between the two accesses. The well itself proves to be extremely difficult, leaving the company in despair. Adolfo Ghella goes to the site every day and gets to know the works manager on a personal level (English engineer Graves W. Eves, Chief Resident Engineer) who offers him the contract to build the well.
Adolfo reorganises the construction site and surrounds himself with a new team. He draws on the experience he gained as a child with his father, and which was honed in the jobs that followed. The work quickly progresses and, with the work, personal recognition and his first financial success.
In 1909 he gets the contract to build the port of Kowloon. These successes are followed by full years of profitable employment along the Canton railway line that heads towards China, and where he gets the job of building the dam on the West River.
In 1910, following the Boxer Uprising, he returns to Italy where he marries the woman who was to be his lifelong faithful companion, Domenica. Domenica’s father is Giovanni Bertoglio, a man who will accompany Adolfo on many a business endeavour. It is thanks to Domenico, prolific writer of letters and postcards from all around the world, that it is possible to faithfully piece together the dates of many journeys and construction sites.
In 1912 Domenico Ghella is born, Adolfo and Domenica’s first child. The next year, Adolfo returns to China for a brief period. By this time Ghella has become an internationally renowned company. Adolfo decides to return to Italy, but crossing the American continent. His landing in San Francisco is reported by the local press. He makes it just in time for the birth of his second son, Giovanni.
Once again, the time has come to go back to Russia, but this time with the whole family. He sets up home in Tbilisi, today in Georgia, where he builds a railway section between Kars and Erzurum. Without warning, the war of 1915 arrives there: he sends the family back to Italy and goes to Moscow to try and persuade the client to keep the work going. The Russians, however, have their minds fixed on the war and have suspended payment for construction work.
He speaks Russian to perfection as well as English, French and Chinese.
He puts himself in the hands of the Italian Embassy, thanks to which he manages to obtain some payment for the work carried out. He invests it in wool and carpets, while the Italian ambassador, who has appreciated the man’s worth, entrusts him with fiduciary missions and keeps him practically at the service of the embassy. From 1917 to 1919, Adolfo follows the fall of the Tsars. That same year he succeeds in reaching Arcangelo in Russia, after having left Moscow many months previously without permission and with no Bolshevik escort, and having endured a very long and dangerous journey.
Escape from Russia
He gets to London and from there returns to Colleretto, in his home region of Piedmont. He is penniless, just like 20 years before, but he is stronger than ever, sure of his future and sustained by his indomitable will. Finding no work in Italy, he immediately heads out for the Caspian Sea with a shipment of garments that the Bielese traders launch onto the market in exchange for oil and wool. In Baku the vessel is already loaded with the return shipment of goods when the Bolsheviks impound the cargo (as yet incomplete) and post armed guards on board. The port is mined, but on a stormy night, Adolfo Ghella gives the order to leave, with all the guards still on board. The Caspian Sea is raging, the guards are disarmed with a ruse, and he returns to Italy.
For the third time he has to start from scratch. Adolfo has lost everything, but he boasts considerable experience. He takes part in a tender and wins the contract for a tunnel to be built in Abruzzo, for the Sagittario hydroelectric plant.
It is a tremendous period for work in which many contracts are awarded. In 1926, he wins a contract to build a railway line for the Società Mediterranea, where his father had once worked. Between 1927 and 1933 obtains several railway section projects for the Ferrovie Calabro-Lucane: Crotone-Petilia Policastro 40km; San Pietro in Guarano-Camigliatello 18km; Ferrandina tunnel; Ferrandina-Matera and Miglionico tunnels, 28km; Acerenza-Gravina di Puglia-Altamura 66km.
Between 1930 and 1940,130 km of railway lines are built in the south for the Italian State Railways. In 1934 he moves to Rome, and in the same year, he obtains further rail and road contract work in Italy.
All the constructions have always been successfully concluded.
Adolfo Ghella e Figli are assigned the construction of the most difficult part of Rome’s metro: the section between Via Cavour, San Pietro in Vincoli and the Colosseum. It is a true masterpiece of courage, tenacity and capacity.
The line should have been inaugurated in 1942 for the World’s Fair. It was suspended in 1940 due to the Second World War. Owing to the war, these very same metro tunnels are converted, serving also as air raid shelters with a capacity of around 50,000 people. Tunnels are also built for the sole purpose of protecting the local population.
Between 1939 and 1940 the company builds fortifications on the French border. From 1942 to 1944 they create the pressure pipeline for the hydroelectric plant in Bressanone.
In 1944 Giandomenico Ghella is born, Giovanni’s first child. It will be the fourth generation of the Ghella family to enter the world of construction. Today he is Chairman of the Ghella S.p.A. group.
In 1945, after years of suspension, the Germans leave, taking away virtually all the construction materials with them. It will be necessary to wait for the years of reconstruction. Adolfo Ghella works in every region of Italy. They call him the "tunnel wizard” after clocking up almost half a century of unabated hard work and hardship.
His sons Giovanni and Domenico begin to pull the company out of this difficult chapter. In the same year they create the entrance of the Apennine Base Tunnel on the direct line connecting Florence and Bologna, previously destroyed by the war. The same year work resumes on Rome’s metropolitan line at the Giovanni Lanza station.
Italy is abuzz. Ghella's work is constantly growing: they create hydroelectric plants, railways and motorway sections, structural reinforcements all built with a strong technical predominance and a distinctive attitude to the subsoil. From the north of the Alps to the Calabrian Apennines, Ghella contributes to Italy’s new framework.
In 1951 Enrico Ghella is born, brother of Giandomenico, Marina and Manuela. The last of the four brothers from the fourth generation, and today’s Group CEO.
Between 1954 and 1958, the wharfs at the Jacques Cartier mining port are built and interventions to make the San Lorenzo river navigable are carried out in Canada. The business in Canada is to become Giovanni Ghella's domain. These works are carried out with Canit Construction, controlled by Ghella and their engineering partner, Salvatore Randaccio, as reported in the Giornale di Sicilia in an article of 3 May 1958: "Seaway, the largest waterway." The job consisted in constructing two sluices in Beauharnois.
On May 1, 1955, Adolfo Ghella passes away in Rome, well aware that his own passion for work has been passed on to the next generations.
In 1957, the young Giandomenico Ghella, at the age of 13, will go with his father, Giovanni to visit the Canadian construction site of the two Seaway dykes.
The same year, the foundations of what will be the World Trade Center are created by Icos (US company in the Ghella Group) in New York.
In Italy between 1962 and 1966 a dam on the Cixerri River in Sardinia is built.
A passing crisis
The company goes into receivership resulting in the suspension of some important works. The years to come prove difficult with few materials, and even fewer financial resources.
As far as tunnel work is concerned, the high regard that Ghella’s clients and other companies have for their ability remains unaltered.
In 1967, a new start is made: with great dedication and after repaying all their debts, the two brothers Giandomenico and Enrico once again return to subcontract work. The fact that today Ghella SpA is a solid Group with controlled growth is certainly thanks to what can now be looked back on as an important business lesson.
In 1968, they clinch a subcontracting opportunity with one of the largest Italian companies, to build a tunnel for the Aqueduct of Peschiera in Moricone, where Ghella is one of the first construction companies to invest in technology: the TBM, tunnel boring machine.
The 1970s witness a new partner working alongside Ghella: Domenico Nigro, Giovanni Ghella’s right-hand man and a person of great experience. It is a partnership that works from the word go.
Among their countless projects together, certainly the connecting tunnels in Rome between the Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese car park is one that stands out the most.
Also for the fourth generation, the time has come to cut their own path abroad, in keeping with tradition.
In 1977, the company works in Venezuela for the first time, creating the intake construction and 4 tunnels spanning 20km for the regional aqueduct of Tachira on behalf of INOS (Instituto Nacional de Obras Sanitarias).
In 1979 in Caracas the company begins work on Line 1 of the metro, on the section between the stations of Capitolio and La Hoyada.
In 1980 Lorenzo Ghella, Giandomenico’s son, is born. With Lorenzo, the Ghella company comes to its fifth generation of highly specialised constructors in underground excavations. Today, Lorenzo is Vice President of the Group.
The works created in parallel between Italy and Venezuela are innumerable. It is thanks to long-term investment in technological progress that Ghella has continued to be a pioneer in mechanised excavation techniques since that time. General Contractors by definition, but miners by passion.
Expansion into Central America
The 1990s witness Ghella's unprecedented growth in Central and South America thanks to their technical capabilities and an approach to quality that is typically Italian. Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti and Costa Rica are the playing field. Ghella is a training ground for an entire generation of miners.
In 2005, nearly 150 years following their forefather Domenico’s very first construction project, Ghella returns to France, making a major contribution to the Turin-Lyon high-speed railway.
In 2007 the company creates a section of Line 1 of the Turin metro in Italy, the first automatic metro in Italy. Ghella subsequently works on the new metropolitan line in Milan, Line 5.
In Venezuela the construction of Line 2 of the Valencia metro is carried out.
In 2008 the company works in Argentina for the first time. In Buenos Aires, the famous Maldonado construction is built: 14km of tunnels.
Once again in 2008, the company works in Brazil for the first time, building an important tunnel, part of a gas pipeline and approximately 5km in length.
A new business adventure is launched aimed at expanding the sector of renewable resources. Italy is the perfect place to invest in the creation and management of photovoltaic installations. Ghella begins to build 25 plants between Central Italy and the South.
Return to Australia after 110 years
After exactly 110 years, Ghella SpA returns to Australia for an important motorway construction in the city of Brisbane. The construction, yet another success and a source of great pride for the company, receives several awards. The most important, which was assigned in 2013, is the award for the Best Tunnelling Project in the world.
Greece is a new market where Ghella works on extending Line 3 of the Athens metro from Haidari to Piraeus Port.
Italy is a land of ongoing research: on the motorway construction site in Ancona new excavation techniques are being developed resulting in a patent aimed at safety on the construction site; the Pavoncelli aqueduct is a project deemed to have been unfeasible by the companies prior to the arrival of Ghella. The primary artery of the Pugliese water system, once depleted due to the constant presence of earthquakes, is an engineering marvel. The Salerno - Reggio Calabria motorway is a miracle of construction site logistics. The success of this work comes in the satisfaction of delivering the construction one year and a half before the contractual deadline.
The great rail backbone across Europe is one of the most prestigious Community projects and Ghella participates in no fewer than three extraterritorial sections: Turin - Lyon with two lots and Verona - Innsbruck via the Brenner Pass.
In 2015, Ghella returns to Brazil to create Line 2 of the São Paolo metro.
The company reinforces its presence in Argentina with work involving the construction of drainage tunnels for the waters of the Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires, and with 40km of tunnels below the current Sarmiento railway: a mammoth task.
Norway is a promising new market. This time the challenge lies in managing 4 TBMs simultaneously during an excavation that spans 40km. It is the most important railway construction ever to be built in the country.
In Vietnam, in the capital of Hanoi, their work is under way to build a new metro line: Line 3.
In Costa Rica, a hydroelectric power plant has been built that will bring light to more than twenty-three thousand families.
Being awarded the contract for the new Sydney metro in Australia only goes to confirm the quality of the Ghella brand. The construction will see the operation of 5 TBMs under what is one of the world's most prestigious bays.
In 2016, the company is awarded the contract to build the Brenner Base Tunnels in Italy totalling 60Km via the use of 3 TBMs.
In the United Arab Emirates Ghella is exporting its experience in the field of energy conservation gained here in Italy, creating a 16km2 photovoltaic plant aimed at energy independence for Dubai’s Expo 2020.
The future is yet to be written.