Some dried blood? It’s very possible.
All images courtesy of Pietromassimo Pasqui and used with permission
Hundreds of animal bodies are pressed together in close quarters. The noise level is deafening – a terrible chorus of moos, squeals and bleats – and the air is heavy with the stench of so many animals. Not to mention their blood.
Then, sudden silence. We rub our eyes and look at the decrepit and rundown surroundings. White-tiled and whitewashed walls, heaps of dust and debris, and the remains of apparatus whose purpose we can but guess at.
What’s this apparatus? We shudder to think what it may have been used for.
This is an abandoned slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant somewhere in the industrial area of Florence. Located in this most romantic of Italian cities, it’s a place where livestock were butchered and their carcasses processed – so that the meat could enter the human food chain. Pigs became pork; cows, beef. Such is the stark reality of the meat packing industry.
Did livestock pass through this entryway? Who knows? In any case, many thousands of animals were brought into the facility – destined to meet their grisly end.
It seems ironic that a place once so steeped in death is now itself defunct and crumbling away – its former purpose now a just a memory, or a product of one’s imagination. Only the traces of the past are to be found in the echoing interior.
This photograph shows what looks like an old cattle ring on the wall. Signs of decay such as rust and mould have seized hold of the old slaughterhouse – which was once run by the Catalani brothers.
Where once there was hectic activity and doubtless anxiety (at least on the part of the animals) now dead silence reigns. Yet in spite or because of the hush, we can’t help but be reminded of the slaughter, processing and packaging of sheep and other animals that took place within these walls. Visions materialize before our eyes, prompted, perhaps, by the ghosts of the many animals whose lives were cut short here.
This facility was primarily a meat packing plant, although a slaughterhouse was also part of the complex. But even if we erase, for a moment, the image of slaughter from our minds, even the packing of meat and other related tasks are not the sorts of activities one usually likes to think about.
Here we see an interior view of the passageway through which cattle were led – or at least carcasses were moved. It feels claustrophobic, to say the least.
Though procedures vary somewhat from slaughterhouse to slaughterhouse – depending on a country’s civil laws and religious rules, as well as the animals involved – the basic processes are the same.
After being transported to the plant, the animals are steered into holding pens. Next, they are stunned through the use of an electric shock, or a bolt gun, and thus rendered unconscious. From there, they enter the processing line, where they are hung upside down by their hind legs.
This industrial-sized weighing scale is still in pretty good shape; it hasn’t even rusted. How many carcasses might have been weighed here? Hundreds? Thousands?
Once the animals have been strung upside down, the meet their death by exsanguination: the primary veins and arteries in their necks are slit with a knife and the blood is drained from their bodies, causing them to bleed to death.
What purpose was this part of the complex used for? It’s so ramshackle, it's very difficult to tell. The external wall has completely collapsed. No wonder urban explorer Pietromassimo Pasqui found the complex easy to enter.
According to the halal and kashrut dietary laws – those of Islamic and Jewish communities, respectively – the use of a pointed, double-edged knife is forbidden when slaughtering animals. Instead, these codes dictate the use of a broader, squared-off knife that severs the arteries and veins on both sides of the neck. This causes a faster death, though the laws also stipulate that the animal must be conscious when it dies.
After exsanguination, the animal’s head is removed, followed by the feet, hide and finally the internal organs. It has now undergone the transition from being stock to a mere carcass, subject to food safety inspections. Further treatment using steam, hot water and organic acids reduces bacteria levels in the carcasses, while cooling them prevents deterioration.
Larger animal carcasses like those of cattle are split in half and then quartered; pigs are split in two; and goats or lambs are left whole. The meat may also be divided into sub-primal cuts that are boxed. Ultimately, the meat is processed, packaged and then distributed to retail outlets, where it reaches us, the consumers.
An aerial view. Was this one of the holding pens?
Many if not all of the processes just mentioned took place inside this abandoned slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Florence.
Yet, despite the pervading sense of death in a place like this, for urban explorer and photographer Pietromassimo Pasqui, such abandoned buildings are not depressing or sad. Rather, they simply offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. As he explains: “I do not think about decay in these places; I think about history. About passing time. And about the workers’ life.”
Here’s a place where the workers must have washed and scrubbed down, complete with lockers for their personal belongings. Now, it’s a paradise for moss and mould.
Workers here would have gotten through their physically draining (and, one would guess, emotionally numbing) days with some distractions, as this photo of an old and faded adult magazine implies.
Interestingly, according to Human Rights Watch, today meat packing remains the “most dangerous factory job in America,” with an injury rate that is triple that of other private industry jobs.
However, looking at the numbers suggests the industry is here to stay: in the United States alone, 150 million livestock animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats are thought to slaughtered every year; and that figure is believed to be double for the European Union. When considering poultry, the figures are even more astonishing: 8.9 billion turkeys, chickens and ducks are slaughtered in the US annually, and 4 billion chickens in the EU.
Whenever his explorations of industrial compounds reveal a caretaker’s quarters, photographer Pietromassimo Pasqui is moved. For him, it is among the most touching aspects of urban exploration, revealing as it does “small parts of real life” among the debris and decay. Also, caretakers who once lived on the premises with their families are something of a rarity now. According to Pasqui, “It's a trace of an old world that has now disappeared: today, all industries have external contractors for security and maintenance. There was a time when the caretaker lived his life inside the factory with his family. He was 'part of' the factory.”
Explaining the story behind this interesting find, Pasqui reveals: “The doll was in a room with other toys, and it was probably the room of the young daughter of the caretaker.”
It makes us wonder what it must have been like growing up amidst the anxious squeals of animals that instinctively knew they would be walking into the plant, but not out.