Diving into the Past – About Family Roots and Southern Italy

I haven’t spent a visit to Civita in a long time. It is my father’s village, in the South Italian region of Calabria. I always went there for my summer holidays as a kid…

Civita (CS) - Calabria, Italy

When I’m travelling and someone asks me where I’m from, I rarely give the same answer twice. I usually try to cut it short and tell him my last address, but if he catches a hint of hesitation in my voice, he may ask for further details.

“Well, I was born in Switzerland, I grew up in Italy, I lived in London, then I moved to South Africa…” After the first line they usually get tired and I can get back in my dark corner.

Where is home? It’s been a while since I tried to answer this question. And what am I? Many things, of course, as all of us. I am very much Italian: with my inventory of bummers and clumsiness, big hopes and short flashes of genius, I couldn’t be anything else. But Italians are a funny folk, which has been told to act as one just since a short time and too often they are able to find more differences than similarities in their wide cultural spectrum. As for me, I am sure to be calabrese.

Calabria is my father’s homeland. If you think about the Italian boot, it is as it were kicking someone in the butt. Calabria is the part of the boot hitting our butts: a 2008 Antimafia Commission’s report stated that ‘Ndrangheta – Calabria’s local mafia – is the most dangerous criminal organization in the world. In Sicily, Cosa Nostra had once a rule: to leave untouched women and relatives. The ‘Ndrangheta sends the fathers to kill the sons and the sons to kill the fathers. Mussolini, spreading blood all over the country, almost managed to crush the Italian mafia under his fascist rule, but the US gave to the local bosses new power when they asked for their help to enter Italy during the Second World War. More than fifty years of mafia rule left Southern Italy impoverished and underdeveloped.

At the same time, Calabria’s strong charm is coarse and callous, as the hands of the farmers working in the fields every day from sunrise to dusk, or the construction workers’, who during summer spend their days working under the sun with 40°C. A sour beauty, as the land which becomes hard and dry starting on May, while grass and leaves get yellow and I almost thought they would grow that colour haven’t I seen them in autumn.

There lies Civita, hidden in the rock of the Pollino moutains, just over the Raganello Gorge. About 900 residents, but good part of them already moved somewhere between Rome and Frankfurt, while hundreds are not part of the demographics any more, and only come back for summer holidays.

Raganello Gorge - Civita, Calabria (Italy)

From Civita’s old village it is possible to spot some of the most beautiful landscapes of Italy. The untouched wildness of the gorge and the canyon are a threat to visitors and trekkers from all over the world, but being so far and hidden, not many tourists come to spoil this natural treasure. During celebrations and festivities, the local traditions show some unique rituals: Civita – or Çifti, the ‘Eagle’s Nest’ – is an arbëreshë community, and safeguarded language, habits, and traditions inherited from the Albanian soldiers who fought under the lead of the warrior-commander Scanderberg, who came to Italy to rescue king Ferrante of Aragona from the Arabs.

Civita (CS) - Calabria, Italy

Every summer, after arriving with my parents, I would roam in town, hardly taking the glances of the old ladies inquiring about my presence there. I would answer with some difficulties to the folks-people who, of course, know me since I was just a little cub, how couldn’t I remember them?

Then the trips to the sea: a 25-minute drive through turns and slopes. This part of Calabria isn’t a seaside destination, it’s a mountainous area accidentally surrounded by the sea. Then the auntie’s dinners: some more? Some more? SOME MORE??? Of course you want some more… After a couple of weeks I was lying on the bar’s chair, scouting the street for strange looking visitors. Just as any other resident.

Aperitive - Italian food, Calabria

Now I am back. Ready to get filled by my aunt. Ready for some mountain trips. Ready to dive once more into my roots.

2 thoughts on “Diving into the Past – About Family Roots and Southern Italy”

  1. My maternal grandmother, Dominica Ferrera or Ferreri was born in Civita. I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful commune several years ago. I know nothing about ,y grandmother’s family or life in Civita. I yearn to learn more.

  2. Both my maternal grandfather, Serafino Basta and maternal grandmother, Lena Zuccaro were born in Civita but immigrated to northeastern Ohio in the early 1900’s. I visited Civita once, in the early 1980’s, but have never been back, unfortunately.
    It is a beautiful place.

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