A small breeze cuts through the monotonous heat as we get out of our car. The humidity, like in much of central Italy in the summer, is heavy and sticky. We are here to find the abandoned townhouse that belongs to my mother’s side of the family, last inhabited over 50 years ago.
Torre di Nolfi sits atop a small hill in the little visited Abruzzo region of Italy, 2 hours east of Rome. The town is comprised of 2 streets and likely no more than 45 people live there. Old Italian houses make up the town and are inhabited by families who have lived there for centuries.
We wander down the street and find the address. The house is a large beige-painted square home attached on both sides by other homes. The house takes up half of the street, which is about a quarter of the town. We were told the Bevilacqua were wealthy in the town and managed many jobs in the town as well.
We approach the house and as we expected, the front doors are locked. We walk to the second to last door on the front of the building and notice a knocker was removed and there is no lock. We walk up to the battered door that is a color of petrified brownish green and push. It opens.
My family quickly says, “Kyle, you go in first.” The rumors of squatters living inside and thoughts of rat and other infestations run through my mind, but I say “alright!”
I place my hands on the door, avoiding the cobwebs, and push it all the way open. It reveals a torn up cement stair case that goes up to the next floor, the house is sitting on garages that are on the first floor.
I make sure the others are following and wander up the stairs, clearing out a few cobwebs with my face on the way up. The first floor is three large rooms and a bathrooms. The rooms are filled with old furniture, boudoirs, cabinets and desks. The floor is covered with rat and bird scat, as are the walls. The air is very thick, cooler than outside, but dank and an odor of age is everywhere. No rats, no bodies, so far.
The ceiling is the only wall that is well kept. Remnants of frescoes can be found on the walls, but the ceiling is the only one that is still well intact. A beautiful family crest and the word “BEVILACQUA” in capital letters is painted on the ceiling. It is easy to image the impressiveness of the home in its livable condition.
In the bathroom there is a peculiarly new porcelain bathtub and sink. We find out later that the house was damaged in the L’Aquila earthquake of four years prior and the government gave some money to the town to rebuild. We were told most of the money disappeared (was stolen) and did not make it to the town. I guess enough was left to rebuild a bathroom in a mansion.
We wander up to the third floor, avoiding the dunked floor in the living room and find ourselves in an even dirtier couple of rooms. We head down nervous of the floors falling through.
After about 45 minutes of explore the house we excite and run into a few people from the neighborhood, maybe they sensed something was going on. We talk with them and ask them questions about our family and the house. Turns out, of three people we ran into, they were all distant relatives of ours.
Torre di Nolfi has three main families that have lived there, the Bevilacqua being one of them. Likes traditional small Italian towns, marriages are often organized and kept within the community. My family came to America, which was very rare at the time. They would return for a date with a woman in Italy, find a wife, and bring her to America. That is how my family was started in America.
In our way out, we visit the cemetery where we have family buried. Looking around the cemetery, we notice that about 70% of the names are from the same three families.
It was amazing to see the old Bevilacqua house and town where my ancestors are from. My current relatives live about 20 minutes from Torre di Nolfi in Bugnara and Sulmona, which are a little bigger. I think even moving 20 minutes away is something unusual!