Although it is now Week 31 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge, I am skipping both this week’s writing prompt (Large) and next week’s prompt (Small). Instead, I will be blogging about last week’s challenge, The Old Country. (Yeah, time just got away from me… again. SMH!)
Since our families’ most recent immigrant ancestors came from Lombardy, a region in northern Italy, I shall be highlighting this beautiful locale in this post. Lombardy was named for the Lombards, a Germanic tribe from the Middle Ages whose name is derived from lang, meaning long or tall, and bart, meaning beard.
Its capital is Milan—Italy’s financial, manufacturing, and commercial hub. (Some of my favorite Milanese landmarks/sites are pictured above.) Lombardy is the northcentral region of Italy, bordering Switzerland. This region can be divided physically into three parts: the mountainous Alpine/pre-Alpine area; an area of gently rolling foothills; and the alluvial plains bisected by the Po River. From this river and its tributaries, such as the Oglio River, are formed a dozen lakes, including Lago di Garda, the largest lake in Italy. And it is in this area of Lombardy, near the Oglio River, that my spouse’s Caimi and Culatina, (as well as his Arrighi, Gallelli, Lanfranchi, and Riccardi) family inhabited, specifically the towns of Belforte, Gazzuolo, Marcaria, and San Martino dall’Argine, all situated within five miles of one another.
The Culatina clan comes from the area of Belforte/Gazzuolo and Marcaria. The hamlet of Belforte is a part of Gazzulo proper. Belforte’s most notable landmark is the Oratorio di San Pietro (the Oratory of St. Peter), built in the 10th century for the Benedictines.
In 1393, the denizens of Gazzuolo signed an act of dedication with the Gonzaga family. In 1478, Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, son of Ludovico III Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, inherited the lands between the Po and Oglio Rivers, including the town of Gazzuolo, which became the seat of his court. The town was then fortified. In 1565, the town became the seat of a marquisate. Gazzuolo is also home to the Palazzo Gonzaga (Gonzaga Palace), built in the 16th century; the Oratorio di San Rocco (Oratory of St. Rocco), erected in the 16th century; the 16th century Portici Gonzagheschi (Gonzaga Arcades), a covered walkway boasting 30 arches supported by 29 columns in red Verona marble and spanning nearly 400 feet; and Chiesa di Santa Maria Nascente, built in the 17th century.
The next “family town” is Marcaria. Its most famous landmarks are Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of St. John the Baptist), built in the 1700s near the site of the original 16th-century church, and Corte Castiglioni, a 15th-century structure containing several walled courtyards and a “starred” tower. According to family lore, Antonio Culatina (my spouse’s 3rd great-grandfather) supposedly engineered a dike/dam to stop the Oglio River from continually flooding the town of Marcaria. Caimi’s dam proved successful, and he was hailed as a local hero for his ingenuity.
Across the Oglio River from Marcaria is the town of San Martino dall’Argine (Saint Martin from the Embankment), from whence the Caimi family hails. This town was also ruled by the House of Gonzaga for nearly 400 years from 1328 to 1708. The Gonzagas built both a castle and a porticoed square in this town. Although the castle is no longer standing, the square remains. Two other landmarks from those times are the 16th century Chiesa Castello (Church Castle), a Renaissance church conceived by Cardinal Scipione Gonzaga, a native of San Martino dall’Argine; and the 13th-century Chiesa dei Santi Fabiano e Sebastiano “detta dei Frati” (Church of Saints Fabian and Sebastian (a.k.a. Church of the Friars), where Scipione Gonzaga was laid to rest in 1593.
Now back to the Caimis: According to family tales, either Geraldo Caimi (my spouse’s 2nd great-grandfather) or his son Luigi Caimi (my spouse’s great-grandfather) served with the Alpini, although this has not been proven yet. (However, I did discover that my spouse’s 2nd great-uncle, Giacomo Culatina, served with the Alpini in the Dolomites during World War I and died there in November 1915. Maybe he was the soldier in the family stories?) The Alpini, the oldest active mountain infantry in the world, was established in 1872. Their original mission was to protect Italy’s border with France and Austria-Hungary. However, in 1888, the Alpini deployed on its first mission abroad to Italy’s colonial interests in Africa.
After World War I, Italy experienced economic hardships. From 1919 to 1920, the “Biennio Rosso” (the Two Red Years) ushered in angst and unrest, with revolution waiting in the wings. Inflation intensified. By the end of 1920, the lira was worth only about a sixth of its 1913 value, and many Italians were unable to purchase simple necessities. Arms manufacturers and shipbuilders went bankrupt, laying off their workers, and the Royal Italian Army demobilized, causing unemployment to skyrocket to two million jobless. In the summer of 1920, agricultural laborers in the Po River Valley threatened the harvest. Trade unions, especially in the northern cities of Turin and Milan, demanded higher wages, and strikes became commonplace. Meanwhile, the Italian Socialist political party gained a quarter of a million new members, while the trade unions signed upwards of 2.5 million members.
As this all was going on, fascism was beginning to take root. In March 1919, an ex-Socialist journalist by the name of Benito Mussolini founded the “fasci di combattimento” (fighting leagues), better known as Fascists, in Milan. By 1921, although the revolutionary zeal sweeping the country was beginning to abate, fascism was ready to rise up in its place.
In 1920 and 1921, my spouse’s paternal grandfather and great-grandparents, desperate to have a life far from fascism and economic worries, immigrated, leaving their home in San Martino dall’Argine for the promise of America. Great-Grandfather Luigi Caimi came over on 27 May 1920, and worked for about a year at a glassworks factory, earning monies to support his wife and three sons back home. A year later, 18 February 1921, Luigi’s wife and family joined him in the States.