Most people on Capri become familiar with the name, Cerio, without realizing it. There is the Piazzetta Cerio, not to be confused with Piazza Edwin Cerio, and via Ignazio Cerio. Then the Centro Cerio, in the Palazzo Cerio, with the Cerio Museum and Archives – and now, the new sports complex, Campi di Cerio in Anacapri.
Somehow the name Cerio has become a part of the Capri myth.
When you start to hear people on Capri speak of the Cerio family you might be intrigued first by hearing something about the houses that they’ve built: Casa Solitaria, La Pergola, Lo Studio, Torre Saracena and what seem like dozens of sanctuaries perched around the island, each with a “Cerio style” and view to die for.
You might also be taken in by the stories of wonderful parties or of “large aviaries filled with white peacocks,” or of impossible creations like “chairlifts in grottos used to supply parties,” or of “tunnels under Tragara that let you cross over without being seen”.
You will eventually begin to recognize some of the names that keep coming up in the stories.
Often might hear of Ignazio Cerio; Island doctor who bought the Palazzo Cerio in 1860 and was an avid conservationist whose private collection of 24,000 artifacts and archives became the basis of the Cerio Museum & Research Library. His wife Elisabeth Grimmer was English and the children grew up bilingual in the Palazzo Cerio. Elisabeth was struck and killed by lightening while knitting in front of a fireplace in the Palazzo.
You will certainly hear of Edwin Cerio: Ignazio’s youngest son and a naval Engineer who designed ships, initiated the first “green laws” conservation legislation on Capri, “engineered” himself into being elected Mayor of Capri, wrote dozens of books, built beautiful houses and co-founded the Centro Caprense Ignazio Cerio (Facebook Page) museum with Mabel Norman Cerio in the Palazzo Cerio.
You will hear less about Giorgio Cerio: Ignazio’s older son and an American educated doctor who married painter and heiress Mabel Norman of Newport, RI. and built up all of via Tragara as her sanctuary. After Giorgio’s death Mabel co-founded the Centro Cerio with brother-in-law Edwin, along with also funding the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Newport.
You won’t hear at all about Arturo Cerio.
You might hear about my father, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo (“Nando Cerio”), the Duke of Bivona, who designed medical devices which saved millions of lives and who in his downtime climbed all over Capri photographing thousands of chimneys on for his book on obscure chimneys on the island. Cerios are often compelled to write books.
And you will be most interested in Edwin’s daughter, my grandmother, artist Letizia Cerio, who was a serious artist and the last of the great ladies when ladies were ladies on Capri. Vogue Italia wrote that she was “eclectic, cosmopolitan, mystically devoted to painting and fatally attracted to fashion… driven her whole life by an urgent desire to express herself”. And this she was.
Once you have digested the whole complicated story of the Cerio family with all of its plot twists and turns, I hope that something will emerge. We Cerio have a sort of creative energy that seems to force itself onto each generation and that imposes itself in the world around it. It is almost beyond our control. We need to express ourselves and if we can make our island a better place in the process then we have no choice but to charge ahead all the while taking as many people forward along with us as we can.
Eco Capri, founded in 2012, is inspired by the creativity of many Cerio characters and generations. We are an “echo” of their lives; “La Cerio Capri” for today, with Letizia as our muse, of course.