A Visit to Aquara and Paestum in the Campagna

[Drawn from a detailed written account of a trip to southern Italy that I made with my brother Robert Marchione in late May and early June of 2006]

B-1. Aquara panorama

A panoramic view of the town of Aquara, the home town of my paternal grandparents

This trip was in large measure a genealogical expedition. While we had relatives and contacts in San Donato whom we could question, here we we had no surviving relatives. All we had in the way of documentation were some photographs that had come to me less than a year before from a first cousin, Ken Marchione, who I had just met for the first time. Ken is the second to the youngest son of my father’s brother Carlo Marchione, who had passed away some years earlier. The photos were apparently taken during our Aunt Nydia’s early 1950s trip to Aquara to marry a man named Buonopane, Cousin Jean’s father, who Nydia subsequently divorced. Unfortunately, the people appearing in the photos were not identified.

I thought that these might be portraits of my great grandfather and great grandmother Consolmagno. I tried to confirm my suspicions by mailing copies to my Aunt Eleanor, my father’s youngest sister, who I believed was living with her daughter Debby and Debby’s husband (a naval officer) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. However, the letter was returned to me marked Addressee Unknown. I didn’t know if this meant that Eleanor was living elsewhere or had possibly passed away. An attempt was also made to reach her bi-polar son, Bobby Fullerton, who had been a guest at our house for six weeks while job hunting in the Boston area five years earlier, but this effort also was unsuccessful. The person who answered the phone at Bobby’s last known place of residence, a kind of halfway house near Pittsbugh , said that no one by that name was then living there. My brother and I had been equally unsuccessful in our attempts to reach Nydia’s daughter, Jean, who lived in Marsala, at the western end of Sicily. We had a phone number for her (Bob had been in touch with her in 2001 at the time of a projected trip to Italy that was cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). We didn’t know her husband’s first name, and his last name, Alagna, turned out to be one of the most common in the fairly large city of Marsala, so finding a current telephone number for Jean proved to be a practical impossibility.

Once it became clear that she could not be reached, we abandoned our plan to include Sicily and Marsala in our southern Italian itinerary.

Several days into our trip (which began in my mother’s home town of San Donato) we reached the seaside city of Paestum, famous for its largely intact Greek temples. [Mary Ann and I would, on a later tour of Italy, visit the famous Valley of the Temples in Agrigento in Sicily. The Paestum temples, were to my eye at least, much more impressive.]

Aquara, the home town of the Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza families is situated in the mountains, about 30 miles east of Paestum at the very center of the Province of Calabria and on the edge of the Cilento National Park. The countryside driving out to Aquara was notable for its fertility.

While both San Donato and Aquara are mountainside villages, Aquara is perched at a somewhat higher elevation. We drove to a point near the top of the town that seemed to be the principal square, parked the car a short distance away, and asked an elderly gentleman who had just parked a small truck nearby for directions. I explained as best I could, in my limited conversational Italian, who we were and what were looking for. I told him that our paternal ancestors were Aquarese, that our name was Marchione, but that ours was “un nome adoptivo” (an adopted name), and that our blood relatives were actually Consolmagnos on the male and Costanzas on the female side. We showed him the pictures of presumed relatives that Ken had furnished dating bad to the early 1950s (the same pictures I had sent to Aunt Eleanor some months earlier and that had been returned unopened).

B-2 Consolmagno grandparents?

A picture of an elderly couple that may well be our great grandfather and Great Grandmother Consolmagno. I was struck, I particular by the eyes of the man, which it seemed to bear a resemblance to those of my father and his siblings.

Another of the picture may be that of our grandmother’s younger brother, Guglielmo Costanza, who died at the age of 27, probably about 1919, possibly a victim of the Spanish Influenza epidemic. While the gentleman was unable to identify any of the people in the photos, he did confirm that there were many Consolmagnos and Costanzas still living in Aquara.

B-3 Guglielmo Costanza (possibly)

Possibly my paternal grandmother’s younger brother, Guglielmo Costanza, who died at age 27, and was my father’s and my namesake (Guglielmo being the Italian for William)

Continuing to walk in the direction of the piazza, we stopped briefly at a store where an assortment of seeds were on sale. One of the things I had told Bob on our way down  was that I hoped to buy some local seeds for my garden back in Brighton, where I had just installed three raised beds for plants. Both of us, in fact, bought packets—in my case lettuce of various varieties, Italian celery, eggplant, and zucchini. (One of the first things that I did after returning home was to plant these seeds. Unfortunately, only the Zucchini came up, but with a highly woodlike texture, rendering them inedible). At this point the storekeeper came out to inquire who we were, and after I explained as best I could, directed us to city clerk’s office, suggesting that the they might be able to put us in touch with people who shared our bloodline.

On the way to city hall we also stopped briefly in the main square, the Piazza Vittorio Veneto (named for a World War I Italian victory over the Austrians), where a monument stands in memory of the townspeople killed in the war. Italy sustained some 600,000 deaths in World War I.

B-4 Aquara Soldier's Monument

Aquara’s World War I monument, on which the names Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza appear.

Interestingly both San Donato and Aquara proudly commemorate their World War I dead, while both fail to memorialize those who lost their lives in World War II—the difference, of course, being that in World War I Italy fought on the winning side, while in World War II they on the losing side. We did snap a picture of the WWI Soldier’s Monument. The list of local war dead included Consolmagnos, Marchiones, Capozzolis and Marinos (the latter names those of cousins).

Interestingly, the main church in Aquara, the Church of San Nicola di Bari, is named for the saint who would later be dubbed Father Christmas (later we also visited Saint Nicola’s final resting place in the city of Bari in Puglia). The church was open so we had an opportunity to see the inside, which was somewhat plain. The origins of this church, are quite ancient, dating all the way back to 1308.

B-5 Church San Nicola di Bari

The exterior of the Church of San Nicola di Bari in Aquara’s main square.

The town archive stood a short distance beyond the square, but we were fated to be disappointed there. All the employees seemed indifferent to our presence—either in conference, on the telephone, of in the case of the female clerk in the outer office, so preoccupied with her written work that she paid us no attention whatsoever. It reminded me of an experience that Mary Ann and I had had almost twenty years earlier trying to exchange currency in an Italian bank in Rome, where we were kept waiting for over 20 minutes in a line that never seemed to move, and eventually abandoned our errand in frustration. After cooling our heels in the outer office of the Aquara town clerk for an extended period, it seemed clear that the bureaucrats just couldn’t be bothered.

Returning to the car, we asked another elderly gentleman where the town cemetery was located. We thought we might be able to match the photos we were carrying to those on the various tombstones and vaults of the cemetery, since the Italians place photographs of the dead on their gravestones. I was familiar with this practice because I had seen immigrant gravestones containing pictures back home in the Waltham Cemetery. The grave of my mother’s sister Olinda, who died in 1927 at age 3 1/2, had been furnished with a photograph in the Italian manner, though it had been vandalized at some point and the aperture was empty.

We were directed by this gentleman to the top of the town where we had little difficulty finding the small town cemetery, which was open at that hour and completely empty of visitors. There we spent the better part of an hour systematically examining the pictures and inscriptions in a vain attempt to find a match. The cemetery did contain gravestones and tombs bearing the names Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza, which we photographed.  The name Inglese also appeared.

It had always been my understanding that our grandmother Emilia Costanza’s mother’s maiden name was Inglese (Italian for “English”), which led the family to the supposition that we had some English blood. It should be emphasized, however, that racial or ethnic purity is a rather absurd notion on the Italian peninsula. If one adds to the English ancestry suggested by the name Inglese, the German blood that the Salvuccis casually claimed by virtue of their height and lighter skin and northern (Tuscan) origins, to the Greek blood that our maternal grandmother’s family, the Sacchettis claimed by virtue of God knows what, to the likely admixture of Samnite descent, the blood of the fierce mountaineers who originally occupied the hills roundabout San Donato, to the Roman blood that one might infer from the Aquarese name Consolmagno (“great consul” in English), our bloodline is a bit of a muddle. When you add to those claimed sources of descent the Etruscan, Carthaginian, Saracen, Norman, Spanish, and French strains that were introduced into central and southern Italy by various invading forces and  diverse armies of occupation that penetrated these areas over the centuries, the absurdity of Italian racial purity becomes clear, which may explain why racism made less headway in Italy as compared with northern European societies.

Interestingly the Buonopane name was not represented in the Aquara cemetery, which left me wondering if Nydia’s second husband came from Aquara at all. He may have been recruited from one of the surrounding towns. Nydia did travel to Aquara in 1950, I was told, specifically to marry him, but he need not have come from the town itself. Tending to to confirm this suspicion, the current Aquara telephone directory (or elenco telefonico (which can be accessed on line) lists no Buonopanes whatsoever.

Here we see two of the many gravestones bearing family names that we found in the Aquara Cemetery.

I did notice the presence in this cemetery of at least one Jewish headstone. I don’t recall the name that appeared on it. I knew it was Jewish only by virtue of a Star of David appearing on the marker. I thought it strange that a Jew would be buried among Christians, given the strict regulations Jews applied to their rituals and the Catholic Church’s equally restrictive burial practices.

Another interesting feature of this cemetery (also of the cemetery in San Donato) was the great number of small, green lizards that infested the grounds. There was nothing very alarming about these creatures since that are quite small and entirely harmless

By this time we’d concluded that there was nothing more in the way of genealogical information to be uncovered in AQuara. Apparently, neither the living nor the dead of this hill city had any detailed genealogical information to impart .

Unlike San Donato, which preserves much of its original medieval character in its Centro Storico, Aquara seemed somewhat less historically cohesive, notwithstanding its older age (the town was founded by the Greeks over a thousand years before San Donato8th century foundation as a religious shrine). Aquara’s architectural fabric may have suffered damage in one or more of the earthquakes that periodically devastate the mountainous regions of Italy.  I’ve always found it singularly ironic that the ancient land of Italy occupies ground that is comparatively new and geologically active.

At this point we decided to head back to Paestum to visit the Greek ruins in the few hours of daylight that remained. The return trip took us some time, for we were traveling on country roads through a populated area, and also stopped for lunch at a roadside café.

B-8 One of Paestum's Greek Temples

One of Paestum’s beautiful Greek temples.

Upon reaching Paestum we went directly to the ruins and took many photos of its still largely intact and singularly beautiful Greek temples. We also stopped at a café for one of our innumerable resuscitating coffees. We also visited the nearby Paestum Archeological Museum, but by that time it was getting rather late in the day, and I was tired, which detracted from my enjoyment of its exhibits. Also, the museum was a bit stuffy. Either it wasn’t air conditioned or the air hadn’t yet been turned on.

Also, a bit later we walked barefoot along Paestum’s beachfront, our only direct experience of the Tyrrhenian Sea on this trip. The shoreline is beautiful, but the beach at that hour was covered with litter. This was probably the best day for weather of the entire trip. One interesting feature of the walk along the beach were two men who were gathering clams with rather large metal devices which they used to bore into the sand just off shore.

B-9 beach at Paestum

The beach at Paestum.

That evening we dined at a restaurant called the Nettuno (Neptune). Though quite elegant, and affording a romantic view of one of the temples, which were lit up, the slow service annoyed us.  I wondered whether the clams (vongole) listed on the menu might have been the ones that we saw being gathered on the beach earlier in the day. There was a sign in the restaurant, incidentally, announcing that it had been in business since 1927, and I wondered if Benito Mussolini (the Fascist dictator who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943) might have eaten there at some point.

That concluded our brief visit to Aquara (our paternal home town) and and the nearby ancient city of Paestum.

7 thoughts on “A Visit to Aquara and Paestum in the Campagna

  1. Marcella Marino

    Hello and thank you for documenting such a trip and story.
    My mother 87 is a Marchione and father 90 is Marino , I’m sure they would know .
    I am an immigrant to the U.K.


    1. Dear Marcella

      I would greatly appreciate receiving any information you can send me regarding my paternal great grandmother, her actual family name (presumed to be Marino), the circumstances of her abandonment by her Marchione husband, the relationship to the Consolmagno family, etc. I think the Marino last name likely in that my father, who died in 1974, used to take me with him as a child to visit a cousin named Jimmy Marino who lived in Charlestowm, Massachusetts. I never understood the relationship, but the Marino name is likely to be more than coincidental.

      I have also been in touch with a gentleman named Enzo Marchione, who’s parents emigrated to Australia in the 1960s, who is likewise related to the Consolmagno family, and whose mother is a Marino. We’ve exchanged emails and he seemed to think that he might be able to help answer the question, but I have yet to hear back from him.


  2. Joe Betsill

    Mr. Marchione,

    My wife and I came across your story of your visit to Aquara and the photos while searching through the web for photos of Consolmagno in Aquara. My maternal grandmother was a Consolmagno and immigrated from Aquara as a young adult. My brother and I, along with our wives, traveled to Aquara in 2018 to see the original home of our Grandmother. We never knew our grandmother as she died before we were born. My parents had visited relatives in Aquara 30 or so years earlier but they were gone and we had lost contact with any remaining relatives. We had names and birth dates of my grandmother and her father but no information on current living relatives. Our driver suggested we start our search at a bar. A man we met in a bar took us to a town office that had books of records. The office was actually closed but the man we met called the office manager and he came and opened up for us. The office manager was very helpful and looked up the birth records on our Grandmother and great grandfather. He found that both had lived on Via Carmine a few blocks away. The man we met at a the bar took us to Via Carmine. We started walking down Via Carmine while the man went to the first house on the right. He went in then came out shortly stating that he had found our relatives. I was amazed and asked how he knew they were are relatives. He said they say they are your relatives and want us to come up to their house. We entered and the people had pictures of our family that my parents had left them 30 years earlier. They had pictures of my brother and I. There was no doubt they were relatives. The head of the house was Giuseppe Consolmagno. HIs wife and sister were also there. Giuseppe was my mother’s cousin. Later Giuseppe’s son Mario came in to meet us. Although we spoke different languages we had a great visit. There was a lot of laughing and hugging. They were very happy to see us and served us lemon-cello and St Joseph feast day donuts (it was the March 20th). Our visit was a once in a life time experience that I believe was orchestrated by divine intervention. We were supposed to go to Capri that day but the ferries were unexpected closed due to weather (and a local bus transit strike). We redirected our tour to Aquara. Finding our relatives within one hour of arrival in Aquara was further evidence of divine intervention. This was a once in a lifetime amazing adventure. Unfortunately we were recently notified by his grand son that my mother’s Cousin, Giuseppe Consolmagno, passed away this past May 2020.
    My story is getting a little long for a reply. If you want to hear more or figure out how you and I are related, just let me know.

    Joe Betsill


    1. Dear Joe,

      Thank you for this information.

      You were indeed fortunate to have made contact with your Consolmagno relatives in Aquara. Since our visit to Aquara in 2007, I have learned that my great grandmother’s family name was “Marino,” first name Marietta. My great grandfather’s name was Felice Consolmagno. The only other Consolmagno relatives of which I’m aware, were a cousin of my father’s, Diograzio Consolmagno, who emigrated to the States in the early 20th century and owned and operated the Amalfi Cafe restaurant around the corner from Boston’s Symphony Hall for many years. He never married. My father also mentioned another cousin, Edward Consolmagno, an attorney who practiced, I believe, in Medford, Massachusetts.

      I would certainly appreciate any information you might be able to provide that would help to make a definite connection with the Consolmagnos family, eitheer in Aquara or in the Staes.

      Best Wishes,

      Bill Marchione


  3. Joe Betsill

    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your reply. I was not sure I would get anything back since the thread started several years ago.

    After I sent my reply above I pulled out a document that was written by an Aunt of mine several years ago about our family history. In the document it states that my Great Grandparents were Ralph and Maria Rosina Marchione Consolmagno and lived in Aquara. It also states that when my grandmother Rosa Consolmagno came to America she stayed with her uncle Cosmo Marchione in Canonsburg PA. That is where she met my Grandfather Joe Guzzo.
    As a youth we would often visit a Joe Consolmango in Mt Washington PA near Pittsburg. He was brother of my Grandmother Rosa. Joe came to America first and the sent for his sister. They left two siblings in Aquara of which one was a parent of the relatives we met in Aquara during our 2018 trip.
    It would be interesting to see how you connect with the above.



  4. One of my Italian colleagues found this site; thanks!
    My sister and I visited Aquara in 2001. Our grandfather Italo was born there; he changed his name to Edwin — not Edward — when he came to America in 1899; he was the attorney who practiced in Medford, so clearly we are cousins. Joseph is a common family name; my father was also a Joseph, it’s my middle name, and I’ve met a Joseph from Pittsburgh, probably the grandson of the person you mentioned.
    I don’t see any Marchione names in our family tree, but my great grandmaster was Giovanna Martino… not Marino; perhaps the same?
    After Dad graduated from Tufts, during the depression, he worked at the Amalfi restaurant as a bartender. I had heard that the owner of the Amalfi then was named Horace, but I can’t be sure… he might have been the son of the founder.
    I’ve lived and worked in Italy since 1993 but I’ve only gotten to Aquara once; it’s not the easiest place to get to. It does, however, appear on one of the maps in Hall of Maps at the Vatican Museum!


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