In Langscape Magazine Articles

It Takes Millennia to Make Ciccimmaretati: Cilento, Italy, as a Master of Biocultural Wisdom

October 06, 2016

by Dario Ciccarelli

Cilento, Italy

View of the town of Pollica in Cilento, Italy. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco, 2006

Since January 1, 1995, when the World Trade Organization came into existence, the winds of globalization have picked up the world over, blowing local roofs off. As in the biblical story of the merchants selling in the temple, companies don’t self-regulate—they don’t see any limits to business. As a consequence, a vast heritage of biocultural diversity is being destroyed by the unfettered economic activities of a global army of corporations. Someone else should set limits and provide direction, counterbalancing the culture, interests, and actions of corporations. But who that someone else should be remains an open question.

Public institutions often believe they serve the national interest by serving the interests of national and transnational corporations. They do so because they usually see their main role as one of fostering economic growth and jobs in the short term and at all costs. European nations in particular, because of their economic wealth and cultural traditions, should have been at the forefront of the global effort in defense of biocultural diversity. On the contrary, they allowed the merchants (read European Union and European Central Bank) to become the lords of the temple.

Public institutions often believe they serve the national interest by serving the interests of national and transnational corporations.

Who else, then, should be taking the lead to stop the bleeding and ensure that the energies of corporations are re-routed toward the common interests of Nations (seen as Places, or as systems of Places)? In my view, this role falls upon educational institutions, and upon place-based alliances between educational and public institutions. Public institutions certainly do have a duty to defend Places across the globe against the destructive voraciousness of industry. The problem is that educational institutions have so far failed to provide public institutions with the tools they need in order to deal with this vital task. Academic scholars—and this is especially true in Europe—continue to carry out their research and teaching in an antiquated way, seemingly unconcerned with and indifferent to the winds of global business.

Educational institutions rarely look out of the window to see the real world, and mostly don’t believe it is up to them to promote social processes aimed at preserving the real world out there from further devastation. They continue to myopically pursue the growth of knowledge in a vacuum, while ignoring real life. They study the world, but do not seem to care about its well-being and survival; even less do they seem to be committed to the fate of any specific place. As a consequence, they fail to train place-sensitive students and a place-sensitive ruling class. Economists, jurists, engineers, and even historians and philosophers, continue to look at the world in an abstract and affectless manner, with eyes that are as place-insensitive as those of global business.

So, Places—and the world, as a system of Places—are defenseless. In this disconnected worldview, nobody seems to want to take responsibility for preventing lush biocultural landscapes from becoming arid ecological and social deserts at the hand of profit-seeking corporations. From this perspective, educational paradigms ought to be radically revised and transformed, if those who should be on the frontlines of protecting and fostering our global biocultural heritage are to be fully prepared and able to play that crucial role.

Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for preventing lush biocultural landscapes from becoming arid ecological and social deserts at the hand of profit-seeking corporations.

Over the centuries, Wise Places have spontaneously cared for “sustainable development” and local biocultural diversity, ensuring an overall coherence among the various dimensions of life. The map drawn by the Wisdom of Places is a colorful patchwork of local traditions, vocations and archetypes. Take the case of Italy: “made in Italy” products, place-based entities such as Industrial Districts, Geographical Indications, and the Mediterranean Diet constitute not only the essence of the country’s economic wealth, but also the essence of its cultural heritage and its social structure. Preserving such specificity for the benefit of the world, rather than establishing a powerful but placeless economic alliance (such as the European Union), seems to be the historic task facing Italy at this time—and a compelling social responsibility for every country the world over in this globalization era.

Across the globe today, however, the colorful map created by origin-sensitive Wise Places is at risk of turning into a black-and-white catalog of stereotypes. And the place-insensitive, rationalistic approach of the so-called human and social sciences has not been very helpful in this regard. Scholars have intellectually (and bureaucratically) dissected Place into component parts assigned to different disciplines, while missing the vital unity of Place itself, its experience, its lessons. By doing so, they have failed to fulfill their de facto mission in the era of globalization: if not they, then who? Often unconsciously, they have ended up embracing the paradigms of corporations and serving their interests.

The Wisdom of Places can have the power to turn the tide, affirming itself over the superficiality of the intellectualized visions and approaches of the current generation of scholars. To achieve that goal, place-sensitive and place-responsible educational institutions must break down the theoretical barriers among disciplines, bringing transdisciplinary knowledge to bear on the defense of the Wisdom of Places. In such a place-caring approach, the human and social sciences would contribute to setting up new forms of place-based and tradition-based cooperation that will protect local biocultural diversity from the ravages of industry and government. And locally focused educational institutions would feel a compelling mandate arising from their specific location. It seems perfectly reasonable, for instance, that universities in Magna Graecia—the historic area of southern Italy that has been deeply influenced by Hellenic civilization—should embrace a strong responsibility toward the historical and cultural specificity of the region where they are located.

Theater in Cilento

Theater at Elea in Cilento, the site of the ancient Greek philosophical school. Photo: Martin Boesch, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons)

Consider this. Magna Gaecia was home to the great pre-Socratic philosophers Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Philolaus, Parmenides, Zeno, and particularly to the Eleatic School, founded by Parmenides in the fifth century BC in Elea, a Greek colony in what is now the Cilento area of Campania, in southern Italy. Were these philosophers place-independent thinkers? Or were they rather the expression of a specific territory? Would it be irrational to look at Elea—the specific Place itself—as the foundation of the Eleatic School? Far from that, it seems entirely reasonable to view that Place as the fertile ground from which this rich culture gradually sprung up. Rather, what seems irrational is scholars’ current lack of interest in “getting inside” Cilento and other Wise Places—no matter what recognition they may get elsewhere, such as being included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. “The Cilento,” says UNESCO, “is an outstanding cultural landscape.” The Cilento was also the boundary between the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia and the Indigenous Etruscan and Lucanian peoples.

And Cilento is also the home of ciccimmaretati, a quintessentially traditional peasant dish made by cooking a variety of legumes and grains (cicci), which are then mmaretati (“married,” that is mixed) together in a pot to make a hearty soup. Similar dishes are made in different villages of Cilento, with local variations in preparation and naming. Ciccimmaretati is the name of the dish in Stio, Castel San Lorenzo, and other villages; in Cicerale it is called cicciata; in other parts of Cilento, it is named cuccia. Some of these highly localized recipes may include up to twenty different sorts of legumes and grains. Places are careful in handling every detail, including the ceremonial occasions in which the dish is made. In Casaletto Spartano, for example, it is on the first day of May that young boys and girls go from house to house asking for every kind of legumes and grains, to be cooked separately and then “married” (mixed) in a large pot in the village’s main square. Villagers take a portion of the soup as a good omen for prosperity and abundance of crops. In Castellabate, instead, the cicci are cooked on the Day of the Dead.

Such celebrations strikingly remind us of ancient Greek offerings of all varieties of seeds to the gods, as a part of fertility rituals. As explained by some of the greatest among Greek philosophers (such as Heraclitus and Plato), the art of mixing various legumes (seen as seeds of the earth) in a tasty soup is a good image of the gentle universal harmony that the world can achieve if biodiversity is slowly fostered and cultivated.

So now we might ask: what is the tie that binds Parmenides and ciccimmaretati? What do Cilentan farmers have in common with the illustrious Magna Graecian philosopher? What they have in common is Place, the Wisdom of Place. Both Parmenides and the farmers respond to the uniqueness of Place, and that uniqueness resides in its specific art of blending. And it is the Wisdom of Place, maintained and imparted over millennia, that ensures that certain experiences survive over time in the local culture, morphing into customary ways of thinking, feeling, behaving, cooking. All along, whenever farmers in Cilento have “married” legumes and grains to make ciccimmaretati, that has happened because, in that particular situation, such is the will of that special and enduring Place. It is Place that retains the archetypal ingredients and turns them into dishes that generation after generation makes its own. And Parmenides, also a fruit of that Place, has certainly always been, and still is, “there” in spirit.

So the cicci must be mmaretati, and the manner in which they are put together is absolutely crucial. Places have an incomparable mastery because they promote and maintain relationships. Places ensure a slow and wise evolution of the nature of interactions among cicci. Each simple human gesture is part of a complex and dynamic framework (a “pot”) that normally is under the fair rule of Place. Each aspect of a Place is an ingredient in the civilizational “dish,” and each is a vital “seed,” harmonized in the “pot” without losing its distinctive identity. And of course this way in which Place teaches its wisdom applies not only to ciccimmaretati, but also to any other aspect of local traditions, in Cilento and all around the world.

Places have an incomparable mastery because they promote and maintain relationships.

Who would imagine that to look at a pot of ciccimmaretati is to look at such an extraordinary and delicate image of biocultural diversity, of cosmic harmony and unity in diversity? And, of course, Magna Graecia doesn’t eat ciccimmaretati only. She also fancies salella ammaccate olives, Controne beans and menaica anchovies—some of the other marvels of the Mediterranean Diet, which in 2013 UNESCO inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The truth is that, through ciccimmaretati and the Mediterranean Diet, Wise Cilento and Magna Graecia are preserving—as well as revealing—the spiritus loci (spirit of Place), in which all is simple and everything becomes One. The etymology says it all: “diet” comes from the Greek diaita, which means “way of life.” In a sense, by expressing the local worldview, Magna Graecia and the Mediterranean Diet do become a single cultural unity—a cultural unity that, so far, has been utterly ignored by Italy’s bureaucratic institutions.

Spollichini beans

Spollichini beans. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco, 2011


Salella ammaccata olives. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco, 2011


Salted menaica anchovies with menaica fishing net. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco, 2005

Compared with such slow and wise place-based evolution, fast and disruptive accelerations currently imposed by business-driven and technology-driven processes threaten to irreversibly devastate, in only one generation, an outstanding diversity “menu” compiled over millennia. Business and its supporters promote mobility. But those who stay where their ancestors once were offer themselves to the service of the Place and its virtues (language, culture, wisdom, worldview). In essence, some “persistent connection to place” is an indispensable “seed” of civilization.

Fast and disruptive accelerations currently imposed by business-driven and technology-driven processes threaten to irreversibly devastate an outstanding diversity ‘menu’ compiled over millennia.

Now back to the merchants in the temple and the role of International Organizations. When the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995, who was the first to come knocking at its gilded doors? It certainly wasn’t the Wise Place, walking at its innately slow pace. Neither was the academic system. The one who arrived there first was the nimble CEO, ready to jump on the “deal”—and maybe to quickly replace ciccimmaretati with standardized junk food. And, because nobody has yet shed light on what new role governments should play in the global market era, national political institutions are still at a loss in finding their mission and function. So, short of any counterbalancing mechanisms, the temple is still full of merchants, and young place-insensitive CEOs of multinational corporations continue—whether knowingly or unknowingly—to wreak havoc around the world.

Faces of Cilento

Faces of Cilento. Photos: Giuseppe Cucco, 2007

Faces of Cilento

Faces of Cilento. Photos: Giuseppe Cucco, 2009

Yet, the structure of the WTO legal system does aim to pursue sustainable development and to establish a balance between trade interests and non-trade interests. The WTO rules on Marks of Origin, technical barriers to trade, and consumer protection do provide fundamental tools to preserve biocultural diversity and to deliver the “Made in” according to genius loci (genius of Place), spiritus loci (spirit of Place), and fama loci (reputation of Place). The Agreement on Intellectual Property does set crucial rules on Geographical Indications. Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) does allow nations to take measures to protect “public morals,” “human, animal, or plant life or health,” as well as “national treasures of artistic, historic, or archaeological value,” and to “ensure the conservation of exhaustible natural resources.” All of these tools are just waiting for capable hands to pick them up and use them for the common good. The problem is that a whole army of players in this game develops extensive know-how in support of private profit, but precious few players in the game do the same in support of the common good and of biocultural diversity.

Perhaps it is time for educational institutions to also start playing the game. Organizing themselves with a place-based unifying focus, academic communities can enter the fray of the market, bringing much-needed awareness and prudence. And a new place-sensitive alliance between scientists and public institutions can play its proper role inside the temple—that is, within the framework of international law and International Organizations. Working together in defense of Places, educational and public institutions can ensure that the heritage of humanity is not only included in UNESCO’s registers as in souvenir scrapbooks, but also protected in real life and through Place-fair competition.


Cannalonga, Cilento. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco, 2006

How to Make Cicciata Ciceralese

The cicciata ciceralese is one of the numerous highly localized versions of the Cilento dish also known as ciccimmaretati. This version hails from Cicerale, the “chickpea village,” a Slow Food Presidium. Recipe from: Giovanna Voria (2008). Cucinare con i Ceci [Cooking with Chickpeas]. Sarno, Italy: Edizioni dell’ Ippogrifo. (Reproduced with permission.)*

Of peasant origin, this soup was traditionally prepared on May 1 once sowing was done, to propitiate a new and abundant harvest. As a good omen, people would offer a bowl of the soup to their neighbors. All the leftover seeds from the previous harvest—about twenty different kinds between legumes and grains—would be soaked and cooked separately. Once each type was fully cooked, they would be mixed all together to make the authentic cicciata. Even today, in spite of the lengthy and elaborate preparation, cicciata remains one of the tastiest dishes in the cuisine of the Cilento region of Italy.


Giovanna Voria’s cicciata. Photo: Luigi Savini 2016.

Ingredients for four people:

20 grams for each of the following seeds: Cicerale chickpeas, cicerchia (chickling vetch), fava beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, Controne beans, fagiolini di maggese (“fallow beans”), red beans, fagioli a pisello (“pea-like beans”), fagioli d’acqua (“water beans”), fagioli striati (“striped beans”), fagioli dell’occhio (black-eyed beans), farro, oats, barley, three types of Cilento wheat, dried peas, lentils.

For the soffritto: Extra-virgin olive oil DOP (“Protected Designation of Origin”) from Cilento, half an onion, one garlic clove, one sprig of parsley and one of celery (chopped), salt, chili pepper (optional).

Separately soak the various legumes and grains overnight, then cook, also separately. Once each is done, mix in a single pot, adding salt as needed, and continue to cook on low heat. Place the oil in a pan and prepare the soffritto with the onion, garlic, parsley, celery, and chili pepper (if using). Pour the soffritto into the soup, continuing to cook for a few minutes to bring out the flavor. Serve hot with croutons of crusty bread.

* Translated from Italian by Luisa Maffi. Some of the bean varieties mentioned in this recipe are highly local and lack common names in English. Literal translations are provided in those cases.


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Dario Ciccarelli hails from Napoli, Italy. He has been a senior public servant since 2000. In 2003–2007 he was member of Italy’s Permanent Mission to the UN and the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He published Bioarchitettura Istituzionale (“Institutional Bioarchitecture”) in 2002 and Il Bandolo dell’Euromatassa (“Unraveling the Eurotangle”) in 2014.

Further Reading

Keys, A & M. (1975). How to Eat Well and Stay Well, the Mediterranean Way. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Ciccarelli, D. (2014). Il Bandolo dell’Euromatassa. Napoli, Italy: Il Giglio.

Lamy, P. (2006). The Place and Role of the WTO (WTO Law) in the International Legal Order. Speech to the European Society of International Law at Sorbonne, Paris. Retrieved from

Marceau, G. (1999). A Call for Coherence in International Law – Praises for the Prohibition Against “Clinical Isolation” in WTO Dispute Settlement. Journal of World Trade, 33(5).

Pescatore, P. (1999). Opinion 1/94 on “Conclusion” of the WTO Agreement: Is there an Escape from a Programmed Disaster? Common Market Law Review, 36(2), 387-388.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (n.d.). Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park With the Archeological Sites of Paestum and Velia, and the Certosa di Padula. Retrieved from


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