In preparation for my upcoming holiday to south Italy I was browsing through the history section in my guide book to Puglia and discovered some fascinating facts about how mosquitoes had devastated entire communities.
The endemic and epidemic presence of malaria in Italy has shaped the history and development of this beautiful country, but especially the south, often seen as the poorer relation of the more prosperous north.
It was only after the unification of Italy in 1861, that the ever-growing presence of malaria in the country came to light. In the rural south, where bad working conditions and sub-standard housing and diet were already present, malaria was able to spread easily and quickly. There were few ways of getting rid of mosquitoes.
In fact, malaria touched so many lives, that for a long period it was widely regarded as the ‘Italian national disease’. Unfortunately it was Italy’s most fertile areas, by the coast and in river valleys, which were most susceptible to the infection. Workers had to expose themselves to this disease in order to make a living, and would run the risk ill health which ultimately led to low productivity.
Other interesting facts:
- The word malaria comes from the Italian word mal aria meaning “bad air” .This was because people thought the air was poisoned when the wet earth dried out during the heat of the summer days.
- It was an Italian Zoologist named Giovanni Battista Grassi, who discovered in 1898 that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes.
- Did you know that the term “kingdom of death” was used to refer to the South of Italy at one point? This was because out of all the provinces in the Italian peninsula, the six most badly affected, including Puglia, were located in the south. It is said that the danger of infection in the south was ten times greater than in the north.
- Between 1900 and 1907 the Italian government set a worldwide precedent by passing a series of laws to establish a national campaign to control malaria.
- It was only in 1969 that the designation of ‘malarial zone’ was officially lifted from the Italian peninsula
I cannot wait to go and visit this part of Italy. I have no doubt that it will be as beautiful as the rest of the country. Although the area in no longer malarial I will be taking precautions against mosquitoes.