The Town Ambassador Award to Denise Dumont, Mark A. Tempesta and Daiana Magalhaes Dei Giudici, two Americans and one Australian who are changing Sonnino, a wonderful village above the Amaseno Valley and the Fossanova Abbey. Three different stories for three people moved by a single purpose: to rediscover their Italian roots that in their case have to do with Sonnino.

A brief introduction to the history of this part of Lazio south of Rome that was on the border between the Papal State and the Kingdom of Naples, both swept away by Garibaldi with the birth of the modern Italian state.

The inhabitants of these areas had been at peace for many years, sometimes benefiting from small smuggling activities that always arise spontaneously wherever there are borders.

And since they make things big in Sonnino, the most famous brigand of all times was born in this village: Gasbarrone. Known as the Italian Robin Hood and imprisoned in prisons throughout Europe until the Unification of Italy. His fame had also brought him into the dreams of the ladies who lined up to meet him.

In short, apart from Gasbarrone, for centuries in Sonnino the land was cultivated and goats were bred, for over 2,000 years in  the May night they went on procession during the Torch Festival, they made tasty sausages (locally called zazzicchie) and they produced delicious extra virgin olive oil with the olives of the Itrana variety (better known as Oliva di Gaeta from the name of the port where they were shipped to be sold throughout Europe).

A classic life of an Italian village: some weddings, some saltarello dancing in the square and some gossip at the public wash house where they all went to wash clothes with running water.

Then came change and the true brigandage, the one that today is re-read as a “civil war” of those who opposed the conquest by the Piedmontese. Many embarked from the port of Gaeta to go to New York, to Ellis Island. Remember the famous song Saint Lucia “They leave the ships for very distant lands …”, tells the story of this and other generations that started from Naples, Palermo and Gaeta.

A second wave of emigration was formed after the First World War, and this time it also started from northern ports such as Genoa. Many Venetians have left their region devastated by trench wars and conflicts on the Piave and in the Po Valley (and among these families also those of my father and my mother). This wave has also chosen other countries of arrival such as Australia, Argentina, and Brazil.

Then a third wave of emigrants started after the Second World War, especially from central and southern Italy where a bitter war was fought. The Ciociaria area with the Gustav Line of defence of the German army saw bombing and destruction of entire towns whose inhabitants then left Italy in search of fortune abroad.

The last wave is the most recent, but this time it is the young people who are not looking for luck but for better opportunities. The boys are often graduates and trained but they can no longer dream in our country. But this is a theme that we deal with in other places.

All this to say that since Sonnino had the fortune to be a border country and to be near the Gustav Line, it had many waves of emigrants who “colonised” every part of the world. The descendants of these emigrants are now the 3rd, 4th and even 5th generations.

But let us return to the Town Ambassador Prize with which we want to help build bridges between cultures, recognizing the value of those who are committed to promoting their country of origin.

For a few years now in the USA everyone has been interested to discover their roots and so 4 years ago Denise Dumont, a painter from New York with origins from Sonnino, Fondi and Bari, decided to found a Facebook group to find someone else with the desire to discover Sonnino.

The group is called “Sonnino, Italy Genealogy” and among the first to enroll there were Mark A. Tempesta, a bookseller and editor of Maine, and Daiana Magalhaes Dei Giudici, a tour operator from Perth in Australia.

For Denise everything started as a personal journey that turned into a collective experience. Obviously the real experience will be the trip to Sonnino to find some of their grandparents’ stories or to try some of the flavours of their traditional cuisine.

The rediscovery of one’s roots is a personal journey and is different for everyone, and for this reason Discoverplaces has started an activity to assist all those who want to discover the local culture of their heritage. We help them to create a bridge between their current culture and that of their ancestors, especially for those who cannot communicate in the two languages.

Sensory nuances need to be tried with direct experiences but they also need the story of those who manage to communicate in the two cultures – those who have the codes to convey the cultural experience with words. And by culture we mean everything: attitudes, cuisine, traditions, parties, idioms, local history, etc.

In these years I have often chatted with Daiana Magalhaes who, after her first personal trip to Sonnino at the tender age of 7 years old, started her own tourist activity to discover less well known parts of Italy. A dream that has been in the making since 1994, but really started to come into action a few years ago. From her calculations, there are about 30,000 “Sonninesi in the world”, a number that is about 3 times the number of current inhabitants of the enchanting village surrounded by the Ausoni Mountains.

It will seem incredible but Denise has not yet made her journey to Sonnino, which is near Fondi where there are other ramifications of her roots, and we hope to accompany her to discover this enchanting part of Italy. We will let you taste the Fondi oranges and the zazzicchie of Sonnino, but we will tell you about the traditional songs and the painters of the territory.

Mark A. Tempesta , who’s family has come several times to Sonnino gave birth in 2013 to another FB group called “Sonnino, Italy via USA” in which the emigrants who had arrived in America and Canada are found in particular. Started with the encouragement of long time family friend, Antonio Cugini, Maurizia De Angelis and other modern culture bearers for Sonnino. His hope was to bring the culture and voices of Sonnino to the world. So that others would discover this diamond in the hills.

For those wishing to understand the cultural bridge that can be built between the Italian community and that of the emigrants, I recommend reading the comments of the posts on the FB groups where there is no nostalgia or regret. Those belonged to the first generations.

Today there is curiosity and desire to have emotional contacts where the two cultures are on the same level and for this reason the exchange can be even more stimulating and pleasurable. Today there is a desire to know history and to be constantly updated on local emotions.

Our Town Ambassador Award to Denise, Mark and Daiana for bringing Sonnino into the world and making it known to thousands of people. For having built the bridge on their side of the river and for having shown a deep love and respect for their Italian roots.

See you soon! To Sonnino!


Claudia Bettiol

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Ingegnere, futurista e fondatrice di Discoverplaces. Blogger specializzato nella sostenibilità e nella promozione culturale dei piccoli territori e delle piccole imprese. Ama i cavalli

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Engineeer, futurist, joint founder of Energitismo and founder of Discoverplaces. Blogger specialising in sustainability and in cultural promotion of small places and small enterprises. She loves horses