Dedicated to my children, Anthony, Julie and Victor and all the Capistrano descendents around the world.





The following chapter has been quoted from the book, 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.


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

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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 earthquake.

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]

Parghelia, a 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. [iv]

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]

No doubt 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.

Several large 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.

Newswriter, 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] 

Sant’Onofrio, 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. [vii]

During the month of November, 1894 a strong quake damaged Messina and Reggio Calabria and killed about 100 people, wounding about one thousand people and causing great damage.[viii]

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 most 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 scratch.[xi]

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.” Around 200 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]

Between 1783 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]

Several towns 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]   

Pietro 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.” [xvi]

Colletta also 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". [xvii]

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]

 In another work titled, “Earthquakes in our Province” Serrao describes the horrors that befell the people of my area of Calabria.

The 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 purpose.[xx]

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. [i]

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. “The 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 30,000.[viii] 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 chilling language.







Under a Lion Sun: Childhood Days of Joy and Sorrow in Old Calabria (M. Caputo)

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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 and 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,

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