The Museum of Emigration, an initiative of Fondazione Napoli Novantanove and curated by Gian Antonio Stella, was opened in 2005 in a beautiful old vaccheria, or cattle barn, restored by the architect Sila Barracco. Sited in the Parco Old Calabria in the heart of the Sila area, the museum was conceived as a bulwark against the inexcusable fading away of civil and historical memory in a region whose experience of migration has been more intense than anywhere else.
It is a place where we want to remember the anguish, hopes, irremediable nostalgia and public and private dramas of millions of people forced to leave their homelands; but by the same token we want to acknowledge the start of new, extraordinary adventures of people who have demonstrated Italian resourcefulness worldwide, the ability to rethink their lives, and to build "bridges" from the country to major new social and economic realms. The idea was to create something that did not function exclusively as a memorial to the past, but acted also as a window to the present and the future. Mass Italian emigration, a historical phenomenon that has been concluded and essentially removed from the collective consciousness, has now been replaced by mass migration into Italy.
A structure intended to function as a dynamic cultural framework – highlighting both the epic emotions of exodus and the positive value of "openness" in all senses, represented by migratory movements – must acknowledge that the history of migration carries on and that Italy, continues to play an important part, albeit in a “reversed” role.
On the one hand, the past – and on the other, the present and future. On the one hand, the Italian experience in the world – and on the other, the foreign experience in Italy.
The epithet "Storytelling museum" was coined because the visit unfolds among huge reproductions of largely unknown images, accompanied by a narrative voice that tells of the many stories of sorrow and of great and small acts of heroism. There is also a soundtrack of Italian emigration songs. The notion of creating an environment fitted out to replicate the deck of a ship – inside a former vaccheria in the Sila highlands – succeeds in creating a highly evocative/educational impact in the visitor.
July 2013 saw the opening of the new section, MARE MADRE (mother sea), a well-overdue action in this region which, once a land of emigration, is now reliving the drama of this experience, but this time as a land of welcome and immigration. The arrival of the vessel Vlora from Albania at Bari harbour on 8 August 1991 marked the beginning of a new and painful phase in our country’s history, recounted in a container sited next to La Nave. The exhibit bears witness to tragic journeys across sea and desert, undertaken by migrants of this twentieth century, often fleeing tragedy and suffering in their homelands. The voice of Erri De Luca, from his Cimitero di Lampedusa (Lampedusa Cemetery), introduces us to this section with eight minutes of images and stories.
Upstairs there is a large room equipped for meetings, conferences and screenings; another room contains an up-to-date library on everything that has been written about Italian migration and on migrants in general, as well as a collection of films and documentaries. A third room hosts a number of computer terminals where a series of links guide users through a discovery of the boundless and often unknown world of Italians scattered round the globe, from Australia to Brazil to Canada to Argentina. Visitors can also make use of a welcoming café offering sample of local products, and a terrace looking onto the majestic Sila landscape. The venue can also be used for receptions.
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