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CAPISTRANO: A GRIPPING HISTORY

Some time ago, I decided to inform our Capistrano Descendents Group on Facebook of our common and gripping historical past. I am now including that information on this site as well for your enlightenment.

What follows is a very brief summary of our Capistrano history. If you would like to read the more detailed version, CLICK HERE.
 
 

 

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

 

Detailed information on Capistrano and Calabria's history mmay be found in, THE COIN FROM CALABRIA: DISCOVERING THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF MY CALABRIAN PEOPLE, by award-winning author, Michael Caputo. The book details many enthralling events in the history of Calabria, a magical Region in Southern Italy, all the way back to the sixth century B.C. THE COIN FROM CALABRIA is a very enlightening book  for people who find their roots in Calabria,  that want to know more about their ancestors' history. It is also enlightening  for anyone who is interested in exotic lands and cultures.

 
     
 

Both the paperback and e-book versions are available on Amazon in your country.

NEW BOOK ABOUT CAPISTRANO AND CALABRIA:  

UNDER A LION SUN: Childhood Days of Joy and Sorrow in Old Calabria

Read info at the end of this page.

 

 
     
 
 
     
 

 

THE COIN FROM CALABRIA

DISCOVERING THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF MY CALABRIAN PEOPLE

 

 

 

 
 

Dear "Capistrano Descendents" members,

I had promised that on occasion I would share with you some info about our town's past and some updates on the present.

I would like to keep my promise today by asking all of you the following questions:  Did you know that our people spoke Greek up to around 400 years ago and that we still have Greek words in our dialect? Furthermore, did you know that some areas in the Capistrano territory actually have Greek names? Lastly, did you know that Southern Italy was, and still is, called by some, "Magna Grecia" (Great Greece)?

Are you perplexed? How could our ancestors be Italians and yet speak Greek?

This is the answer: About three thousand years ago, plus or minus, several Greek tribes moved into the coastal regions of central and southern Italy. As the Latins (The Romans) started conquering Italy, most of the Greek immigration continued but only into the south of Italy and Calabria and Sicily in particular. The Greek colonists occupied mostly the coastal areas while the mountainous area was under the control of the "Brutii" or "Bruzi," as their are known in Italian.

The Bruzi were a central Italian tribe that moved down into Calabria. Therefore, for hundreds of years the Bruzi and the Greeks lived side by side with few problems. At one point the Bruzi conquered most of Calabria, but not for long.

When the Romans tried to conquer Calabria, the stubborn Bruzi fought ferociously and succeeded in stopping the Romans on several occasions. Finally the Romans were fed up, sent in a huge army and "almost" wiped them all out. That is the point when the Bruzis dwindled and slowly disappeared as an ethnic group.

The Bruzi blood, to a very small extent, is still in us. Most of our blood, though, is Greek, with also a high amount of Latin blood. We Southern Italians are in part the proud descendents of the great ancient Greeks, the people who are the foundation of the Western world, thanks to their great philosophers, artists and scientists.

Next time we will deal specifically with our Capistranesi people and how they ended up where they are today.

Keel well.

Mike (Michele)

 

 
     
 

Our Greek ancestors, came mostly from the Greek state named Locris accompanied, according to some, by people from the state of Phocis.

 
     
 

 

CAPISTRANO HISTORY (Part 2)

Dear Capistrano Descendents,
A few days ago, I shared with you a “general” history of the early peoples that lived in Calabria. I mentioned the three groups that make up our genes: the Greeks, the Romans and the Brutii (Bruzi).
What I forgot to mention is that there are about 30 communities in the Cosenza province (Northern Calabria) where the inhabitants are quite different from the rest of us. The people of these towns descend from a colony of Albanians that left that country in the late 1400’s, because it was being invaded by Muslims.  Their dialect is derived from Albanian. In the same province there is also a town where they speak a northern Italian dialect. Those people moved south from the Piemonte region, in the extreme north of Italy, to escape religious persecutions and they are still in Calabria today.

Now on to our people. Who are we Capistranesi? Where do we come from?

Because most of our ancient ancestors were Greeks, we must start in Greece. According to my historical research “about” 2700 years ago a group of people from Central Greece, specifically from the states of Locris and probably Phocis,  moved to the south-east side of Calabria and created the colony named, "Locri Epizephirii" There they created a prosperous and strong community. In time they decided to expand their control over the other side of Calabria where they created four  communities: Medma (Rosarno), Hipponion (Vibo), Napitia (Around Pizzo Calabro) and Crissa. (According to the most ancient Calabrian historians (Barrio, Marafioti and others,  Crissa had already been founded by Greeks from the state of Phocis and the Locrians just joined them centuries later. This view is seen by most modern historians as based on a legend.)

These four Greek-speaking communities were later conquered by the Romans around the second century B.C. who turned the area into a Roman colony. The Romans ruled our people and to a limited extent intermarried with them as well.

Our people lived and prospered in the area between Vibo and the Angitola River for centuries. Around the year 800, Arabs started attacking those areas from their bases in Sicily, which they had conquered. Because of their vicious and unrelenting attacks, our people moved to safer grounds, away from the coast. Some stayed in a well-protected fortress on the hill mentioned above (Rocca Angitola), which in time was destroyed as well.

Also, around the 800’s a group of Basilian monks left Sicily to escape the invading Arabs and moved to the area of Capistrano, specifically to the “Batia” area of the town on the north side. The name “Batia” means “convent.” Our ancestors gathered around the area and started cultivating the land. From those few families, and the few others others that moved in from the coast in later times, came the Capistrano family.

I use the term “family” because the Capistranesi have been intermarrying for centuries and thus our genetic make up is about the
Mike (Michele)
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CAPISTRANO HISTORY: PART 3

 Dear Capistrano Descendents,

In my last message I discussed the history of our Capistrano people from Ancient Greece to its founding around the year 800 A.D..

This time I will share with you some tragic events that are reminiscent of what the modern world is going through today.

You have all heard of the Muslim extremists’ attacks on the U.S. (9/11). You have seen the destruction they caused and the horror that thousands experienced. Our Capistrano people went through similar experiences over 1000 years ago.

In the last message we learned that up to about 800 A.D. most of our people inhabited the coastal areas around Vibo and Pizzo. We also learned that fierce Muslim peoples called, “The Saracens” attacked the area on several occasions forcing our people to finally move inland.

Unfortunately, their move was not sufficient to escape their fury. In time the Muslim warriors found out about the towns that had been built away from the coast and decided to attack there as well.

Dr. Giovanni Manfrida (Our town historian), in his work, Capistrano: Ieri e Oggi (Capistrano: Yesterday and Today) gives us the details of those events. He informs us that major historians of the past recorded that Capistrano was attacked and almost totally destroyed in the year 950 A.D. and probably again in 983 A.D., when Vibo was “totally” wiped out.

We are told that during these invasions, many of our people were butchered and many others were taken away as slaves. The men were later sold as slaves and the women were taken to fill powerful Muslim’s harems.

As you can see, our people’s history at times has been quite tragic. Unfortunately they had to endure other traumas which we will discuss in the future.

(SOME HAVE ASSERTED THAT CALABRIANS HAVE MUCH SARACEN /MOOR BLOOD IN THEM BECAUSE OF THE ABOVE INVASIONS. THIS PERSPECTIVE IS UNFOUNDED. FOR EVIDENCE PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE BY THIS AUTHOR)

HOW MUCH MOOR / ARABIC BLOOD IS THERE IN CALABRIANS ?

 

To see the remains of Rocca Angitola, click the link below:

www.francavilla-angitola.com/Foto_Visita_Rocca_Angitola.htm

 

CAPISTRANO HISTORY ( PART 4)

In my last message about Capistrano’s history I shared our people’s need to seek safer ground away from the ongoing Muslim dangers. For decades many sought refuge in Vallelonga, higher up on the mountains and close to a castle that would have offered them greater protection.  Later, they returned home and that is where our people stayed until now.

Unfortunately, our people had more traumas ahead of them. Another danger was lurking ahead and it was not from people this time but from earthquakes. Calabria is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world, being located on a major fault line and also being relatively close to the Stromboli volcano.

The small town of Capistrano was hit by a devastating earthquake November 5, 1659. Sixteen people were reported killed and forty houses were demolished, including the main church. 1783 was a horrible year for our people. The town was again severely damaged on February 5.  It was later “totally” destroyed on March 28 of the same year. Fortunately, because of the constant tremors, our people had moved into the countryside away from town and only two people were killed. They were, though, left without homes and had to later start from scratch. (Gianni Manfrida, Capistrano Ieri ed Oggi, p. 46).

 

CAPISTRANO HISTORY ( PART 5)

 THE 1783 EARTHQUAKES AND ITS IMPACT ON CALABRIA

In my last lesson on the history of Capistrano I dealt with the earthquakes that our people had to contend with the last few hundred years.

In this lesson I would like to address the 1783 earthquakes in greater detail, as it had devastating consequences not only on our town but on all of Calabria.

The 1783 earthquakes were a great catastrophe for Calabria. About  200 towns and villages were “totally” devastated. Some towns were abandoned and were never rebuilt. Near Capistrano, the town of Castel Monardo was razed to the ground. The inhabitants decided not to rebuild it and moved a few kilometers away from the area were they built a new town called Filadelfia.

The number of people killed by the 1783 earthquakes were in the tens of thousands. Historical sources estimate that between 30-50, 000 people were killed all over Calabria. The number of wounded may have been double or triple that number. The economic losses were incalculable.

Of the four most devastating earthquakes of that year, two had their epicenter near our town. The one which took place on March 1 had its epicenter just about 5 km. away. The one that totally destroyed the town had its epicenter around 20-40 km away.

Calabria had many disasters in its trying history, but the 1783 earthquakes will remain by far the most catastrophic of them all.

 

CAPISTRANO HISTORY (PART 6)

"The Bongiorno Family"

“The most important family in Capistrano, around whom revolved the history our town for three hundred years was, with certainty, the Bongiorno family.”

This is the assessment of the Bongiorno family by our town’s foremost historian, Giovanni Manfrida. This family, which originated in Mantova, in Northern Italy, for centuries was the political and economic power of our town. At times it proved to be  a source of help for the needy while, at other times, it took advantage of the same with incomprehensible callousness.

For instance, during the famine of 1794, Don Pasquale Bongiorno, the family head, bought about 25 possessions (houses and land) from poor familes who were struggling to survive. This trend continued at a rate of 5-6 per year, until the end of the century by which time they had become the undisputed rulers of the town, under whom our people lived in quasi-servitude for close to two hundred years.

When an assessement of their possessions was made after the 1783 earthquakes, records show that by then they had already ammassed multiple millions (By today’s standards) not only in our town, but in other localities as well.

The Bongiornos turned a very large tract of land on the west side of town into an envious complex made up of a palazzo and a vast garden lined exotic plants and classical statues. The palazzo was decorated with expensive art works and was furnished with very fine furniture.

Don Pietro Bongiorno showed kindness to our people, while leaving a monument to himself, by rebuilding the main church which had been destroyed by the 1659 earthquake. One can find a massive statue of Don Pietro on a church wall looking towards the Madonna on the main altar.

The family had the primacy in our town until the first half of the last century. The last direct member of the family, Francesco Bongiorno, never married and, having fallen seriously ill, died at the age of 33. A significant portion of his property was left to create a charitable organization to help needy children or needy elderly.

 The palazzo and other property ended in the hands of a young nephew who, impatient to turn the possessions into money, sold the palazzo, an enviable library of very old and very valuable books, large and very valuable paintings, vast tracts of land and, later, reportedly, went on to squander much of the money on a life of self indulgence.

The palazzo and the gardens behind it are now in the hands of the Brizzi family. The palazzo and the church are living testimonies to the Bongiorno family presence in our town for over 300 years. The palazzo and its gardens may be visited by invitation only.

(The above information was extracted from the book Capistrano Ieri e Oggi, written by our town’s historian, Giovanni Manfrida.)

M. C.

   

       NEW BOOK ABOUT          CAPISTRANO AND CALABRIA

Under a Lion Sun: Childhood days of Joy and Sorrow in Old Calabria

Available as paperback and downloadable versions on Amazon in several countries. If not available in your country, you may order from AMAZON.COM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter another world through the eyes of Michelino (Meekehleeno), a boy who grew up in Calabria, the southernmost Region of Italy, during the fifties and sixties. Discover a society built on rigid expectations, where family and honor were paramount and where violence was all-too-often the favourite way to solving some of the painful challenges of life.

In this book you will also learn about Calabrians' attitude toward food, discipline, education, destiny, the supernatural, exorcism, suicide, mental illness, the handicapped, crime, etc.

You will also meet, among others, the following unforgettables: Maestro Fera the teacher who had been an officer in Mussolini's army, who ran his class like a battalion. Nino, the Mafia Boss, who collected lovers like trophies and who was feared and revered by young and old. Toto' the brilliant mind who will never have the opportunity to excel, due to having been born on the wrong side of the fence. Salvatore who was tortured by life since childhood, in ways that most people will never imagine. Tommasino, the gentle giant whose life was ended in a most shocking and horrendous way.

If you are a descendent of Calabria you will return in time to the moments when your ancestors were torn apart by the curse of emigration, and you will become aware of the forces that shaped your ancestors that may have also contributed to shaping you.

But the book does much more. It also traces how Calabrian customs and beliefs have evolved up to our time and how Calabrian society has moved forward in some respects while remaining fixed and immutable in others.

By the end of this book, you will know Calabrians--their strengths and their weaknesses. You will grow to appreciate a people undaunted by life's many challenges; a people who takes pride in their stubborn spirit and their unwillingness to admit defeat, even if confronted by penury and great suffering.

M. Caputo

You may reach the author at, mclcpt1@yahoo.ca


© Copyright, Michael Caputo, 2011 (This work may not be reproduced in part or in full without the permission of the author.)

 

 
       
     
     
   
   
 
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