Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Isernia, Italy - a 3rd Century BC city 65 km from Rome

Street in Isernia, Italy on which my grandfather was born and lived.

Portal to the home where my grandfather was born and grew up.  Now my cousin;s architecture business.

Isernia, Italy

One of the most beautiful, small Italian cities to visit on your trip to Italy is Isernia, the birthplace of my grandfather, Eduoardo Guglielmi.  Born in 1900, my grandfather grew up and played here on this street and in front of this door.   This old section of Isernia has been around since the 12th and 13th centuries and the buildings were literally built during this time.  Through this portal has gone so many generations of the Guglielmi family.  Our family still owns this home and today it is the location of my cousin, Cosmo Guglielmi's architecture business he runs with this wife, Adrianna, and a friend of his. 

Isernia is nestled at the base of the Appennine Mountains 65 km east of Rome which is the heartland of Italy.  Isernia was founded 300 years before the birth of Christ by the Samnites, a fierce warrior tribe of original Italians.  This tribe ruled the Abruzzi-Molise region of Italy, until the Romans ruled Rome.  Then, they were conquered by the Romans and made the slaves of Rome and the Romans.  However, the Samnites were not just warriors, they were a tribe of highly intelligent people.  They were not about to remain slaves of the Romans, and, therefore, negotiated legally and judicially free Roman citizenship for their tribe.  The Samnites became free citizens of Rome on the same level as the Romans and enjoyed all the individual rights and freedoms the Romans did.  Therefore, Isernia is not only the birthplace of my grandfather, but the birthplace of individual rights and freedoms the Italians enjoy today.

My grandfather lived in Isernia and was educated there in stone masonry and then went on to higher education in Florence, Italy, eventually becoming and architect.  In 1920 he came to America to visit an aunt of his living in Philadelphia, PA.  He met my grandmother, also Italian, married her, remained here, and eventually became a U.S. citizen.   But, the ties to his family in Italy were never broken.  He kept in touch which his brothers and sisters in Italy and traveled back there to visit many times during his lifetime.  Two of his brothers, Alfonso and Tonino, eventually came to America, got jobs and remained here, also becoming U.S. citizens.  Two sisters and a brother remained in Italy all their lives and so, I have many cousins living in Italy today.

Several times during my life, I have visited the relatives in Isernia and it is wonderful to have been able to meet my grandfather's family there.  I have visited his actual birthplace many times, most recently in 2010.  My cousin, Cosmo Guglielmi, has remodeled the inside of the home to use as his architectural offices.  These homes are most like the townhouses we have in the U.S. today.  They are narrow and usually three or four stories high.  Each story has a room or two on each level and usually a steep set of marble stairs, without railings or banisters, up to each floor.  The marble stairs are hard on the knees and ankles, but the Italians navigate them with no problem.  They dash up and down these stairs from each floor to another a few dozen times a day.

As I mentioned before, Isernia is in the heartland of Italy.  This region of Italy is best known for the dairy products it produces and they are all delicious.  The fresh cheeses produced in this region of Italy are outstanding.  Here you will find the fresh mozzarella, riccotta and scamortz cheeses of Italy.  To walk in the small grocery stores and dairy specialty shops and see these three fresh cheeses is enough to make me salivate.

Italians shop daily for the fresh meats, fish, and vegetable and dairy products for their meals.  Food stores open at seven or eight o'clock each morning and my cousins make the round of the stores for the food for their daily meals.  If we ate fresh food everyday like the Italians eat, we would not have the weight and obesity problems we have in the U.S. today.   I know we don't have the culture here in the U.S. to shop daily for our food, so we rely heavily on processed foods and fast foods, but we would all be much healthier if we ate the amount of fresh food the Italians do.   The stereotype of the fat Italian is just not true.

Isernia is a typical small city in Isernia and a great place to visit off the beaten track in Italy.  When in Rome, talk a day or two and visit this heartland Italian city.  Here is where you will meet the true Italians, so friendly to Americans and other foreigners.   You can rent a car in Rome and drive east about an hour to get there, or take the train from Rome right into Isernia's train station in the old section of the city.  The train ride takes about an hour and a half.  From the station you can walk all over Isernia.  Walk into the piazzas and the narrow streets and explore the city.  You will enjoy the fresh food markets and stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, kitchen stores, pasta stores etc.  Stop in any of the cafes and have an expresso, cappucino or a glass of regional wine and a dish of pasta.

For a small city of 20-25.000 people there is a lot of history, art, and architecture to see here.  One of Rome's popes, Pope Celestino V, was born here in Isernia.  It has a university in the town with a library for research on this city, founded three centuries before Christ.  It has part of the original wall from those ancient times that surrounded the city.  The city's original church, St. Cosmo & St. Domiano, built centuries ago,  also can be viewed.  And, in the spring and summertime you can attend the various fests and festivals they celebrate in honor of important past saints and citizens of Isernia.

So when in Rome, do as the Romans do:  visit the heartland of Italy, Isernia, and sample the history, culture, food, art, and architecture of a typical Italian city.  Viva Italia!

The fabulous fresh cheeses sold in Isernia produced locally in the Molise region of Italy.

Fresh meat sold in the butcher shops in Isernia, Italy.