IWSR Magazine February 2013
We continue our series on the history and origin of sambuca with the origin of the name ‘sambuca‘.
Sambuca as we know and appreciate it today originated in 1851 thanks to Luigi Manzi, a man of noble origin who was born in Casamicciola on the Island of Ischia near Naples, where he ran a business with his father that led him to travel around Italy.
He was a very politically active man and his patriotism led him to participate in the unification of Italy during the insurrectionist movement for the liberation of Naples from the House of Bourbon in 1848. Because of Manzi’s passion for politics he was forced to move away to escape from the local police.
He took refuge in Civitavecchia, a papal territory at that time. In this city he established a small spirits factory, initially in order to justify his presence in the city rather than out of passion or from the need to support himself. Manzi began producing a sweet anisette whose recipe was based on anise and other spices such as fennel. At the time, the production process allowed him to produce just 48 bottles a week. Without doubt the development of this anisette liquor was influenced by the Sicilian tradition he had become familiar with during his travels. Manzi’s great inspiration was to give the distillate a specific, distinctive name: Sambuca.
Manzi explained in one of his writings that the name ‘Sambuca’ is a tribute to the ‘sambuchelli’, an old term used in the south of Italy for young boys who journeyed through the streets and the fields carrying water in jars to quench people’s thirst. The jars were tied to a pole of elder wood (elder in Italy is known as ‘sambuco’).
Following southern tradition, the sambuchelli added a few drops of aniseed spirit, known for its thirst- quenching effect, to each glass of water. Manzi’s entrepreneurial spirit did not stop at a liquor factory. He discovered that the subsoil of the island of Ischia was rich in thermal waters and he realised that it could be a great opportunity to make a profit; in due course he built a hotel with a thermal bath.
Among the guests was the famous 19th century general Giuseppe Garibaldi, known as ‘the hero of Two Worlds’, who stayed there to alleviate his arthritic pains. It was on this occasion that Garibaldi tasted sambuca, becoming one of the first admirers of this famous spirit. Upon the death of Luigi Manzi, his son Cornelius took the reins of the business.