Ottawa Citizen

Italian town refuses to pay feudal tax

`The battle is just beginning'


• The residents of a hilltop town in Italy are in revolt after the descendant­s of a Swiss aristocrat revived their claim for payment of an obscure feudal tax.

Locals in San Felice Circeo, a picturesqu­e town between Rome and Naples overlookin­g sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs, have been told that they owe tens of thousands of euros as a result of a medieval levy which had been forgotten for decades.

The demand is being made by six descendant­s of Giovanpaol­o James Aguet, a Swiss baron who bought the rights to the levy, known as a fief, in 1898. Dating back centuries, the fief passed from the Papal States, which ruled much of Italy, to the Kingdom of Italy after the country was unified in the 1860s, and then to the baron.

His heirs intend to levy an annual charge on properties in the seaside town, claiming arrears for the past five years that in some cases amount to euros 35,000.

Locals are furious, and around 1,500 of them are clubbing together to fight the demands for payment.

“It's absurd that we are even discussing feudal rights that should have died out centuries ago,” said Mario Montalbano, a surveyor who has received a payment demand. “We are getting organized. The battle is just beginning.”

The levy has not been imposed for at least 60 years. “They have just recently woken up to it,” said Montalbano. “They must be strapped for cash.”

Bianca Maria Menichelli, a lawyer for the heirs, denies that the fief is anachronis­tic. “It's not anachronis­tic to insist a legal right is exercised, even if it does date back several centuries,” she said.

“These rights were maintained when they passed from the Papal States to the Kingdom of Italy. All this is legitimate — it is not something they have invented.”

None of that has gone down well in the town that derives its name from Circe, a vengeful sorceress who according to legend turned Odysseus's men into pigs as he returned from the Trojan War.

The feudal arrangemen­t is so unusual it has prompted questions in parliament. Last year, MPs asked the economy minister if there were legal avenues to abolish the “burden.”

“I think even Circe would have been furious over what the family are asking for,” said Montalbano. “Let's hope she can cast a few spells on them.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada