A lament for La Ciociaria, a cradle of civilization south of Rome

di corriere canadese del December 31, 2019

ARPINO - It is unheard of, really. How anyone could possibly ignore a region of such geographical and historical significance immediately to the south of Rome. Oh sure, we may talk about it, describe it even, but always in terms that harken almost exclusively to some ciociaro specimens belonging to a certain widespread national fauna, folkloric or gastronomic peculiarities one might find in the region and nowhere else. We should look at it differently.

This region is nestled between the Apennines and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Its northern border follows the peripheries of Velletri, Palestrina and Tivoli, up to the Garigliano. The area has been home to various ethnicities “native to Italy” for over thirty centuries. Today it is commonly referred to as “Ciociaria”.

It continues to be the most marginalized and perhaps least known region of Italy. I say “continues” because barely a few years after the completion of Italian Unification in 1870, for example, a state commission investigation lamented the obvious and unjustified marginalization to which the territory south of the capital, the noble “Ciociaria”, had been reduced.

Yet it is the cradle of the most historically verifiable civilizations of Antiquity in Italy, older than even the Nurhatic civilization of Sardinia. Its recorded history lends credence to the legends and stories that concern the Peninsola. At the beginning, it was the land of the Volsci, the Hernici and the Sanniti, from the Tiber on South. During the pre-Augustan period it was known as Latium. Subsequently as Rome’s “campagna” (agra-production centres). In this region the history of Italy was born.

The events recited in legends and the epics of Classical Antiquity took place here. It is the locus of Ulysses’ Odessey, Aeneas’ journey from Troy, the adventures of the Volsci, the twin brothers Remus and Romolus, then of Gaius Marius, Cicero, Vespasian, Agrippa, Cicero, Aulo Irzio, Attilio Regolo, L. Munazio Planco, Juvenal.

The first words in the Italian language were written here. It was here that the first book was printed in Italy; it was here that the modern alphabet, cursive script and sentence structure was developed, and logic and oratory tied to both for the first time in the history of mankind.

It was in this region, for the first time in the history of man, the concept of the value of work ethic was applied to social organization. Here for the first time a Society promoted and disseminated the significance of study and education to the levelling of differences. From here were laid the first foundations for democratic organization of a community (Republic); from here, from MonteCassino, such ideas were spread and made known in Europe.

These achievements and accomplishments are what we refer to as civilization! The Monastic movement was born and spread from here to the rest of Europe. Many monasteries and cloisters have survived centuries and still dot the landscape.

The Ciociaria generated, promoted, supported and encouraged the great saints such as St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Anthony, St. Thomas Aquinas whose deeds and philosophies have provided and continue to sustain the moral and ideological basis for religious history of the continents.

It was here that Rome was born. On this soil, on the left bank of the Tiber, Rome began its ascendancy; here over the centuries it found support and built its strength.

In this area the real foundations of the Church were set. So to what or which facts can one attribute this ghettoization and even segregation, today, by the central authorities or even the general population? Everyone has an answer.

A recurring theme among them is unforgivable ignorance, unjustifiable misperceptions, but due to whom, to what? The above is just a hint, an embryonic suggestion of wealth to be discovered, a cultural heritage that, even without giants like Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Titian is surely the richest in the country.

Regrettably, today, this region is not only broken, shattered - its secular homogeneity and integrity mangled and subdivided artificially into three separate regional municipalities over the last eighty years – as to be virtually unrecognizable.

In fact, thanks to the crass ignorance and insensitivity of public institutions, the three provinces now consider themselves detached from each other, do not recognize each other, and set aside the centuries-old ties and affinities as communities.

It has come to the disheartening point that, thanks to the disinterest - if not purposeful denigration - by o¡cialdom that we are losing our knowledge of what geographically constitutes the Ciociaria. “La Ciociaria”, as it has been called historically is now reduced to the territory of the Regional Municipality of Frosinone. One need only read their public sites!

Even the national press has taken to drawing up its own configurations of what constitutes la Ciociaria, all or part. Some magazines even confine it in the space enclosed between Anagni, Ferentino, Acuto, etc.!! Not a few major newspapers see Fiuggi or Sora in 'Abbruzzi' (yes, in the plural, even today!). Without mentioning that the respected Touring Club stopped operations forty years ago and that, in addition, today's new Evangelists have dipped into the inkwell to etch lands to discover and to be invaded!

The "Lands of Comino", scream the roadside billboards that, thanks to public money, spread lavishly, to misinform the travelling public without so much as a peep from local officials or elected representative at the local, mayorlity or regional level.

Paradoxically, elsewhere, especially beyond the Alps, certain emanations from the area find ready and constant attention from the public. I refer in particular to ciociaro customs, models of design, to traditions, seeking exhibitions and displays continually. Just as, ironically, in their homeland these are ignored or unknown – to the great detriment of education and collective gratification. And worse, depriving the area of potentially well-placed investments catering to the insatiable appetite for tourism and cultural affinities, the slur and damage the merit inherent in these valuable initiatives.

Instead, they devise and put in place, after investing considerable sums, roadside maps that, apart from ribbon cutting or inaugurations, accomplish absolutely nothing and leave nothing behind. Look around.

Michele Santulli

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