A frazione (pl. frazioni), in Italy, is the name given in administrative law to a type of territorial subdivision of a comune; for other administrative divisions, see municipio, circoscrizione, quartiere. It is cognate to the English word fraction, but in practice is roughly equivalent to "parishes", "hamlets" or "wards" in other countries.
Typically the frazioni cover villages surrounding the principal town (the capoluogo) of a comune. Subdivision of a comune is optional, some comuni have no frazioni, but others have several dozen.
In practice, most frazioni are small villages or hamlets, occasionally a mere clump of houses, although being such a place is not requisite. Nor is every hamlet a frazione; those that are not are often referred to as località, for example in the telephone book. In some occasions frazioni can be more populated than the capoluogo of the comune. Very occasionally, due to unusual circumstances or to the depopulation of the capoluogo, the town hall and its administrative functions can move to one of the frazioni: the comune, however, still retains the name of the capoluogo.
Historically, many frazioni came into being during the Fascist period, when a major effort was made to consolidate and rationalize the territorial subdivisions of the country. Sometimes, a frazione represents a former comune felt at some point to be no longer viable.
Formerly, they were established, and their borders defined, by the central government, except in the case of the five autonomous regions (see Regions of Italy), where this was done at the regional level. Under the terms, however, of Legislative Decree 267/2000 in implementation of amendments to Title V of the Italian Constitution, the frazioni are now defined at the comune level.
Under the former legislation, a frazione had the option of having a prosindaco (submayor), who was appointed by the mayor (il sindaco) of the comune, often on the recommendation of deliberative bodies such as the communal council (consiglio) or the giunta, or as a result of a petition by enough residents of the frazione involved; although there was no official provision for groups of frazioni joining forces with the appointment of a single prosindaco, the case was frequent enough. Under current law, however, Article 54 of the d.lgs. 267/2000 provides that a mayor may delegate mayoral functions at the frazione level to a councillor of the comune.
In many comuni, in addition to their advisory function, the frazioni are endowed with their own clerks and recorders of deeds, but do not maintain their own civil records.