From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 27
Forestieri (Foreigners) in Gioviano
(14th to 19th Centuries A.D.)
From around 1377 until the Napoleonic era, Gioviano was practically an independent republic, much like San Marino is to this day. The town had its own governing body, or Council of Wise Men, and its own set of laws, the Statuto di Gioviano. At that time, Gioviano’s population was still recovering from the Black Death, or bubonic plague, of 1348 that had decimated the population, perhaps killing 50% of the Giovianini.

From 1377 until 1561 “forestieri,” meaning those people not having been born in “The Republic of Gioviano”, were apparently welcomed with open arms are they are today. The village needed people to work the fields and occupy the houses emptied by the terrible epidemic. In the recent past and even today, Gioviano’s plague is that of the slow passing of the elderly citizens accompanied by the mass waves of emigration from the Garfagnana, during the 20th century. The town now, as then, needs living bodies if it is to survive.

By 1551, however, it appears that Gioviano had been overrun with forestieri so much so that the laws were changed to discriminate against foreigners. Between September and March, hog farmers were not even allowed to socialize with forestieri, and it was also prohibited to sell houses to foreigners. Had this law not been changed, I would not be here writing this chapter because we wouldn’t have been allowed to purchase Casa Giorgio in 1973.

The foreigners who had moved into Gioviano prior to 1551 and thus were “grandfathered” in as citizens began to breed and multiply between 1559 and 1578 to the extent that the population increased from 255 to 335 in those few years. Obviously something really had to be done to stop the influx. The population losses from the plague had been made up for and then some.

Apparently Vetriano, where my sister has a house, had gotten disgusted with their forestieri even earlier and had passed laws against them in 1496. In Gioviano, half a century later, foreigners had to pay a head tax on each beast they possessed. They also had to pay a special tax every three months. Heavy fines were imposed on foreigners for damaging any tree or plant and also for damages done by their beasts. To add insult to injury, forestieri were not allowed to rake up chestnuts, or cut dead wood to make a fire.

In 1643, Capitano (Captain) Francesco Barsanti was elected Procuratore (Procurator), and he asked the Republic of Lucca to purge Gioviano of delinquents each year. People, especially forestieri, were stealing trees, cherries, chestnuts and other things belonging to the citizens of Gioviano, and yet the town had not been purged of the scourge of foreigners, even as late as 1675.

The Estimo del Comvne di Givviano (Valuation of the Commune of Gioviano) of 1675 reports that there were 22 foreigners either owning property in or living in Gioviano, six of whom were from the “foreign” village of Vetriano, the very town only a short distance away that was attempting to rid itself of the scourge of foreigners in 1496. I wonder how many of the forestieri in Vetriano were Giovianini.

Other foreigners listed in the Estimo were from: Gello; Pontremoli; Piano di Coreglia; Ghivizzano; La Rocca; Salita (also known as Piano di Gioviano) which is at the bottom of the hill where Al Cantuccio is now located; Terzone (the foreign town about 500 yards from my bedroom window); and a few other places practically within spitting distance of Gioviano. Only one foreigner was from as far away as Lucca.

The oppression of the foreigners continued, and in 1741, Gioviano asked the Anziani (elders) of Lucca to enforce the law of 1680 which prohibited foreigners from becoming citizens of Gioviano for three generations, even if born in the village.

The freeing of Gioviano from the Nazis by the American Buffalo Soldiers apparently thawed the centuries of discrimination against foreigners because in 1973, we were welcomed into the village with open arms. A year or so later, an English couple, Bob and Pat Owens purchased some property below Capanna Susanna. Then came more Texans in the form of Eddie and Shirley Dye and Fran and Leon Holland, followed by a couple from Sweden and then a couple from Poland. Now, even folks from as far away as Ghivizzano and Terzone are no longer discriminated against.

Even if this year was 1741, we would be allowed to become citizens due to the birth of our grandchildren who represent the fourth generation of Russells in Gioviano. I believe that my mother was made an honorary citizen the very first day she walked into town and kissed everyone that she met, learned their names and those of their children, remembered their birthdays, and greeted them with a smile and a big “buon giorno” even on the gloomiest days.

On the 25th anniversary of our arrival in Gioviano, a huge festa (party) was held to which the entire town was invited. There was music, dancing, and overflowing glasses of wine for all. There is a framed golden plaque hanging in the front entrance of the Palazzo which reads:

Comune di Borgo a Mozzano
Alla Famiglia RUSSEL (To the Russell Family)
For the active and generous activity directed
To the life of Gioviano’s Community
Con stima e riconoscenza (With esteem and gratitude)
Gioviano, 2 Luglio 1998
Gabriele Brunini

Thanks Buffalo Soldiers, for breaking the ice. Thanks also, Adenaco, Emilio, Roberto, Danilo, Renzo, and other returning emigrants, who found us crazy Americans, English folk, and other forestieri to not be so terrible after all.

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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