September 11, 2009

Ischia: Roots on a Rim

What most people fail to realize is that Italy is a relatively new country—before unification in 1861, the peninsula and its surrounding islands had been carved up by a host of empires, republics, and foreign dominations from the fall of the Roman Empire.

Since the Southern half of the peninsula and its islands share slightly more history in common, we are going to explore these similarities by focusing on the place I know best—Ischia.

Dating back to prehistoric times, this isle rejoices in the byname, the Emerald Island—Isola Verde in Italian. With its crater submerged beneath the sky-blue ripples of the Mediterranean Sea, what exists today is merely a rim—the remnants of an extinct volcano, which has been dormant only since the 14th century, constituting the largest island in the Bay of Naples.

Because of its strategic position, the green island has sustained a troublesome history. Recurrently colonized, punished, dominated, and sacked by a succession of ruthless invaders, the island has been infused with unique features that greatly distinguish it from areas on the mainland north of Naples whose language, culture, and social customs have only recently converged with those of Ischia. To that effect, islanders are a peculiar breed.

A simple glance at the Neapolitan language and its insular dialects reveals the lengthy history in a nutshell: paccaro ('slap') comes from ancient Greek; pretrusino ('parsley)', from Latin; spasso ('fun'), from German; buatta ('barrel') originates from French; semmana ('week'), from Spanish; tavuto ('coffin'), Arabic; and maccaturo ('hanky'), Catalan.

Like the language, the Neapolitan variety of music is enriched by its turbulent past and equally diverges from other regions of the peninsula. Folk songs, which date back as far as the 1200’s, are sung in an oriental, arabesque melody. Musical contributions include the romantic guitar, the mandolin, and several forms of opera. O Sole Mio and Enrico Caruso both originate from Naples.

With roots in the Greek and Roman periods, gastronomy is out of this world! Naples is the birthplace of pizza, which is about 200 years old. The Neapolitan coffee pot (‘a cuccumella) was the forerunner of the modern-day espresso pot, which, when the water boiled, was turned upside down.

In the next several articles, we are going to take a walk through approximately 3,000 years of history, as well as the evolution of menswear in the Bay of Naples, focusing on the island of Ischia.

View of Forio, Ischia, from the the Soccorso
(Turn off the playlist below before clicking to start.)

Photo top left, Naples.
Photo middle right, 'o pizzaiuolo.
Photos, slideshow & video Copyright Men’s Fashion by Francesco

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