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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Oct 2006


Emigration Museum in Naples?


I wandered down to the old Immacolatella building at the port today (photo, left). I was looking for one of those helpful little signs that you often find where people are working—the ones that say, "Excuse the inconvenience. We are sitting on our thumbs —uh—working for you. Yes, your very own grandchildren's grandchildren will be able to enjoy this fine new bus stop." I wanted anything at all to indicate that the Immacolatella, the quaint old customs station at the port, is on its way to becoming a museum dedicated to the very important and fascinating topic of emigration from Naples. Unfortunately, the place was locked up tighter than a drum—no workers, nothing at all to show anything, except that the building is marked by a plaque to honor the 91 sailors, officers, and dock workers killed in a devastating air raid that sank the cruiser Muzio Attendolo in port, in December, 1942. That is as it should be, yet the regional government of Campania and city government of Naples have, for many months, been touting the structure as the site of a new Museo dell'Emigrazione.

Just as countries such as the United States have opened facilities (the US has one on Ellis Island) to celebrate the arrival of immigrant nation builders, Italy is now in the midst of opening at least a few museums dedicated to the sad fact that so many people simply had to leave, driven away mostly by economics. The great waves of Neapolitans and southern Italians, in general, who left their homes from 1880-1920 amount, by some counts, to 15 million (and 27 million if you spread the time-frame a bit and include all of Italy).

Elsewhere in Italy, there is now such a museum in Gualdo Tadino, near Perugia in Umbria. It claims to be the first Regional Museum of Emigration in Italy. Also, in Calabria, "La Nave della Sila" has opened. "Sila" designates an area of Calabria, (approximately the area around Cosenza) parts of which are still depleted from loss of population due to emigration—there are "ghost towns" in Calabria. "Nave" means ship. Thus, the "Nave della Sila" museum proclaims the area to have been a great vessel for millions of people—who left. Both museums have photographic exhibits, audio-visual displays and sponsor lectures. They are first-class facilities for students and anyone else seeking to get a handle on the phenomenon.

Various round-table discussions in Naples over the course of the last 18 months have envisioned the Immacolatella as just such a facility. The site is the perfect symbol of emigration. The people left from here. (The mammoth main passenger terminal at the port wasn't built until 1936). The museum—according to projections—will have a "Wall of Memories," a section on "The Trip," and a few other displays. It will also include an international research center. The complete plan is grandiose and includes the restoration of the nearby church of Santa Maria di Portosalvo (Safe Haven), the sorely dilapidated building that used to be the traditional house of worship for Neapolitan seafarers.  It is now about 150 yards inland, but was once at water's edge before urban rebuilders filled in the small crescent-shaped port that had the church and the Immacolatella at opposite points of the crescent, so to speak, facing each other across the water. That will take some doing. The last I have read on this is that they are still at the stage of discussions to "create synergy among the city government, the Naples Port Authority and the Ministry of Culture." Uh-oh.  I am allergic to terms such as "Creating synergy"; if you are not, I salute your immune system. It all sounds distressingly long-term, but if there is one place in Italy that should have such a museum, it's Naples.

[Also see "Immigration & Emigration"]


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