This year marks the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Charlottesville and Poggio a Caiano, a town in Tuscany, Italy, with a population of 10,000. In celebration, a delegation traveled to the area to spend a week exploring the history that connects the two cities. The seven-member group of government officials and their wives will stay in Charlottesville for a week
“The focus of the visit is from a historical, cultural perspective,” said Terri Di Cintio, Charlottesville’s representative for Poggio a Caiano. “That’s what the sisters cities program is about — connecting with our sister city friends and understanding and sharing cultural, educational, humanitarian activities.”
Established in 1977, the sister city relationship stems from the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and Filippo Mazzei, an Italian physician who influenced a line that ended up in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.”
“They were very similar in that they had lots of varied interests,” Di Cintio said. “They did some work together on wine and they were both very involved in politics. Mazzei became very involved in the American Revolution, as well as other political issues around the world. … They had a symbiotic relationship where they shared a world view.”
The activities for the week’s visit were chosen by a committee made up of community leaders and others. With input from the Poggio a Caiano visitors, the committee brainstormed ideas that would be consistent with learning about the history and culture of the two communities.
The group is visiting many historical landmarks, including Monticello, Montpelier and the University of Virginia, but it also will explore other parts of Central Virginia, such as Gabriele Rausse Winery in Albemarle County, Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and Humpback Rocks in Augusta and Nelson counties.
The importance of recognizing the international relationship and the significance of positive interactions between countries were ideas emphasized by the Italian delegation.
Giacomo Mari, a councilor with the Delegates of Culture and Tourism in the Poggio a Caiano City Council, said the sister city program is a perfect example of a global interaction that encourages positive connections between countries.
“This moment create[s] bridge and not war,” Mari said. “It’s important to meet people and to understand that we have the same desires, hopes and the same fears, and when we meet each other around the world, we can understand each other and appreciate what is the best about other people.”
The relationship between the two cities has changed over the years in terms of the level and degree of interaction. The last visit made by the Italians was in 2012, to celebrate Charlottesville’s 250th anniversary. Charlottesville has sent community groups to Poggio a Caiano, including the Charlottesville High School Orchestra and teams from Soccer Organization Charlottesville Area.
“[Mazzei] was here for the American Revolution and he helped write the Virginia plan for the U.S. Constitution,” said Charlottesville resident Steve Campbell, who is involved with the visit. “He had a farm next to Monticello that was almost as large as Monticello, but locally, almost nobody has ever heard of him.”
Campbell said the relationships between the sister cities and that of Mazzei and Jefferson are little known in the Charlottesville area. However, in Poggio a Caiano, it’s a different story.
“If you went into anywhere in Poggio and you said, ‘I’m from Charlottesville,’ chances are you would have a crowd in a hurry,” he said.
The trip could not have come at a better time, said Di Cintio.
“We’re in a time in our country where politics, especially global politics, are divisive and there’s a lot of concern about the United States being separatist and isolating itself further and further,” Di Cintio said. “I think an international program works in opposition to that. While this [visit] has not been planned around that particularly, hopefully it will cement our relationship with our friends abroad.”
Next month, a 26-person delegation from Charlottesville will travel to Italy.