The Conquest of the SouthPosted: February 23, 2012
March to Athens
Day 108-XXXIV, from Bivio Palomonte to Buccino, 12 km.
Buccino, February 23
We doubled our altitude today. And most of it was left for the last few kilometres up to Buccino. People were exhausted when they arrived, but satisfied. The walk was marvellous. The olive groves are gradually making way for the bare forests of winter. In twelve kilometres we encountered only a single car, twice. Carabinieri. They informally interrogate us. As a last word they say ‘occhio’, which means look out. So I wonder if there are still briganti active in this territory…
I’ll get to that another time. But first, the historical context.
After the execution of Murat, the Bourbon family returned to the throne. All over Europe it was ‘restoration’ time. The reigning families wanted to pretend that the revolution had never happened. They thought that after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo they could simply return to business as usual.
They couldn’t of course. History flows on, and you can’t row against the current.
Revolutionary fervour returned to Europe more than once in the 19th century, and in Italy the masonic lodges prepared for the country to be united.
I won’t go into it. There was a big component of obscure diplomatic plots, there were wars, there was the help or tacit support of Prussia/Germany and Great Britain, and there was more.
Giuseppe Garibaldi was the great hero of the unification. He was a born condottiero, an icon of his days, like Che Guevara a century later.
Garibaldi had fought for the independence of Uruguay from the empire of Brasil, he had fought all over Italy, and finally in France against the Germans in 1870.
His most famous enterprise was the ‘Expedition of the Thousand’, which sailed from near Genova to Sicily, and which would become the start of the conquest of the South by the North.
This time, the peasants had a real hope that something would change. They supported Garibaldi and the unification because they thought the estates of the nobles would be redistributed, so that they could finally own the land they worked.
It never happened. In fact, things got worse after the unification.
The kingdom of Naples might have been a medieval society, but it was a lot richer than many nationalist Italian historians will give it credit for. The south was literally conquered by the north, and treated as a colony. The new king of Italy, who held his court in Turin, implemented his own laws, but left the local nobles in place. And to stimulate the emerging industry, he levied taxes on agricultural products.
Agriculture was the main source of income for the south. When it was taxed, the exports fell, and misery was a result. The peasants had been betrayed. Many of them emigrated to America. And many others picked up their arms and took to the hills to fight a guerilla war against the new kingdom.
These rebels were known as briganti. And this region was the land where they lived, and died.
We are sitting of on the steps of the local archeological museum of Volscei, the ancient name of Buccino. Like every evening when we arrive, we start to build camp. The barrels are placed, people go looking for wood, the fire is lit, the pans are filled, and food is cooked. People gather around.
Others among us have been visiting the museum. And they witnessed another familiar story.
We race through the centuries from one showcase to another, and it all makes sense. First there were tools and recipients. Then came art for decoration. Then came jewels, for art’s own sake, a first sign of social distinction. With social distinction came weapons and armours and warfare, and yet more riches…
Then came the Greeks. They did penetrate as far as here after all. Local art started to fade and disappear. Then came the Romans, and once again, culture changed. Etc. etc.
Modern consumerism is just another culture that we have adapted to. It will pass with the current of history. And maybe one day, people will marvel at an archaeological exposition of Coca Cola cans and all the other trash that you find along the roads today.