Beyond Borders: The Story of the Mazzanti Family Amidst Emigration, Architecture, and International Success

We might find ourselves between the pages of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ but this is another story. During my visit to Jesi (Ancona), I discovered the adventures of the Mazzanti family, travelling Italy, France, and South America. In this journey, many social issues emerge, along with analogies to the current context, such as the phenomenon of Italian emigration. It also explores how architecture can contribute to the development of society.

Spartaco’s story

1891 marks the birth of Spartaco Mazzanti, the son of Professor Willelmina Albanesi and tailor Giovanni Mazzanti from Jesi. Spartaco is the first in his family to leave for another city to study, as until then, everyone had become tailors. He enrolled in the Faculty of Economics and Law at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, where he started working for the Gazzettino di Venezia newspaper. His academic and writing career lasted six years, until, with the explosion of the First World War, he volunteered, participating in the Battle of Caporetto. During this period, he was taken prisoner on Monte Nero, in the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and transported to the Braunau camp.

After the war, Spartaco gained a Doctorate in Economics and Law and moved from Italy to France, where he began working for the French-Italian Bank for South America, which had numerous departments in Latin America.

Here, he met Marguerite Valentine Thiault Perne, whom he fell in love with. After getting married, they decided to move together to Bogotà, following Spartaco’s offer to establish a branch in the capital of Colombia.

After four years in Bogotà, they moved to Barranquilla, where the fifth and last child of the couple, Alexei, was born.

In Barranquilla, amid the Caribbean warmth, the Mazzanti family’s story continues, culminating in the work of architect Giancarlo, the Jesi-born great-grandson, whose work is now exhibited at Palazzo Pianetti until February 18, 2024.

Giancarlo’s story

Good blood doesn’t lie. Giancarlo Mazzanti, Spartaco’s grandson, is a renowned architect. He graduated from Javeriana University in Colombia, with a doctorate in Florence. With over twenty years of academic experience at prestigious universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton, Giancarlo is the founder of ‘El Equipo Mazzanti‘. His work is showcased at MoMA and the Centre Pompidou, spanning architecture, urban planning, art, and sociology.

Leon de Greiff Library Park – La Ladera. Medellin, Colombia, 2007. Photo by Sergio Gomez.

His studio stands out for research on the relationship between play and architecture, evident in projects like ‘We Play, You Play.’ At the core of his architecture are social principles, aiming to enhance quality of life and promote social equality. Giancarlo has received over 30 international awards, including the RIBA Prize and AIA Honorary Fellowship. El Equipo Mazzanti has offices in Bogotà, Medellín, and Madrid, with ongoing projects worldwide, including the Cagliari port plan and a centre in Ponte di Legno, Brescia.

21 Atlantico Kindergartens. Atlantico, Colombia, 2016. Photo by Alfonso Manjarrés.
Forest of hope – Cazucá, Colombia, 2011. Photo by Jorge Gamboa.

Together with his grandfather Spartaco and father Alexei, they were proclaimed Knights of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the Italian Government. Spartaco never forgot his homeland; he chose to die and be buried in Jesi, in the name of his bond and love for the city. Meanwhile, Giancarlo maintains a connection with Italy, as evidenced by this exhibition (La bellezza che cura – The Beauty that Heals).

Exhibition sign in Jesi

The Beauty that Heals: Inauguration of the Exhibition

During the inaugural conference, Giancarlo Mazzanti emphasised the importance of assisting municipal administrations and mayors who may lack technical expertise, so that they not only envision and construct solutions but also formulate questions that drive progress in urban thinking.

Mazzanti also believes that a crucial missing element in the overall construction of environments today is reflection, amidst the noise of incessant activity and construction. He underscores the need for a collective thought process in city construction.

The architect has been extensively involved in the construction of educational spaces that become focal points for the entire community, illustrating how architecture can serve as a significant social catalyst, promoting dialogue, strengthening community values, and enabling the multipurpose use of spaces.

21 Atlantico Kindergartens. Atlantico, Colombia, 2016.

Emigration to Colombia

In a society where integration is viewed as an irrelevant process, the Mazzanti family’s story is an example of how one can embrace different cultures and contribute value to other communities. The Mazzanti couple found themselves integrating into another country, with a different language and five children to raise overseas, still benefiting from the work they started in Europe.

Fotos antiguas de Barranquilla y su centro historico on FLickr – Mira al Centro Fotomaratón.

On the other hand, receiving foreigners was seen as an opportunity, even economically. Although Colombia did not open its borders to immigration massively, Europeans, including Italians, were well-received in Barranquilla. Despite Italian emigration not being numerically significant, it played a relevant role in the social and economic development of the country. Barranquilla, a port in northern Colombia on the Caribbean Sea, was a key passage for foreigners entering the country through the Puerto de Colombia dock.

Postal Callejón De California – Barranquilla. Postcard. 1900.

Emigrants of yesterday and today: a repeating story

In yesterday’s Colombia, I see today’s Italy, both carriers of significant migration stories. Just like Colombia in the past, Italy has found itself in recent years as a landing ground to escape wars, famine, and poverty. The only difference: if, on the one hand, Colombia welcomed foreigners with openness, how are we welcoming those who arrive in Italy?

It is essential to remember that, throughout history, both countries have experienced migratory movements that have shaped their social and economic fabric. Moreover, history teaches us that there are no certainties; everything changes, and situations can be reversed. But if one day Italians were to emigrate to an African or Middle Eastern country due to climate or war, how would we like to be treated?

The life story of the Mazzanti family can guide us in better understanding current dynamics, reflecting on the meaning of homeland, and recognizing the value of past experiences to find a constructive (and hopefully different) approach to the future.