Sunday, October 24, 2010

Meet the people of "Genetic Park"

Genetic research in the Cilento. This article is now ten years old .

Meet the people of Genetic Park

Centuries of isolation have turned the inhabitants of remote Italian villages into a living laboratory
Ten remote villages in southern Italy are this week becoming a "genetic park" where scientists can harvest the racially pure inhabitants' DNA to identify the causes of disease. Isolated for centuries by mountains and forest, the villagers' genetic history stretches back to the Greeks and could hold the key to cures for Alzheimer's disease, asthma, cancer and hypertension.
Villagers crowded into the town hall of Gioi Cilento at the weekend to toast a project they hope will bring visitors and jobs, reversing generations of poverty and emigration. It is one of science's most ambitious attempts to trace the roots of inherited illnesses by spotting genetic differences between a homogeneous people. Similar projects are under way in Sardinia, Iceland, and the Pacific islands.

The villagers agreed to become a living laboratory after it was explained they possessed a unique gene pool that could help create better drugs.
Two hours south of Naples, the area, known as Cilento, had no roads or electricity until recent decades. Woods thick with olives, chestnuts, gorges and caves made it one of the remotest parts of the region of Campania.
Scientists chose Cilento because its inhabitants, who survive by farming and making cheese, have been undisturbed by large-scale immigration for millennia. Some of the villages, which each have between 600 and 2,000 inhabitants, still speak ancient Greek and Albanian. Another 70 Cilento villages are expected to join the project next year. 

The park is protected by Unesco because of archaeological and environmental treasures. 

From today a Naples-based team from the International Institute of Genetics and Biophysics will start combing church records, which date back 500 years, to build families' genealogical profiles. Interviews with local doctors, blood samples and DNA analysis will follow. A genetic data bank should be ready within two years. 

By comparing genetically similar people it is much easier to spot rogue genes linked to disease, says Graziella Persico, who is heading the team.
"These people are so isolated they are perfect for research. We're not looking for any disease in particular, that will emerge in time. Then specialists from America and England can come to study." Months of reassuring villagers led up to today's ceremony, which will include mayors, biologists, anthropologists and sociologists. "We had to explain that we weren't going to use them. We will be here for many, many years."
The decoding of the human genome in June injected urgency into the search for inherited susceptability to disease. 

 The project is funded by Italy's national research council but private backers are being sought, a move that could be controversial if profit-making companies are given exclusive access to data. 

 Iceland agonised over ethical and privacy concerns before handing over the entire population's medical records to the American company DeCode Genetics. 

 Playing a role in 21st-century medicine is gratifying but Cilento's inhabitants hope the researchers' arrival will reverse an atrophy that has left villages half-abandoned, according to Andrea Salati, mayor of Gioi Cilento. "Many of our children have gone, it's mostly old people, which means our communities are dying. This has given us hope for the future. It is a chance to create tourism." 

 Domenico Nicoletti, director of the park, has for years been striving to tap its tourist potential. "It is the only realistic way to revive these villages," he says. When approached by the scientists he persuaded them to include an economic angle to the project. Businesses and employer organisations in Naples were brought on board. Experts in catering and accommodation will tour the villages offering workshops on how to set up bed & breakfasts, an alien concept in rural Campania. 

 Dr Persico acknowledges that studying Cilento's isolation could in fact end it. "If emigrants start returning and tourists hear about what's going on the park is likely to change, we know that. But so be it. That's what the villages want." 

For communities on the coast, which survive on fishing and tourism, Cilento has remained an unexplored wilderness fit only for goats and mountain people. Hundreds of caves form elaborate labyrinths populated only by bats. Travellers who come to view the stalactites without guides routinely become disoriented. In 1889 two brothers went missing. By the time they were found, one was dead and the other insane. 

A genetic park of two villages in Sardinia set up earlier this year is yielding results, says Mario Pirastu, director of the national research council's institute for molecular genetics. "We've set up a model that will be extremely useful to geneticists. We will be publishing results in the next few months." 

Investigations of the DNA of close-knit communities is likely to grow as results become more spectacular. Genes linked to breast cancer have been found among Ashkenazi Jews, hypertension among Turks and diabetes among Finns.

How isolated peoples' DNA can help science unlock secrets of disease
Sicily From the mountain town of Troina, opposite Mount Etna, biologists at the Oasi research centre are on the verge of announcing the isolation of genetic mutations linked to phenylketonuria, a disease that retards babies' development. 

Cambridge archaeologists, investigating tombs and artefacts, have helped the biologists by mapping who settled where and when. The mutation is believed to have been brought by a bronze age settler from Anatolia, Turkey 

Sardinia A gene data bank of 4,000 people from the villages of Perdasdefogu and Talana is being compiled to unlock secrets of cancer, heart disease, asthma and depression. 

The second most homogeneous people in Europe after the Lapps, Sardinians were not diluted with immigrants. People rarely married outside their villages. The population of Talana is descended from eight fathers and eight mothers 

Iceland The rogue gene responsible for Alzheimer's disease has been identified in a gene pool directly linked to the Vikings. The island's ethnic balance - 85% Nordic and 15% Celt - has been largely undisturbed for 1,000 years 

Pingelap Island Almost all of the western Pacific island's 3,000 inhabitants are descended from the 20 survivors of a 1775 storm. DNA from the 5% of islanders who have a rare type of colour blindness has helped scientists locate a gene for colour vision 

Norfolk Island The 1,500 south Pacific descendants of Fletcher Christian and other mutineers on HMS Bounty are being studied to find genetic predispositions to high blood pressure. 

The combination of a British diet, Polynesian genes which are susceptible to heart disease, and isolation are expected to yield insights into hypertension

Violence and Great Estates in the South of Italy, Apulia 1900-1922 Frank Snowden

       Two generations ago my maternal grandparents emigrated from the comune of Palo del Colle, located near the city of Bari. Unfortunately, they passed away before I could learn firsthand about their life in Puglia. This book gives the most detailed description of conditions there that I have found so far.
   According to the book , Puglia has always been somewhat of a backwater area even for the South. The interior of the province is  dominated by a vast undulating plain known as the Murge.

The Murge
From the time of Argonese rule this area was kept settlement free in order for it to remain as sheep pasture. The Argonese rulers charged a duty for the right of sheepherders to use it. The Bourbons continued this practice. 

   After the annexation of the Two Sicilies the new "Liberal" government sold off this land. Instead of allowing the contadini to acquire the land, it was sold to the propertied classes. These absentee landlords went into the agricultural business  forming large estates called latifondi.  Prior to this time the contadini were invested in their labors thru tradition and the bonds between the  classes. The new system turned the contadini into agricultural workers. As interchangeable workers they became the one component of the system which could be controlled .The weather and other factors which affect agricultural production are uncontrollable, especially in Puglia, where water was scarce. As day laborers, or giornalisti, they worked for subsistence wages under very harsh conditions in order to provide profits for the owners.

   Mr. Snowden points out that there was an area of Puglia along the Adriatic coast, east of a line drawn from Bitonto to Alberobello, where conditions were better. This area referred to as the marina was intensely cultivated with almonds, grapes, and olives by small peasant landholders known as contadini. This area offered year round work and was more socially and politically stable. The marina did not revolt as the interior area eventually did. The comune of my grandparents was within this area. 
   Puglia had the least number of emigrants of all the Southern provinces. This was because the vast majority of the population were giornalisti  who owned no land. Although the contadini of the marina may have owned only a tiny parcel, it still gave them something to borrow against or sell in order to afford the ticket for emigration. The day laborers were stuck in their predicament. Emigration as a mitigating factor to unrest was not open to them. Living and working together under harsh conditions for tyrannical overseers fostered a sense of solidarity among the giornalisti. This enabled them to form the only mass peasant movement in the South.  The rest of the South was similar to the marina in its economic and social structure and therefore the conditions and opportunity for a mass movement did not come about. 

   Another factor which led to unrest was the disinheritance of the peasantry. Traditionally, and as far back as pre-Roman times, peasants had the right to gather wood, to farm, to fish, and to pasture on the open public lands known as demani.  After annexation by the North the new regime was opposed to and did not recognize these ancient rights of the peasant to make use of collectively held land. Mr.  Snowden:

"   The opportunities for enclosure of the commons were numerous.The legislation of the Liberal  state was unbending in its aversion to any form of agrarian collectivism.... " p.72
   The solidarity of the giornalisti was also not hindered by the power of the Church. The Catholic Church did not have a strong influence or command  much respect here due to the fact that Puglia was not an area where the best the Church had to offer were sent.  After Rome saw that the rise of socialist movements were more of a threat than the Liberal regime it lifted its ban on participation of church members in political life.

"...In Apulia the clergy took advantage of the new dispensation to make common cause with the ruling parties of order, campaigning actively against the early candidates put forward by the [socialist] leagues".... In a demonstration against this opposition by the church a crowd chanted "..Long live Giordano Bruno..." p.85.

   Mr. Snowden says that the movement in Puglia was essentially anarcho-syndicalist, that is it was formed around one type of worker in opposition to the ruling order. The revolt lasted from about 1900 to the beginning of the Fascist era. It took the form of general strikes , political organization, and many times, armed insurrection. The authorities always countered with violence and many killings and assassinations took place . In many places the overseers and landowners had to travel about under armed guard. The movement did achieve minor improvements, which were eventually swept away as the men were drawn away into the First World War. 

   There were attempts made on the national level to quiet the unrest. Giolitti, a prominent politician of this period instituted reforms. 

"....The difficulty with [Giolitti's] liberalization program was that it applied exclusively to the North of Italy .The PSI and the CGL [socialist parties], which entered into a political partnership with Giolitti were almost exclusively northern in their membership .What took place, therefore, was the creation of a privileged labour elite. The cost of the benefits newly extended to northern workers and peasants was borne by the largely unorganized and unrepresented peasants of the rest of the peninsula. In economic terms , public as well as private investment took place almost entirely either in the industrial triangle bounded by Milan ,Genoa, and Turin, or in the reclamation projects of the Po valley. Despite the evident need of the south for investment, government fiscal policy drained the region of capital for the benefit of the wealthier northern provinces .In Nitti's famous phrase, the taxation of the Liberal state was "regionally progressive in reverse" .Capitanata [Puglia], for instance paid more than twice as much in taxes to the state as it received in government expenditure. In the fiscal year1902-03 the province was assessed for 14,000,000 lire, principally through the land tax. In return it received only 6,5000,000 lire in total public spending. Such treatment contrasted sharply with the province of Milan, one of the most prosperous in the country. In the same financial year Milan enjoyed a net excess of state expenditure [180,000,000 lire] over taxation [140,000,000 lire]. The Apulian provinces directly subsidized northern economic development. The benefits of employment, union representation, and high wages did not extend to the whole of Italy." pp.136-7

   Concerning WWI:

"...Nowhere were the results more deeply felt and enduring than in Apulia. As a wholly agricultural region, it bore, to the full, the impact of the holocaust. According to the prefect [of the military command at Bari] Bari province had the highest proportion of front-line troops in Italy [10]. Although the South suffered the highest levels of war casualties, it received the lowest amount of the vast sums spent by the state to finance the war effort.{11]. Here was a military manifestation of the Southern Question in Italian history....." p154

   As stated previously, the hinterland of Apulia is a vast rolling plain called, at the time, the Tavoliere. This area is referred to today as the Murge. At the time of the  annexation of the Two Sicilies this area was unsettled.

    " ... Foggia province in particular came to be known  as the "Italian frontier", the "California of the South" and the Texas of Apulia" as the scramble for land began.[8] A region of shepherds, commented a Bari newspaper, was transformed into a population of farmers.[9]"...By the law of 26 February 1865,the Risorgimento, the Italian bourgeois revolution, abolished the four centuries of regulation and opened the Tavoliere to cultivation and the land to purchase."
The process of deregulation had profound consequences for Apulian history. The Tavoliere provides a perfect illustration of Gramsci's analysis of the Risorgimento as a "passive revolution" imposed "from above" by the agrarian and commercial bourgeoisie of the North and Centre of the peninsula in alliance with landed classes of the South without involving or benefiting the broad mass of the peasant population. Instead of attempting to use the disposal of the tavoliere to create a substantial class of peasant proprietors, Liberal  Italy made its peace with the more backward propertied classes of the South. The Liberal common-land commissioner at Altamura in the 1860's, Vito Orofino, had hoped that the land settlement after unification would establish a democratic social system that would "demonstrate the advantages of the present free institutions to those citizens, now despised and ignorant, who will appreciate the difference between the old regime and the new."[10]. Instead, Liberal Italy followed the course of least resistance by conciliating the powerful and wealthy notables eager to buy." p9

   And finally I would like to quote a passage from the introduction that gives me a different and proud perspective on my Apulian ancestors and fellow Southern Italian countrymen . On the organized Apulian peasant movement:

 "....their resistance was neither an irrational millenarianism nor a blind attempt to preserve antiquated social relationships. They attempted in a highly disciplined manner to experience economic development on their own terms rather than as its passive victims." p.1    
John A Stavola

All quotes from: 

Violence and Great Estates in the South of Italy, Apulia 1900-1922, Frank Snowden,Cambridge University Press, 2004,9171,792189,00.html


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Castel Del Monte

An Enigma of Apulia

    My first impression of Castel Del Monte, the eight-sided citadel  surrounded by eight octagonal towers, was one of familiarity. In some form genetic memory does exist. We are not completely new creations in every generation. Just as instinctive behavior can be observed in the animal kingdom, the human animal, though more than just an animal, is also a product of his ancestry. Having deep genetic roots in Apulia the impression made by Castel Del Monte was experienced on an intuitive level. It was recognized.
    This book by Heinz Goetze suggests an explanation for this phenomenon of recognition, albeit in a cultural sense involving our perception of beauty. But is our perception of beauty innate or is it learned? 

   Along with a very technical analysis of the design geometry, he traces the history and progression of Hohenstaufen architecture of Frederick II, it's firm grounding in the European Cistercian tradition and the influence of Greek geometry via the Islamic contacts of Frederick. The many photos and illustrations avoid showing anything of the modern world, adding to the effect of peering into the past. 

La Spia delle Puglie
There are few historical references to Castel Del Monte and very little is known about the details of its construction. The first mention is a command of Frederick II on January 29, 1240 to a certain R. de Montefusculo to prepare a floor at the former site known at the time as Santa Maria Del Monte. In 1246 a Hohenstaufen statute obligated the residents of Bitonto, Bitetto (a town next to my ancestral town of Palo Del Colle), and Monopoli to carry out repair work on the site.

   The name of the architect is not known but it is thought that Frederick II took an active interest in its design. All of the imperial structures of his reign were built in a short span of time suggesting that one person must have been the driving force behind their conception. Heinz Goetze points out that Frederick II was directly involved with the design of his buildings and cites a text by a person named Ricardo San Germano that shows the “active participation” of the emperor in the design of his bridge citadel at Capua.

  The Castel Del Monte is an iconic image of Apulia. Located on a natural rise in an otherwise flat terrain once surrounded by a dense forest about eight miles from the town of Andria.

From a distance it appears to be a crown
There are no other buildings surrounding it. From this vantage point can be seen the coast line from the Gargano spur to the city of Monopoli. To the local contadini Castel del Monte was known as "La Spia delle Puglie", the "Spyhole of Apulia". Peering up from the inner courtyard one is also reminded of the view from a telescope or observatory.

  How it was used is not known. Many believe it to have served as a hunting lodge because of its isolated location. It is not technically a castle but could be easily defended, having only one entrance. The lack of a chapel points to a secular use. To see it is to be impressed by a symmetrical beauty and an image of crystalline strength.

   Heinz Goetze offers the first systematic analysis using exact dimensional measurements. He traces the influence on the architectural design and the natural progression of its form from preceding works during the reign of Frederick II Hohenstaufen.

   His analysis of the geometric beauty wonders why those who view it are intuitively impressed:

  “We know from various  examples that symmetry is not shaped by man alone, But is also characteristic of nature, both animate and inanimate. In its different forms and variations in nature, as in art, symmetry is a structural element that can be defined  mathematically. The relationship of ordered, structured nature with art is not surprising because art has always been at once the imitation and exaggeration of nature. With the entire spectrum of its forms, symmetry has repeatedly been employed as a means of style in art-- this is particularly evident in architecture. Did the artist then discover the aesthetic quality of symmetry in nature, or is there even a common source of symmetry’s aesthetic quality in nature and art?

   What enables man to intuitively grasp the basic mathematical structure of the world and reconstruct and experience it seems to me aptly expressed in the lines from Plotin, translated by Goethe:

If the eyes were not like the sun
The sun it could not see;
If God’s own power were not within us
How could the divine enrapture us?”  
   "There appears to be a process of recognition, an anagnorisis , corresponding to Plato's anamnesis, the recollection of the world of ideas, to which he also assigns mathematics. Why else is an exactly defined proportion such as the golden section or the five platonic bodies....spontaneously perceived as beautiful-even by people who are unaware of the underlying mathematical principles? Castel del Monte thus appears to us as a living witness to the mathematical nature of aesthetics. pp204,205
A contadino's rendition
Castel Del Monte is symmetrical in a way that shows  the designer had at least an “intuitive grasp” of the concept of the fractal. A fractal is a part of a whole which when  broken off is still a copy of the whole. Discovered in the 1970’s by a man named Mandelbrot it has implications in many fields of knowledge.

   Mr Goetze reports that a formula was determined for the basic floor plan which when extrapolated by a computer program reproduced the building in it’s three dimensional form. When the pattern was extended to infinity it was shown to replicate a fractal.

The building plan is based on the octagon, an eight sided figure formed by a square with another square superimposed at a 45 degree angle to it. The square with it’s four equal sides is connected in esoteric literature with the earth and the points of the compass. The octagon is a transitional figure between the square and the circle. The circle in esoteric symbolism represents heaven and immortality. Visualize the night sky as you view it from a wide flat area. Turning 360 degrees you experience a circle.

   “The square interested mathematicians and philosophers because of the impossibility, discovered in the period of Greek pre-classicism, of finding a rational number proportion between the length of the diagonal and the length of the side of a square…With the Neoplatonists and Neopythagoreans, who had a strong influence on Islam, irrational quantities acquired a symbolic meaning” pg.116

The octagon is a universal esoteric symbol also found in China, Japan, as well as in Islamic art. In Christian symbolism the octagon is used in baptismal fountains as a symbol of the hope of salvation.

Painting from 1890 before restoration work
  A number of possible sources can be found  for Frederick II, and the designer of Castel Del Monte’s use of the octagonal form. The Pfalzkapelle in Aachen, where he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, is octagonal shaped as is the Carolingian crown. Barbarossa, his grandfather, donated the octagonal chandelier which is contained here.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as well as the Dome of the Rock where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, are laid out in the form of the octagon. During the crusade of 1228/1229 Frederick visited the Dome of the Rock and had the construction plan explained to him.

   As the only Holy Roman Emperor to have the crown of Jerusalem placed on his head, he saw himself and his reign to be in a direct line from King David of Israel.There were many reasons for Frederick II to be engrossed by the significance of the octagon.

   These influences aside, Mr. Goetze spends much time tracing the octagonal design in Islamic art and architecture and comes to the conclusion that Islamic designers played a major role.

It is true that Frederick II, although of German and Norman descent, grew up as an orphan in Palermo. Islamic rule had ended by the time of his youth but Islamic influence was still to be found by the boy who was nevertheless culturally a Sicilian. One of his tutors was said to have been an Islamic judge to the remnant Muslim population. Frederick was known for his understanding of Arabic and Arab culture.

   The southern Italy and Sicily of this era was on the borderland of Islamic expansion so Frederick’s use of Islamic designers is conceivable. Architectural design books from the Muslim world of this time contain many octagonal forms. Islamic use of the octagon as a ground up motif is however:

 “…limited in the Islamic world primarily to mausoleum. Palaces and mosques generally have square plans…” p125

   “Thus we come across a peculiarity of Arabic architecture and the mentality on which it is based; It is not spatially or plastically, but rather two-dimensionally oriented, as evidenced in such varied ways by the splendid and ingenious Islamic ornamental art.” p126

   The edifice of Castel Del Monte is designed to be viewed and comprehended three dimensionally as was Greek sculpture.

   “The road that leads up to Castel Del Monte describes a circle around the building, thus cultivating the impression of three dimensionality…” p111
 Mr. Goetze carries the Greek influence further:

   “…With this sense of three dimensionality, Hohenstaufen architecture is closest to the art and architecture of the Greeks. This makes particularly understandable the fondness of Frederick II for classical sculpture with which he surrounded himself and which he spared no effort to display in his castles. He recommended that the school of sculpture he had founded orient itself according to classical models…” p112

   Castle Del Monte is unique to all European buildings of the time in it’s dimensional accuracy. It measures 167 feet at the widest point, is 95 feet high, and the inner courtyard is 57 feet in diameter. Nowhere in the elements of the structure, which can be seen, is a measurement off by more than 2cm or about half an inch!

   " These are dimensional accuracies that seem unbelievable for a medieval European building. The exactness of the measurements is prerequisite to the unrestrained effect of the building, which presents itself symmetrically on all sides...This precision-which has hardly been affected at all, even by the restoration work carried out on the citadel during past decades- certainly could not have been achieved without the use of precise technical methods of measurement..." pp 191,192
The floor plan
The ground plan alignment is also significant. The north/south axis meets the spiral of the cathedral at Andria, an  important town to him because it remained loyal . Both of his wives were also buried there.The main and only entrance way faces east, above which a stone head brought from an ancient ruin near Andria bears an inscription in Greek:

"...on the calends of May at sunrise I shall  have a head of gold."

"...On the first day of may, the rays of the sun gilded this Imperial diadem, in the same way that the heads of Roman emperors had been wreathed in sun rays on their gold coins."  "Old Puglia", p58,59

   The roof is designed to funnel all available rainwater, a necessity in Apulia which has low rainfall, a porous surface topography, and thus very little surface water. The castle contained indoor running water and at one time an octagon fountain at the inner courtyard, made from a single piece of marble.The towers on each floor are vaulted in the Gothic style. 
The third tower contains an artificial eyrie . After more than 750 years it is reported that birds of prey still nest here. Frederick II as a man with a love of falconry would be pleased to see this. De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus, “The Art of Hunting with Birds “ is his famous treatise written towards the end of his life.

Federico Secundo
    Northern Apulia was Fredericks self chosen home. Nicknamed the "Puer Apuliae" (the boy from Apulia) he spent much time between Foggia and his  favorite hunting "parks" in the mountains nearby. What better location to build an outward expression of his imperial crown,the symbol of his ranking in the divine hierarchy, in the forests that he loved ,visible from the coastline and for miles around.
John A Stavola

Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from:
Heinz Goetze, Castel Del Monte: Geometric Marvel of the Middle Ages; Prestel-Verlag, Munich, New York, 1998

 Additional source:
Desmond Seward and Susan Mountgarret: Old Puglia: A Portrait of South Eastern Italy; House Publishing, London 2009