It seems somewhat peculiar and entirely novel that
in Calabria, traditionally considered vox populi as an area in
which agriculture was the natural vocation of its people, there
existed in the valley of the river Stilaro (Bivongi, Monasterace,
Pezzano and Sitlo) and in the mountainous areas of the Serre, (Fabrizi
and Mongiana) thriving mineral and steel industries (mines,
ironmongery, foundries, army factories etc) capable of earning a good
living for over 2000 years until the total downfall which occurred
more than a century ago, to many generations of Calabrian people. The
first to exploit the mineral resources of the Calabrian soil, were the
indigenous population of the Iron Age, followed by Greeks, Romans,
Byzantines, Normans and all the dynastic rulers, from the Suevians to
the Bourbons, that swiftly followed.
It was however with the last of these rulers, the
House of Savoy, that the disastrous political decisions to transfer
the foundries to the Northern areas of the new kingdom, determined the
final collapse and produced rampant unemployment, forcing almost 3000
people who depended on this sector for their living, into brigandage
Sursum corda; saluti e frasca! Best wishes and
prosperity to the new tyrants!
From these remote, forgotten fine arts and noble
trades has come to us ‘u rré ‘e brůanzu (bronze king).
‘U rré ‘e chi ? The king of what?
Ah diŕmmani! Gosh! What is it all about this
unusual and remarkable chronicle? One has heard about the good king,
the wise king, the big nose king, the sun king, the King of Heaven, do’
rré ‘e bastuni (the king of clubs in the popular card game of
briscola). However, never of this weird sovereign. Never! Nenta ‘e
minu (no less): made of bronze. Bah!
Nevertheless, there are no doubts and the tale is
anything but a novelty: the only deviation from the truth is that the
bust has always been of cast iron and heaven knows why it has been
always referred to as ‘e brůanzu (of bronze).
Anyway, please do not get distracted: relax and follow
the compelling narrative.
In St. Andrea, this title was bestowed to the bust
of Ferdinand II of Bourbon, nicknamed king Bomb, in its times ‘mpalatu
(firmly installed) in the middle of the old Piazza Malaira.
It all started around the mid 1800s, following the
nomination in 1846 of Don Raffaele Maria Spasari, native of Badolato,
to Archpriest of our village.
A fiery supporter of the Bourbons and such a
profound admirer of Re Bomba (king Bomb) to be utterly intolerant of
whoever disagreed with his convictions, he did all in his power and
succeeded in having at his side the daily presence of that king with
the chubby cheeks. Well, if he did not manage to achieve this in full,
he managed, so to speak, by half. If not exactly in person, at least
armless and from the head to the chest: to conclude, a reproduction of
It had not been simple, you know! It had been even
harder to persuade ‘i ‘ndrůali (the Andreolesi) to
cooperate. But, as they say, ‘na prěadica (a sermon) today,
a warning tomorrow or, better still, hurting the population were it
hurts, don Rafěali realised that in order to fulfil his target
he had to persevere and follow literally the old popular adage: Tira
ca vena! (Lit. ‘Pull and it will happen’, persist and you’ll
E vinna: (and indeed it happened): the bust of
the king was commisioned, cast in Mongiana and paid with donations by
all the andreolesi. Well... cchjů o minu (more or less).
This should be noted because a group of liberals
that met clandestinely in a basement still today remembered as la
casa dei carbonari (the house of the carbonari), under the
leadership of the lawyer Antonio Jannoni - tried and persecuted by
Bomb King himself, paid mancu ‘nu sordu (not even a cent), at
the contrary did everything in his power to ostracise the project.
In reality the group had a marginal and purely
propagandistic role, nevertheless it was sufficient to disrupt the
sleep and tranquillity of the council administrators who met as a
matter of urgency to deliberate on the purchase of ammunitions: “ in
the year 1848, the eighth of May in S.Andrea, on a meeting of the
authorities under the invitation of the Mayor (Saverio Mattei)…
considering the present situation, it is rendered necessary the
purchase of six barrels of explosive and fifteen rolls of bullets to
arm the national guards …”.
The historical wave of these events made themselves
felt even in our neck of the womb and, looking at the dark clouds of
the Sicilian storm, the cautious politicians thought well ‘u si
guŕrdanu ‘i tacchi (of watching their steps) by heavily arming
their police force.
Meanwhile, as the monarch spruppava (feasted)
avidly and worried, according to A. Dumas senior ‘ about giving a
fixed salary to the executioner because the 25 ducati he was
entitled to for every execution were sending the royal bursary
in ruin’, the wretched locals, dragging the little flesh still
hanging on their bones, were getting ready with don Rafěali to
welcolme with due pomp ‘u rré ‘e brůanzu coming from
It arrived on ‘nu carru (a cart) pulled by
oxen, firmly tied and fully hidden, followed by a greciamagna (multitude)
of screaming children, more interested in annoying the animals than to
give honour to the concealed rré (king). Although extremely
heavy, it was carefully deposited on a baldachin constructed in front
of the altar of the Chiesa Matrice (main church) and don Raffaele, as
soon as the bells started ringing in celebration, initiated a cheering
oration: ‘ Oh faithful, ecce regis! (here is the king). He is your
sovereign by divine order, as desired by the King of kings. Hoc erat
in votis, he is here to envigilate and control our (but he really
meant ‘your’) actions. Full of light and superior grace, our
understanding Ferdinand is sensitive to the human condition! Love and
honour him, because with him incipit vita nova (will start a new
Oh faithful, yours and our king will be positus ‘mprunti
(placed in front) of the town hall and must be revered
every time you pass in front of him. Per tutti i secoli saeculorum,
amen! (for all centuries of centuries, for eternity). Amen! And
now, my beloved, let sing ‘nzema (together) Te Deum.
At the end of the ceremony, people congregated
round the exit without having understood ‘na měnchja (nothing
at all) of the archpriest’s words; they understood, however, ‘u
‘ntinnu (the tone) of what clearly seemed a threat and quickly
realised that they were involved cu’ du’ brutti ‘nzěarti:
‘u rré e don Rafé (with
two ugly individuals, the king and don Raffaele).
The bust was then erected in the middle of the
square, on an imposing, carved stone pedestal and surrounded by a
circular fence in which were planted a few acacia trees; all,
naturally, at the expenses of the population, forced to give, free of
charge, materials and labour. Everyone, passing by, had to curtsy to
worship his majesty! If you did not bow as a sign of respect you were
in big trouble! Don Raffaele, who lived across the square, controlled,
took notice and reported.
Re Bomba gave back his soul to God in 1859 and
missed therefore the Garibaldi’s landing at Marsala, which would
culminate in the demise of the Boubonic kingdom.
Don Spasari, l’amaru (the unfortunate)
knew and vitta tuttu (saw everything) and the last years of his
life were marred by the events of the new order. Often, he saw the
walls of the Rione Castello’s houses, lined with posters that almost
always ended in «Abbasso ré Bomba; abbasso il ré bigné e il suo
scagnozzo don Rafé!» (Down with the king, down with the cream
puff king and his henchman Don Rafe’!).
And more: «Viva Garibardi ‘u crastaturi! (
Cheers to Garibaldi the pig castrator. There was at the time a
popular credence that Garibaldi used to castrate priests).
Don Raffaele was ‘mbalenatu (embittered)
and his fury touched desperation when, towards the end of 1860,
a sizeable group of people met outside his home armed with ropes,
batons and picuni (axe) and started demolishing the
fence surrounding the bust: «Viva la Riprůbbica; ebbiva don Peppi
Garibardi; abbassu lu rré, scioddhŕmulu a Carcé! (Long live the
Repubblic, Long Live don Peppi Garibaldi, down with the King,
lets throw him down Carce’) (a local district).
Oh yes, this is exactly how it happened. The fence
was knocked down and in a flash they were all on the bust, tying the
king’s stocky neck with ropes e ti salutu nanna (and
goodbye for good), they pushed and pulled until they toppled it.
Placed on nu catalěattu (a stretcher) a
fake funeral was staged, symbolising the actual ‘death’ of the
royal dynasty; the disgraced bust was paraded through the village and
then dumped in a caseddha (rural small country house) outside
the walls of the parish, were it was left for decades until, nobody
knows who, took it to a warehouse of the old town hall ‘e
Malajhira (old name of a district) and later in the present place
were the underwriter, in 1994 found it, decayed by the time, under a
collection of old things and brought it back to light with the help of
a council dependent, Vincenzo Mannello.
Perfectly restored by two volunteers, Pasquale
Mosca and Leopoldo Gobbi, it was initially placed in the hallway of
the new town hall and subsequently, after a few years, was again
discarded in that Babylonian laughing stock that somebody still
stubbornly calls the municipal museum.
The bust is undoubtedly to be appreciated and
considered as a fine example of local artefact, a masterpiece of
trades now vanished but that should be revisited, revalued and
rediscovered, giving them the proper merits and the moral value they
I would go as far as to say that the repugnance the
andreolesi felt for this square, a place of coercion that forced and
subjected them to the harsh, brutal constraints of renouncing to their
own free will and personality, to forsake themselves to the tyrant
command of having to bend to a metal bust has contributed to immortalise
the reputation and notoriety of a place; as vivid corroboration, in a
death certificate of 1809 we discover, for the first time, amongst
municipal documents, the existence of the Rione (neighbourhood)
Malajhira: malu jhira, dreadful, depressing path which
make us think of heaven knows how much exploitation and abuse was
carried out in this small spot. Perhaps, actually definitely, it would
be useful giving back to the small square its previous, ancient name of Malajhěra
(and not Malaira, which has a completely different meaning), so that
we can revalue the historical memory of episodes that have abandoned the
mind and heart of the andreolesi.
Cuneo, February 2002
The translation is by Anna