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A MOST ANCIENT HISTORIC CLUB IN SICILY

The Circle of the Civilians

«Culture Circle E. Cimbali» the present name of the club

It Is certain that the old "Casino of Civilians» or "Casino of the company of Civilians» (as was called by father Gesualdo De Luca in 1883), now called "Club Culture E. Cimbali", is one of the oldest associations in Sicily, and we can say that its story has been part and parcel of the recent history of Bronte.

We do not know the exact date of its foundation as any document on the history of the Casino of civilians was destroyed during two tragic events.

The first time during the Facts of August 1860, with the looting and fire set by the local populace, which, in revolt in Bronte, destroyed everything (In those tragic days 14 "Hats», or "civilians", including many members of the Club, were killed by an angry mob) and, subsequently, on the 5th of August 1943, with the bombing by the Allies, when the building collapsed, burying forever, among the ruins, any remaining historical records.

Most likely, (but ours is only a guess), the birth of the Casino of com­pany of the civilians can be traced at the time of the White's Company, founded in Bronte in 1652 with the title of "the Brotherhood of SS Mary of the Rosary", to which could take part only "gentlemen of proven honesty."

The Company, in addition to other purposes of assistance, managed and admini­stered a small hospital for the poor, which stood in the building which, histori­cally, has always been the home of the club. With the legacy of Bronte's illustrious jurist and parliamentarian, Don Lorenzo Castiglione Pace, Baron of the White Stone, who died in November 1679, the directors and the presidents of the Society of the White Company built a new hospital, "on the ruins of the old one."

The building also became the new home of the company and some of its rooms, we think, also home to the Casino of company of the civilians.

For nearly a century, the Casino has changed its name, but the venue remains the same. Has not changed, however, the name of the steps leading into the terrace in front of the Circle: continues to be called Old Hospital street.

However, not having found  certified documents, we call on writers and historians, from whom we learn that, already in the early 1800's, the Casino of conversation of the Civilians existed and was very popular.

About it peaks first Antonino Cimbali (Captain Death in 1848 and, later, lord mayor of Bronte) in Memories and letters to his children, (Rome, Bocca Bros Editors, 1903), in which he wrote that «the local used as barracks for the Natio­nal Guard was a room, own by the City, adjacent to the Casino of conversation of the Civilians , and the sentry was told to walk along the common square of the Casino and the barracks».

The historian, Benedetto Radice (1854-1931, who was also president of the Club), in his Historical Memoirs of Bronte, (page 346 of nour digital edition), wrote,at the beginning of '900, that in 1849  «the peasants used to dress in masks, for an ancient custom, bobbing up and running wild on the Square of the Casino of civilians, now E. Cimbali, since the populace, only in the days of Bacchus, was allowed to go there.

On that day, (carnival of 1848), to guard the club there were some ducal guards. Some of them, mindful of past riots, (riots of 1820, ed), began to mock and insult the poor masks, making fall some of them from the terrace to the street below.

The people who resented the Ducal, rose immediately to the challenge shouting: let's get weapons, and death to traitors.

Everyone ran to his house to get axes, clubs, rifles and crowding the casi­no. Immediately arrived the Cimbali (Antonino, ed) to quell the tumult, and with soft words, threats and some beatings did thin out the threatening crowd.»

Yet Radice, in telling the tragic events of August 1860, writes that "around noon (of the August 2, 1860, ed.) the Square near the Casino of civilians, was boiling.

A wave of people were urging, fighting and screaming: We want the division of land. Meanwhile, in the Casino some civilians were trying to organize themselves, and there also appeared the notary Cannata armed with a shotgun. That appearance aroused in the crowd more murmur and outrage.»

The poor notary, a member of the Casino, suffered a few days later a terrible end along with his son and thirteen other civilians.

Another historian, father Gesualdo De Luca, in his History of the City of Bronte (Milan, 1883, p. 203), writes of the devastation suffered by The Casino of Civilians: «Soon many of the civilians who wanted to flee, fled; and many slipped away accompanied by good and pious peasants; of whom the conspirators did not   suspect. Even the ringleaders escorted some of them for their money, prayers and tears. (...) The conspirators came from the woods with their great hatchets.

At eleven of the day they arrived with arms at the S. Vito square, joining the robbers. The bell sounded the tocsin, and soon after the rebels, divided into two phalanxes, came down in the country town.

The biggest came down on the street of the Saints, on the left and halted several times, shaking for fear of possible fusillade from the houses of the rich. But when they arrived to the Casino of company of civilians, and found it evacuated, they were invaded by a feverish delirium, spoiling everything in that place and starting fire and looting.»

«Were burned the theater, the archives of the City Council and the Casino of civilians to which, for gash, were hanged bunches of ivy, ...» Radice adds (op. cit., P.. 383)

So it was a historical association the current Culture Club E. Cymbals, which can very well claim the title of being one of the oldest clubs in Sicily, even if the full ownership of the existing premises was officially acquired in 1889.

That year also disappeared the historic symbol of Casino of civilians replaced by a more modern name, "Culture Club».

In a period when in most of Sicily and in areas of Etna were rising leagues, federations, associations and brotherhoods, the new title was born with the act of July 7, 1889 prepared by the Notary Spedalieri with which the City of Bronte granted to a group of people some parts of the buildings.

A year later, in October 1890, the Congregation of Charity, the Society that took over the management of the Hospital and that, initially, wanted to evict the members, yielded the remaining part of the current premises in lease, (freed thirty years later, with an act by the notary Di Bella, on the 29nt of June 1920).

Disappeared the old name of Casino of the company of Civilians replaced by «Culture Club» but continued to be elitist and exclusive, and extremely limited the access to aspiring new members.

Those who could not join, all the excluded, in the early 1900s, could only join other associations in Bronte, grouped by wealth or profession, such as the Society of the People's Union, the Society of M. S. Annunziata, the Agricultural Society, the Christian Democratic League or the  Peasants' League and the Society of Honest Workers.

«The Casino of civilians or of the nobles» - writes N. Lupo - was formed by wealthy landowners and professionals with very illustrious names such as De Luca, who gave birth to a cardinal, the Cimbali, the Pace, Saitta, Radice, Fernandez, Tovez,  Grisley etc.. that produced lord mayors, congressmen, mayors,  historians etc.. and then doctors, lawyers, notaries and pharmacists.
The others (such as clerks, merchants, craftsmen and small professionals) could not participate, and the peasants, who, often in the evening, had to confer with their masters, could not even cross the gate that leads to the terrace in front of the club.
On the 1st of January 1921 the club was named after Enrico Cimbali («Culture Club Enrico Cimbali»), an outstanding young jurist and professor of civil law in Italian universities (who  died  in Messina in 1887 at the age of 31 years only ). A few years later, with the advent of Fascism, trying to avoid closure and seizure of the premises, the leaders of the time, once again, replaced the name to "Circle of Littorio" or «House of Fascism.»

But it was a useless move. By an act prepared by the Notary Azzia, dated April 29, 1938, the property, with all its furniture, was forcibly «donated» to the Fascist regime that turned it into "Littorio's Club" or the "House of Fascio" (18-II-A.IX).

On the sign (his kindness!) left the name of Enrico Cimbali but preceded by the words «After Work Littorio».

The Fascio made it his home, which opened to a wider group of members, provided they register voluntarily or by imposition, to the Party.

A few years later, on August 5, 1943, during the last war, the House of Fascio was nearly destroyed by the bombing of the Anglo-American army which completely destroyed the front of the premises with the above house of Mr. Rizzo.

 

Today's images of the ancient "Casino di Compagnia dei Civili", today "Circolo di cultura E. Cimbali".

For almost two centuries the headquarters of the Association has always been in this place. In 1848 the mayor of Bronte Antonino Cimbali wrote that the National Guard Barracks were located in a room owned by the Municipality «adjacent to the Civilian Conversation Casino and the sentry was made to walk along the open space common to the Casino and the Barracks.»

An interior from the club today (the reading room) and, in the photo below, two paintings depicting Enrico Cimbali (in the centre) placed between that of Father Antonino (on the right) and the Ven. Ignazio Capizzi (left). The premises were looted and set on fire during the events of 1860 and partially destroyed by an Allied bombing on 5 August 1943.

The painting depicting the headquarters of the Club of Culture is by the Foligno painter Vincenzo Martini who has exhibited in the Club's premises several times.

On the right, a moment of relaxation for some members: the classic game of "tressette".

 

1928
Some mem­bers, in the premises of the Club, pose for a photo. We reco­gni­ze from top left:  Ni­co­la Gri­sley (?) - Historian prof. Bene­detto Ra­dice, then president of the Circle - (?) - Dr. Fran­ce­sco Inter­do­nato, cousin of the mayor Giuseppe.

Sitting (from left): (?) - Master Radice - Don Pietro Schilirò Leo, grandfather of Dr. Gino Schilirò - Francesco Cimbali, son of An­tho­ny, Deputy Mayor of Bronte - Don L. Saitta - Don Nunzio De Luca, Mayor of Bronte. The two children appear to be Nino De Luca, ne­phew of Francesco Cimbali and Mimmo De Luca Seating.

 

The picture to the right shows the sign of the Club after April 1938 when it was forcibly "donated" to the fascist regime and changed into the "House of Fascism," "After Work Littorio Enrico Cimbali".

In these two photos events of the Fascist Party from the balcony of the Club «from which - The Cyclops wrote, in the late '50s - the speakers of all poli­tical parties promise heaven and earth during election campaigns.»

 

August 1943: The Circle after the Allied bombing

Next to the steps, in Old Hospital street, for many years there was a high moun­tain of rubble and ruins (defined new Alcazar) so much so that the Bronte's histo­ric fortnightly "The Cyclops" August 3, 1947, (director of which was Giuseppe Bonina), in an article entitled: «We do not believe (...) to the reconstruction of the Casino of Civilians», wrote:

«There was once a casino and now it's gone.
Then, it was almost a pride for the people of Bronte, the elegant hangout full of colonnades, with a large terrace overlooking the course, where Bronte' s elite could rest after the exhausting effort of fascist culture, on the soft sofas.
Now there is not, it was sold for a penny and it was downed by a bomb.
Is it possible that cannot be found few pounds to buy it back again, rescinding the act of extortion, consumed several years ago? (...)
How far we are from the old times! Only the rubble and they alone, will testify that there, where the humble and broken stones are piled up, there was once, the Casino of Civilians. (...)»

And the 19th of November,1947, the same fortnightly (year II, 2 / 14 Director Louis Margaglio Caesar) wrote: «The Alcazar, there was once the "Casino of civilians", and then the "After Work Enrico Cimbali", in condominium with the seat of the Fascio, then again the seat of the Fascio with tolerance of the casino of civilians... Today, the casino is gone ... was closed ... in fact, destroyed.

Among the ruins beautifully set up and softened with tender herbs, tourists can see a beautiful section of the marble bust of the late Enrico Cimbali, placed among the rubble to protect the rights of ownership of the land.

We never know, posterity, on the basis of that section one day could remember that there once stood a casino or club, if you like, and so rebuild the good local and put on a worthy base the mutilated.»

In the late '40s the building - «from which the speakers of all political parties used to promise heaven and earth during election campaigns» - was rebuilt by Mr. Rizzo and by some members owners of the club.

The then President, Lawyer Renato Radice, son of the Bronte's historic Benedetto, began legal action for the return of the property to the respective owners, and also supervised the drafting and approving of a new statute "to replace the one destroyed during the bombing."

“It is rebuilt - reads the 1st Article of this statute - after its forced change in " After Work of Littorio, the inactivity due to the war on August 5, 1943, the vindication of the same premises."

The lawsuit was successful: in its ruling of the 26th of June, 1953, the I* Civil Chamber of the Court of Catania, canceled the deed of gift of 1938 and returned the full undivided ownership of the premises to 31 members, promoters of the case, represented and defended by the lawyer Vincent Vacirca, who had shown to be the owners of the premises before the conversion of the Circle in the After Work Littorio.

Subsequently, the 20th of December 1971, by an act drawn up by the notary Guzzardi, the State property sold to the then president, Surveyor Michael Liuzzo, the undivided 42/73° of the area on which stands the club, to the remaining 42 members who had not participated in the previous case, by placing, however, a bond that still exists: "the club shall be intended exclusively for the purposes pursued by the association."

The selling price fixed by the Technical Revenue of Catania, was 1,250,000 Italian lire.

From 1960 to 1979 in the Circle there was also the figure of a provisional mem­ber (not owner of the premises), and in 1980, following the changes made by a new statute, which regulated the life and activity for over twenty years of partnership, an initiative of the then president, lawyer Nunzio Meli, this figure was abolished and replaced with the single member owner.

Today, the Club Culture E. Cymbals, (the old Casino of "conversation" or "com­panion" of civilians), existed for almost two centuries, has about 150 members, of course, and is always ready and willing to admit others.

For many years president of the Circle was the brother of Enrico Cimbali, the Hon. dr. Francesco Cimbali (Lord mayor of Bronte and our second deputy to Parliament); also our historic Benedict Radice was a member and president.

In 1923 was also president of the Circle, Gabriele Liuzzo, (future director of The Cyclops) and the Secretary F. Battiato.
(Nino Liuzzo, 2013)
 

Presidents of the «Culture Club E. Cimbali»

from 1956 to 2010

RENATO RADICENUNZIO MELIROMOLO CANNATANUNZIO MELI

1956 – Lawyer. Renato Radice
1960 – Lawyer Nunzio Meli
1962/71 - Surveyor. Michele Liuzzo
1972 – Dr. Nunzio Meli
1976 – Teacher Vincenzo Liuzzo
1978 – Dr. Nunzio Meli
1980/87 – Dr Romolo Cannata
1987/92 - Dr Gino Luca
1993 – Surveyor Giuseppe Minio
1997 – Dr Antonino De Natale
2000 – Dr Giuseppe Camuto
2001 – Major. Salvatore Tirendi
2003 – Dr. Salvatore Di Bella
2006 – Dr Nunzio Politi
2007 – Dr Valerio Saitta
2010 – Dott. Aldo Russo

GINO LUCA

GIUSEPPE MINIO

ANTONINO DE NATALEGIUSEPPE CAMUTOSALVATORE TIRENDISALVATORE (SAM) DI BELLA

Some of the Presidents of the Circle of Culture E. Cim­bali, which have taken place from 1956 to 2010. Clockwise from the top:
Renato Radice, Avv. Nunzio Meli, Romolo Cannata,

Valerio SaittaALDO RUSSO

Dott. Nunzio Meli, Gino Luca, Giuseppe Minio, Antonino De Natale, Giuseppe Camuto, Salvatore Tirendi and Sam Di Bella. To the right the picture Valerio Saitta and the current (2010) president Aldo Russo.

 

The Casino of  Civilians in Giovanni Verga (short story Libertà)

«As the stormy sea. The crowd swayed and foamed in front of the casino of the gentry, in front of the City Hall, on the steps of the church: a sea of white hats, axes and scythes were shining. Then it broke into a lane. (...) The casino of the gentry was barred, and no one knew where to take orders from the masters for the week. (...)
Now nobody thought about it, just some mother, some old woman, if your eyes were running towards the plain where was the city, or on Sunday, to see others talking quietly about their business with the gentry, in front of the casino of civilians - with cap in hand, while they were persuaded that the rags were going to air.»

In our site look also for (only in italian): Colore paesano (Color Country color)  |  Il Casino dei civili (The Circle of the Civilians)  |  Il Circolo dei Cappelli   |  Soci del Circolo (Members of the Club)

Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION

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