Foundations of Poggioreale: Civil Autonomy

CIVIL AUTONOMY

Civil autonomy was requested after the resolution of the community on June 20, 1779, and ratified with the Notarial document of June 26 of the same year; these actual documents are not available due to, as mentioned before, the fire that destroyed the communal archive in the year 1820.

Nevertheless, we know that the community continued with its consular resolutions number 24 of May 30, 1863, number 66 of November 9,1863, and number 78 of November 1, 1867, insistently requesting autonomy from the Administrative District of Gibellina, in order to become its own Regional Administrative Center.

From the first, these petitions were received favorably in Trapani, at the Minister di Pardons and Justice in Rome, as is revealed from the cited resolutions.

None of these resolutions or archival documents have survived.

Poggioreale belonged to the Province of Palermo until 1819 when the Royal Government decreed that Sicily be divided into 7 Valli or Provinces, and therefore, Poggioreale joined Trapani.

This last resolution cited contains a heated, imploring petition to the Governor of the King asking that it be returned to being part of the province of Palermo, which is geographically closer than Trapani, and to consider that many families of Poggioreale that had lands in the province now resided and were established in Palermo, and that most of the young people studied in the schools of Palermo and in that University. Palermo is the primary center of commerce and of business, it is in sum, for Poggioreale, the center of trade, the metropolis.

Unfortunately from 1642 to 1862 we do not have any records due to the damaging results of the insane furor of the rabble during the revolutions of 1820-1848 and 1860. It is known from experience that, especially in the small towns, the movement to insurrection invades minds, inebriates and eventually degenerates into personal reprisals and vendettas. For many, revolution is a pretext under which every crime can be covered up by the counterfeit prospect of “liberty” and of “the good of the country”, hate and ignorance triumph and dominate. Let me explain: a revolution signifies a profound political and social upheaval (it can also include a religious factor). Revolution implies the rejection of a pre existing order for the purpose of establishing, by means of violence, a new order. At times it is ignited by poetic exaltations, based on the just needs of a people. subsequently, that exaltation in good faith can degenerate into a fever, and this does not happen to a people merely because of someone’s command, proving those inflamed words of the hymn of Mameli, put to music by M. Michele Novara:

“When a people awakens God goes to their heads, giving it thunderbolts.”

Revolutions, Tommaseo would say, are not ever made while enjoying life. the truth is however that revolutions happen to the world in inverse relation to their level of civilization, however Giuseppe Mazzini warned that the great revolutions are carried out more often with principles than with bayonets, where logic is the genius of the great revolution. Vincenzo Cuoco echoes this statement when he warns that the primary weapons of a virtuous revolution must be prudence and justice. When, however, whoever leads a revolution wants to remake everything, that is wants to destroy everything, then it happens that those same people which yearn for the revolution for one reason, abhor it for another.

It is a known fact, however, that the entire secret lies in knowing what the people want, and to do it. With your eyes open, however, unfortunate experience indicates that in a great political agitation, it is impossible that the wicked not be mixed in with the good, as, for example, when shaking a vase, the dregs mix with the fluid, the movement then becomes fury, frenzy, terror and thirst for destruction and blood.

How much damage it brings to a community then, putting to the sack and burning the books and documents that are so important to the administrative life of a town.

From its first two centuries of life, Poggioreale does not possess any paper that would reveal its administrative development, that would document the generations, the noble families and the significant titles of its citizens; in sum, the lines of contact have been broken and dispersed, and so is the relationship between the past and the present of Poggioreale documentary history.

The first available register of resolutions opens with the year 1863. It is only from this year forward that we can better orient ourselves, I say better, because much is missing. Decrees, Circulars, Balance Sheets, reports, supporting documents, correspondence, journals, stub-books, population movement… In the council resolution of December 2, 1877, there is a list of papers that should be present in the archive, but there is no trace of these either.

The administration in the year 1860 was thus constituted: City Head – Magnifici – Judges – First Elected. Cavaliere Leonardo Agosta held the governance, that of mayor. The maintenance of public order was referred to First Elected Signor D. Giuseppe Campisi (son of Vito), who enjoyed the reputation of being capable, and he gained experience when he was put to the test in repressing the riots of 1848.

With a degree in law, an able and energetic man, he was considered the only force and the only mind of the town, his mere nod was an order.

I transcribe a valid judgment of him. Campisi, with the fate of the town held firmly in his hands, faced the revolutionaries and disarmed them. In front of him no one dared to breathe, he was a man of tremendous resolution, feared and venerated by all. In him shone the firmness of character and the magnanimous fairness of a good heart, as well as unwavering severity of action. Around him were gathered citizens and people who controlled the riotous, the true social plague. Because of Campisi, in Poggioreale during the Bourbon repressions of 1848 there were no imprisonments or gallows.

His strong collaborator in establishing public order in the town was the Archpriest D. Vincenzo Agosta, a man of charity in the most sincere sense, he collaborated with Campisi, using his prestige before the ruffians, fortified by the importance of his family and his own personal character

The First Elected and Archpriest divided the power, they functioned as arbiters, judges, defenders of public security. They referred the riotous to the Court of justice of Palermo, to the Tribunal of the Monarchy and even to the Sovereign, directly.

According to the laws of the Kingdom of Sicily the Direction or Administrative Power was thus constituted: First Elected, Second Elected, Decurion, responsibilities that in 1860 were embodied in Signor Don Giuseppe Campisi, Don Leonardo Agosta, Don Crispino Apicella. The post of Mayor was held by Agosta.

In 1861, these men were confirmed by official decree, and on December 9,1863, were again confirmed by the flattering report sent to the Head of the Government. The Secretary was Don Nicolo Ippolito.

During the revolution of 1860, even in Poggioreale there were political antagonism and strong antipathies between the Bourbons and the Italians, who were called taschittara and surd.

The animated first words of the battle cry were impressive: “ad iddru! ad iddrul ch’e lasdiitliiru (get him, get him, that Bourbon spy); words that at times sadly became the epilogue of pursued wretches. To tell the truth, the work of Campisi, according to Apicella, limited as much as possible the people’s furor while maintaining a certain tranquillity in the town. The intervention of Archpriest Vincenzo Caronna was just, since he saved so many families and was a guardian angel.

In the first years of the annexation of Sicily to Italy, Poggioreale was second to none for patriotism as Italian citizens. The celebration of the new nation was proof of the enthusiastic reception of Italy as a modern state.

“King Festival,” as the people called it, was a compendium of traditions, officially supported by the community, with all the pomposity and splendor that was common in those days. Here’s a succinct description:

“I shoot fireworks at the face of the sun, the city hall, the piazza and private houses are decked with banners, in piazza Elirno, displayed on a throne, the great portrait of the King Vittorio Emanuele H, with honor guard of Royal Carabinieri in high uniform; there is a procession through the streets of the town with the King’s portrait, the tricolor flag, music, the Mayor with his tricolor sash, Administrators, town Guard and Noble Guard in great form, the celebrating populace, the singing of patriotic hymns. In the evening in Piazza Elimo, there are lights, festive entertainment, a delirious populace before the portrait shouting Long Live the King! Long Live Italy!”

At midnight, the entertainment dissolved, and the party assumed a more religious form in the Matrice, on the part of the Authorities, Institutions and people, who celebrated the morning Mass, and in the evening sang Te Deuui laudamus, before the Holiest Sacrament solemnly displayed, and all received the benediction.

So much enthusiasm reminds us to appreciate how much we derive from the rural tradition, confirmed in the communal resolution number 6 of May 30, 1866, which said, that at the beginning of the revolution of 1860 a Squad of young Poggiorealesi, supporters of the unification of Italy, financed by their community, went to reinforce the ranks of General Garibaldi.

From contemporary witnesses, we learned that Garibaldi himself was in the piazza Elimo of Poggioreale for a few brief hours, welcomed by the Mayor Cavalier Leonardo Agosta, by D. Giuseppe Campisi and by D. Crispino Apicella. In those few hours, Garibaldi electrified a group of young men who then followed him. Caronna Giuliano followed him in the 1866 campaign, a decorated veteran.

In 1866 Poggioreale had 3,451 inhabitants.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]