Personal Recollections of Poggioreale, Sicily
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. Gino 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.
The iconic digital photo shown above is an edited digital rendition of the original taken by a traveling photographer. There are other photos in this series. A digital copy of this particular photo was given to PIA and edited with permission from the Mayor of Poggioreale in 2019, Sindaco Mimmo Cangelosi. The original photos were made into photographic postcards that were sold in the local tobacco shop, we have been told. Although we have not been able to verify the date, it has been estimated by some elder residents of Poggioreale as the 1930s to the early 1940s. One elder remembered the name of the priest in the foreground! It is a now-famous view from the town square, called Piazza di Elimo, facing the staircase to the mother church with its notable bell tower.
In this beautiful photo can be seen various townspeople of the day. The priest on the right has been identified by one resident as Padre Falco. Up the staircase children can be seen 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 could often be 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 bottom left of the staircase is 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 to NEW POGGIOREALE.
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 by describing that here was a 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 that 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 to pay their bills immediately until they could be paid for their harvest. Mrs. Messina would make a note in her book and, after the harvest, the customer would pay their food bill with wheat, olive oil, or cash.
-- Article written by Tina Todaro Anderson. New information or edits are welcome, feel free to contact us using the RED link at the bottom RIGHT of each page.
* 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.
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This photo is another in the series of photos taken by an unidentified photographer, likely traveling throughout the region. Postcards of this photo, 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 church. Note the number of actual residents of the day milling around the square and the steps.
These are the remains of Chiesa del Purgatorio in Poggioreale Vecchia.