Recollections of Poggioreale
Many of our PIA membership were born in Poggioreale and can describe what life in their hometown was really like before they departed. These are Poggiorealesi who have left the town in recent memory; their reasons for leaving were the same as others who left Sicily during prior times: to pursue a new life in America to improve their life in one way or another. Gina Corte of Kansas City, Missouri was born in Poggioreale in 1947 and came to America in 1961. Cav. Pietro Maniscalco left home in 1960 with his family as a young boy; they went to Australia where a large community of Poggiorealesi immigrated to the Sydney area and are deeply established and thriving today. And there are others like Anna Todaro who live in Poggioreale today and are willing to give us their memories of early life in their beloved town. We will introduce you to these Poggioreale-born friends and family as we present some of their precious recollections with us.
This Digital photo was given to PIA and edited with permission of the Mayor (Sindaco Mimmo Cangelosi) of Poggioreale, 2019. The original is a photographic postcard showing one photo of a series taken by a traveling photographer probably sometime in the late 1940s or 1950s. It is an iconic view from the town square, called Piazza di Elimo, facing the staircase to the mother church with its bell tower.
In the foreground of this photo can be seen townspeople of the day. The priest in the right foreground is Padre Falco. Up the staircase can be seen children sitting on the steps, probably enjoying a gelato. On the left and right of the staircase are dwellings and other establishments. Pietro Maniscalco, born in 1950 and now of Sydney,Australia, tells us that when he was a child, he and his friends were often found to be playing on the steps and landing of the staircase. He recalls that on Sundays they would throw coins at the steps, and the winner taking all the money would be the child whose coin landed closest to the step. Pietro further recalls that on the left of the staircase is seen the side of a small hotel. Half way up the stairs there was a bakery, "Il Forno", where they made and sold bread. Elsewhere was a "Bar Vella", a small restaurant run by the same family that runs the present-day "Bar Vella" in Poggioreale today. We of PIA are among the many visitors who know this present-day establishment and have enjoyed cappuccino, gelato, and more there during our multiple visits there.
Pietro tells us that at the entrance to the Piazza on the right side there was the police station; on the left side was a general store and a service station selling petrol, Pietro continues. There was also butcher shop run by the family Pace; the meat was displayed, hanging outside and often attracting flies. The farmers who worked outside the town from Monday to Saturday would come home to rest, and on Sunday they would come out to the Piazza, walking up and down from one side to the other talking and catching up with their townspeople and neighbors.
There were many churches in Poggioreale back in the day. (Chiesa is the Italian word for church.) About three quarters of the way up the staircase on the left was a small church named Chiesa del SS Crocifisso. Located in the Piazza was Chiesa del Purgatorio (see photo below.) At the top of the stairs, of course, was the mother church, Chiesa Madrice (Mother Church), formally named Santissima Maria Immoculata.
There was a general store in the Piazza was run by the family Messina. Gino Corte, born in 1947 and moved to America in 1960, was a child in Poggioreale at the same time as Pietro Maniscalco. They both recall that, during the year, many families would shop to purchase goods but didn't have the money at the moment. Mrs. Messina would make a note in her book and, after the harvest, the customer would pay with wheat, olive oil, or cash.
* Editor's Note: Pietro Maniscalco left Poggioreale with his parents when he was only ten and a half in 1960. Read more here (insert link) about this notable man and his outstanding contributions to both Sydney and to Poggioreale, the home that he never forgot.
This photo is another in the series of photos taken by the unidentified photographer. Postcards of this and several others in the series were sold by the local tobacco shop. This photo also shows the Piazza facing the bell tower of the mother churc. Note the number of actual residents of the day milling around
the square and steps.
These are the remains of Chiesa del Purgatorio in Poggioreale Vecchia.