Italian Emigration

As a granddaughter of Italian immigrants, I was intrigued to recently visit a small museum in Lucca dedicated to telling the story of Italian emigration. It was in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the greatest number of Italians left their homeland in search of better lives. The majority – like my grandparents – came from southern Italy. That part of the country was mostly agricultural and impoverished. Italians from the south headed west – to North and South America - and to other parts of Europe as well.

The Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca tells the story of Italian immigration from 1860 to 1960.

The Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca tells the story of Italian immigration from 1860 to 1960.

Italian emigration is like that of many other ethnic groups – in their new countries, immigrants largely had to take on jobs involving manual labor. Many traveled across the Atlantic by themselves, with few possessions other than their hopes for a better life. Once settled, they would send money home to help the family left behind.

The Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca hosts photos and documents from some of those who made the transition. The items on display are taken from some 15,000 photographs and documents that Cresci collected from the families of those who emigrated.

Paolo Cresci collected more than 15,000 photos and documents from the families of Italians who emigrated.

Paolo Cresci collected more than 15,000 photos and documents from the families of Italians who emigrated.

Passports, transportation invoices and guides to new countries are among the items, as are black and white photos that starkly show the strain of the journey on the faces of those traveling. I found myself awed and humbled by their courage. People laden with all their belongings crowded onto ships for the voyage. Once they arrived, those who came to America sent postcards of the Statue of Liberty home to their families; it is fascinating to read the ones on display at the museum.

Family photos taken in the new country

Family photos taken in the new country

The photos taken of these Italians after they resettled resemble many of my family’s old photos: children dressed for their First Holy Communion, families standing in their own homes. This time, the faces show pride for having “made it.” Wandering around the museum gave me time to think about what my forefathers sacrificed for their families. And it made me wish I had asked a lot more questions about the “old country” when I had the chance. I’m grateful that Lucca has this museum to help me find some answers.

The ceiling of Museo Paolo Cresci

The ceiling of Museo Paolo Cresci

The Museo Paolo Cresci looks at Italian emigration from 1860 to 1960 and admission is free. The building that houses the museum is worth a look all its own: it is a former chapel with a beautifully frescoed ceiling.

-post by JG

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Florence - A City of Science As Well As Art

It’s not hard to fall in love with Italian men, especially when they are as intelligent and forward-thinking as Galileo Galilei. I have been enamored with Galileo for years – ever since someone described him to me as a polymath. A polymath (a person with significant knowledge of several subjects)! What’s not to love? The man was a genius! There is a great tribute to him - and to science in general - at the Museo Galileo in Florence.

A bust of Galileo in the Florence museum that bears his name.

A bust of Galileo in the Florence museum that bears his name.

The Museo Galileo, just behind the Uffizi Gallery, is a repository of scientific instruments ranging from telescopes to thermometers and covering topics ranging from The Science of Equilibrium to The Science of Warfare. The museum says it is “heir to a tradition of five centuries of scientific collecting” and credits the Medici and Lorraine families of Tuscany with emphasizing the importance of such collecting. Indeed, I felt like I was in a toy store for scientists as I wandered the rooms of the museum.

An astrolabe from the 16th century, used to measure the inclined position in the sky of a celestial body.

An astrolabe from the 16th century, used to measure the inclined position in the sky of a celestial body.

An astrolabe from the 16th century and a huge armillary sphere are just two of the items on display that help explain how Galileo and other astronomers from centuries ago looked at the heavens.

The giant armillary sphere at the Museo Galileo.

The giant armillary sphere at the Museo Galileo.

There is plenty of information about Galileo, too. And for the non-squeamish, there is a display of his right-hand index finger and thumb, and one of his teeth. It is said that admirers of the man removed the digits and tooth, as well as a vertebra, from his body as it was being transferred from storage to a tomb in Santa Croce Basilica.

Several telescopes at the Museo Galileo.

Several telescopes at the Museo Galileo.

Even for visitors who aren’t scientifically inclined, seeing the intricacy of the instruments used so many years ago is fascinating, as is reading about the practical applications of various scientific discoveries.                                                   -post by JG

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