THE COIN FROM CALABRIA
my children, Anthony, Julie and Victor and all the Capistrano
descendents around the world.
The following chapter
has been quoted from the book,
FROM CALABRIA: DISCOVERING THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF MY CALABRIAN
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.
COIN FROM CALABRIA
DISCOVERING THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF MY CALABRIAN PEOPLE
EARTHQUAKES: AN ONGOING
Ever since my
people had moved into the area, centuries before, earthquakes had regularly
added to their sorrows, devastating their towns at relatively brief
intervals. The most recent, damaging earthquake had taken place in 1947.
Some houses in Capistrano were damaged but there were no casualties. Other
towns were damaged as well, but unlike previous strong earthquakes, it had
reaped few lives, having been only eight on the Mercalli Scale. But Calabria
had not been that fortunate during previous earthquakes.
In 1908 the
area between Messina, Sicily and Reggio Calabria was hit by a devastating
quake and an ensuing tsunami which devastated the area and killed between
60,000 and 120,000 people.[i]
I have not found any evidence that Capistrano was damaged during that
On the other
hand, on September 8, 1905, a strong earthquake struck Calabria from Cosenza,
in northen Calabria, to Reggio, in the deepest south. The exact epicenter is
not known, but it appears to have been somewhere between Vibo Valentia and
Nicastro, in central Calabria, that is in my area. Over 600 people were
killed and about 3000 were wounded.[ii]
The city of Monteleone (today's Vibo Valentia) suffered significant damages.[iii]
town located about 5 Km. southeast of Vibo Valentia, was totally devastated.
The terrifying event was described by a local student to a visiting news
reporter. It is very descriptive of what happened in various towns in
Central Calabria, including my town of Capistrano.
It happened around 2:45 in the morning. Suddenly we were awakened by a
horrendous roar. It seems as though all of hell had come upon our poor
homes… Looking outside was futile as one could see nothing, given the dust
that was rising from the ruins. The dust slowly settled and we were finally
able to see each other’s faces; We were all outside on the road, some with a
shirt on, some with only pants on; some were wrapped in a bedsheet and some
fully naked were hiding in a corner trying to hide their nakedness.
Meanwhile one could hear desperate cries, sobbings and people begging for
help. In a corner a woman, almost naked, was yelling desperately, and she
had undone her braids and she was covering her bare breasts with her hair.
Another one…was digging through a mountain of ruins from which she said she
could hear her daughter’s voice who was later found alive. Another one… was
holding the dead body of one of her children. A poor old man was hanging
from a window with his legs stuck inside. He was begging to be freed from
death and, in fact, he did die. And there were a hundred more pitiful cases.
Then came the
sun…which shone its light upon the slaughter.
The town of
Monterosso Calabro, just about 2-3 Kms from Capistrano, on a straight line,
also suffered great damage. Nello Manduca, a local historian, shares with us
the details of that event in his book, Arsura. "The night of
September 8th (1905), the town was shattered by a new, violent
earthquake, which caused incalculable disasters…the town was almost
destroyed and many were the victims…The inhabitants had to take refuge in
the countryside and took cover in shacks.”[v]
significant damages occurred also next door, in my town of Capistrano and
surrounding towns. The number of casualties in my town is unknown. My
townspeople must have been in a state of shock. The damage to people’s homes
must have been significant. For certain, the experience must have been
horrifying and unforgettable.
shack-like structures were hastily created to accommodate the surviving,
homeless families. They lived in those primitive conditions for many years,
until the government finally built decent and comfortable dwellings for
them, decades later. The area where they were built is still called, “Le
Baracche” (The Shacks), remembering the primitive dwellings where those
poor, homeless families lived for many years.
Luigi barzini, wrote the following heart-rending description, September
1905, while visiting the afflicted area in Calabria:
In this area
people are dying of hunger and thirst…the help brought in with difficulty is
not enough. The healthy need bread; the wounded need meat; water is missing,
the dying need medical help…twenty thousand people have lost everything and
do not even have containers to get water at the fountains. They are silent
multitudes that cannot detach themselves from the ruins of their homes,
where their beloved died and that dazed wait without strength for the help
that never comes.[vi]
another well known town in my area, was visited, not long after the
earthquake, by the Italian King and Ferraris, one of his ministers.
He was moved
by the extent of the disaster and the traumatized crowds that surrounded
him. “It’s horrible” he said later to his accompanying minister. Some women
approached the King and said to him, “Your majesty, we lost everything; we
no longer have a home, we have no possessions, we have no relatives. You
only are left and God. Help us!” The King was deeply moved.
month of November, 1894 a strong quake damaged Messina and Reggio Calabria
and killed about 100 people, wounding about one thousand people and causing
Going back in
time, on November 4, 1870, a “Violent” earthquake hit my area of central
Calabria and it was felt in all of southern Italy and western Sicily. It
caused a large amount of damage and it killed around 500 people.[ix]
“THE SCOURGE”: THE CATACLYSMIC EARTHQUAKES OF
damaging earthquakes to hit Capistrano and Calabria in recent centuries took
place in 1783. On February 5, the town was severely damaged by a powerful
quake. It was later “totally” destroyed on March 28 of the same year.[x]
Fortunately, because of the constant tremors, my townspeople had moved into
the countryside, away from the town and, fortunately, only two people were
killed. They were, though, left without homes and had to later re-build from
More in-depth research about the 1783 earthquakes revealed a shocking
fact: that year all of Calabria had been hit by a “series” of “devastating”
earthquakes. In all, 949 major and minor quakes hit Calabria during three
horrifying years in what an author appropriately called, “An Apocalypse.”[xii]
Others referred to it as “The Scourge” or “God’s Great Punishment.”
cities and towns were destroyed.
The estimated number of deaths
ranges from 32,000 to 50,000. The number of injured is unknown, though,
clearly, it must have been vast. The damage to property was incalculable.
The quakes were so strong that some olive groves and parts of villages slid
kilometers down valleys. New valleys and lakes were created and the
morphology of Calabria was transformed.[xiii]
and 1787, because of ongoing seismological changes, 215 new lakes of various
sizes were created in the Region. This contributed to new epidemics which
killed more people that those already killed by the earthquakes.[xiv]
were never reconstructed, such as Isca, Castel Monardo,very near my town,
and Oppido. The people of Isca, on the east side of Calabria,
built another town, while the people of Castel Monardo built a new,
exceptionally well-planned town, not far away from the first, which they
named Filadelfia (The City of Brotherly Love), a name offered by their
illustrious Bishop, Giovanni Andrea Serrao.[xv]
Colletta, a writer of the time, left us a vivid description of the
catastrophic events of 1783.
"On February 5, Wednesday,
nearly an hour after noon, the ground shook…for one hundred seconds: …it
killed thirty-two thousand men of each sex
and age, rich and noble, poor and plebeians…"
. Iprincipi di quel tremuoto vulcanici secondo gli uni, elettrici secondo
gli altri, ebbero in movimento direzioni di ogni maniera, verticali,
oscillatorie, orizzontali, vorticose, pulsanti; ed osservaronsi cagioni
differenti ed opposte di rovina, una parte di città o di casa sprofondata,
altra parte emersa; alberi sino alle cime ingoiati presso ad alberi
sbarbicati e capovolti, e un monte aprirsi e precipitare mezzo a dritta,
mezzo a sinistra dell'antica positura; e la cresta scomparsa perdersi nel
fondo dehouses collapsed. … trees…were swallowed up, others were
broken and overturned.”
recorded dramatic morphological changes in various areas in southern
Calabria. He summarizes the nightmare with the following chilling
statement: “Nothing remained of the old forms; lands, cities, roads, signs
vanished…Many works of nature and man, built over the centuries… were in a
moment destroyed. La Piana fu dunque il
centro del primo tremuoto; ma per la descritta difformità del suolo vedevi
talora paesi lontani da quel mezzo più guasti dei vicini".
Elia Serrao, a nobleman from Castel Monardo, near Capistrano, who lived
through that horrendous time shares with us chilling details, in his work,
“Earthquakes in Calabria.”
Who can recount all the effects, and the phenomena and the new and strange
things that afflicted us that we saw in that most miserable of times?
They are without number, and filled with tears and beyond any human belief.
Those quakes created by superior powers be it natural or unnatural,…in every
way scourged the miserable earth. They brought down even the most solid of
palaces; they cracked marble slabs and rocks of great sizes ... Nothing
resisted them and the ground under our feet, swaying as the tempestuous sea,
would not permit that humans would stay standing and fearfully pushed them
back and forth. There was so much horror that each one supposed that the end
of the world had come and that the earth, the water, and the rest of the
heavens and of the ancient world would all mix together into chaos.
The earth in many places opened up and created horrendous chasms.
Some talk of mountains that disappered….
Other mountains united and covered the valleys between them. The rivers that
flowed over them, having no longer any exit point created new and large
lakes. Furthermore, new springs appeared as old ones dried up. The night of
the fifth of February, the sea on the Scilla Coast became higher and fuller
and, having risen to a shocking height, buried a great number of humans who
had ran to take refuge by the sea.
Many workers with their oxen and other animals where found large distances
away from where they had been working, while others were swallowed up by
chasms that opened suddenly.
Many houses, many farms…traveled large distances and were found far away
from their original location.
Oh how many valiant men, how many beautiful women, how many handsome young
people were oppressed by a sudden and miserable ruin.
Oh how many superb buildings, how many temples, how many monasteries, which
were the marvels of the world, were flattened to the ground.
How many memorable families, how many great inheritances, how many famous
riches were left without inheritors![xviii]
another work titled, “Earthquakes in our Province” Serrao describes the
horrors that befell the people of my area of Calabria.
look of our Province in that such enmitous time was so miserable. One would
see desolate and broken lands.
One could hear the moans of those who were left under the ruins. Some ran
and in running found their death.
Others tried to pull out of the ruins their languishing ones and the
possessions dearest to them! The fathers and the mothers hugged their
children as though they were about to lose them. Others offered peace and
tried to reconcile with their enemies. Some confessed their sins in public…
…all was filled with death, confusion, pain, horror, ruin and desolation.[xix]
The ruins of
various hamlets and towns destroyed in that tragic period are still there to
witness to the devastation of the earthquakes of 1783. Much of Calabria had
to be re-built from scratch and a special fund was created by the government
of southern Italy called, “La Cassa Sacra” (The Sacred Fund) for that very
Unfortunately, in spite of the devastating
effect the 1783 quakes had on Calabria, only a very few Calabrians know of
their occurrence and impact. It's as if
Calabrian chose to erase that dark period from their collective memory. Only
now, with the advent of the Internet it is on occasion
mentioned briefly on the history section of some towns' web sites. No
monument exists to my knowledge anywhere in Calabria to
commemorate the time when most of Calabria's past was erased and when its
people had to start anew.
Though the 1783
earthquakes may have been the most cataclysmic to hit all of Calabria,
previous earthquakes had been very violent as well.Moving
back through the historical layers one finds more destruction and horror.
The year 1659 was another destructive year for Calabria and for my area in
particular. V. D’Amato briefly captures those bitter
days in the following: The year 1659 was a bitter year for all of
Calabria and will be memorable for a long time. The fifth hour of the fifth
day of November … the ground of the whole province shook with great
violence. Castel Monardo, Polia, Monterosso e Capistrano were left with
vivid remembrances of the event with their cadavers.
Giovanni Manfrida, in his book, Capistrano Ieri ed Oggi, confirms the
painful truth that Capistrano was indeed severely affected by that
earthquake. “Capistrano is present in the list of locations that were
seriously damaged by the earthquakes of November 5, 1659, when 16 people
were killed, forty houses were destroyed including the largest church.[ii]
The number of people killed by that earthquake were about 2000. The number
of people who were injured is unknown.[iii]
Just twenty one years before, in March of 1638, Central and southern
Calabria, had been hit by three other damaging earthquakes. Calabrian
Count, Francesco Ippolito, in his letter to the English Nobleman, Sir
William Hamilton, referring to the two, above-mentioned destructive periods,
wrote the following: “Calabria has been at all times exposed to the terrible
convulsions of which we are at present the victims. The earthquakes in 1638
and 1659, by which two provinces of Calabria were utterly destroyed, are
fresh in every one’s memory...”[iv]
How destructive were they? The available sources estimate that 180 cities
and towns were destroyed[v]
A great many Calabrians were killed.
nation was again afflicted with a most terrible A.D. 1638 earthquake which,
on the 27th of March, destroyed a — great many cities in Calabria. Cosenza,
Castiglione, Nicastro, and many other cities, and a great number of
villages, were almost entirely reduced to ruins, and above ten
thousand people were killed.”[vi]
This tragic number is confirmed by Pier Paolo Poggio in his Storia
Sociale della Calabria (A Social History of Calabria). “In this
last year (1638) also occurred a new earthquake that destroyed a good part
of the habitations of Cosenza, Briatico, Castelfranco, Castiglione,
Pietramola, Nocera e Nicastro. The victims went up to 10,000.[vii] Others, instead, estimate that the casualties were between 10,000 and
The earthquakes extended south into my area and all the way down into the
southernmost province of Reggio Calabria.
An esteemed Gesuit writer and scholar of the time, known as Father
Athanasius Kircher, who was visiting Sicily and Calabria when the
earthquakes struck, describes what he experienced in very descriptive and
READ THE REST OF THE CHAPTER IN THE BOOK, THE COIN FROM 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
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.
book you will also learn about Calabrians' attitude toward food,
discipline, education, destiny, the supernatural, exorcism, suicide,
mental illness, the handicapped, crime, etc.
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.
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 and
that may have also contributed to shaping you.
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
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.
You may reach the
author at, email@example.com
© Copyright, Michael Caputo, 2011 (This work may not be
reproduced in part or in full without the permission of the author.)