Santa Margherita di Belice is a town
in the Province of Agrigento
where my mother's parents were
from. In my family's trip of 1998, we did not attempt to see the town, since we thought that the town
was destroyed in the earthquake of 1968. In fact, I learned after we returned that a new town was
just built next to the destroyed old town. As a result, when we planned the trip of 1999, we were
sure to include a visit in our plans.
On February 24, 1999, my brother,
sister, nephew and I left
Castellamare del Golfo and drove past
Vita, Salemi, Partanna and Montevago to Santa Margherita di Belice. It had been destroyed in the
earthquake of 1968, however what they did was to build most of the new town next to the old one and
never demolished the old part. We stopped in the town square and saw one wall of the old Church
where my grandfather played the organ in the late 1800's. It appeared to be a beautiful church with
great interior decorations. Here is a photo taken of the only remaining wall.
Immediately adjacent was the remains
of the front wall of the old
Palazzo which was the model used in
the book: "Il Gattopardo" (The Leopard) by Lampedeusa. They kept the old facade and built the
new Municipio behind it.
The buildings across the square were
the partially rebuilt but mostly
untouched old quarter of town. Chris and I walked through it
lunch. It was eerie indeed, walking between houses
were destroyed and abandoned 31 years ago.
When we stopped for lunch in a bar, I
spoke to the owner and told
him of the reason for our visit
to the town and he was very interested. His name was Giuliano (like in New York - he said).
We bought out his entire stock of pizza and sandwiches and pastries and thoroughly sated
ourselves. Before we left the Bar, we met a Gasparo Monteleone (same name as Uncle Caspar).
I told the young man that we were probably cousins! In the bar there was a picture on the wall of
the palace and church as it looked before the earthquake. I took a photo of it and it is shown below.
As Chris and I were going through the
ruins, two old men from the
town came up to Fran and
Nick in the Van. Apparently, Signor Giuliano in the bar was getting the word out that these
Americans were here with the names Montelone and Di Giovanni. Since neither Fran nor Nick
understood what they were saying it must have seemed like an eternity before Chris and I showed
up. One of the men was Giuseppe Monteleone (same name as Uncle Joe) and the other was
Lorenzo Di Giovanna (same name (albeit masculinized) as mom's mother). Lorenzo made it quite
clear that the name we were referring to was Di Giovanna not Di Giovanni. He said there were no
Di Giovanni's from that town. Lorenzo also said that a man in town had written a book about
Santa Margherita and he wanted to take us to him. So off we went to the home of Francesco
Scuderi, who proceeds to show us a thick loose leaf binder chock full of information and pictures
about the town from the bronze age to the present. After going through much of the book page
by page and listening to Signor Scuderi speaking rapid-fire Italian with no breaths in-between, we
managed to tell him that we had to return and bade our farewell.