Vito Positano: The Italian Consul Who Saved Sofia
Article by Maya Raykova for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).
Ask Bulgarians what the name Positano means to them and most will say that this is the name of the street of the headquarters of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
Unfortunately, few people today know much of the person whose memorial can be seen on the street bearing his name.
More than a century ago, this street was home to some of Sofia's most important citizens. This was also the home of Italy's vice-consul in Sofia, Vito Positano.
In the second half of the 19th century the historical and geographical location of Sofia (at the time under Ottoman rule) became attractive to major European powers. Three countries opened consulates in Sofia: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France and Italy.
The vice consulate of Italy was opened in 1874. Two years later, Positano, who was born in Bari in 1833 to a family of traders, was appointed vice consul.
While his brothers kept the family business running, Vito joined the local fire-fighting corps, with the rank of captain, and later served in southern Italy's armed forces. After the unification of Italy (in about 1871) he left the army, considering his mission accomplished. Only a few years later, however, he accepted a high-ranking position in the administration of the Italian kingdom, marking the start of his diplomatic career.
As a diplomat, he was based in Trieste, Corfu, Malta, Algiers, Istanbul and Sofia, serving from July 5 1876 until August 21 1878.
In December 1878, during the heat of the Russo-Turkish war, which led to the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, Sofia was faced with destruction. Just as Russian troops approached the city, (Sofia was liberated on January 4 1878) the Ottoman hordes of Osman Nouri Pasha were forced to flee, but not before threatening to lay waste to Sofia and its inhabitants.
Diplomats in the town were asked to leave. Positano not only refused to do so but did everything possible to save Sofia and its people. With the help of the French and the Austro-Hungarian consuls he called upon the diplomatic corps to defend Sofia. He also threatened Osman Nouri Pasha with grave diplomatic consequences should he continue with his plan. By doing this, Positano risked his own, and his family's, lives.
Using his experience, Positano spearheaded fire-fighting efforts to save houses engulfed by flames. He organised rescue operations and led patrols of Bulgarian volunteers on Sofia streets. After the arrival of Russian forces, Sofians gathered under Positano's balcony to express gratitude for his efforts.
In 1879, the first Sofia city council declared Positano an honorary citizen. The citation read: "Were it not for his direct involvement, there would have been no trace left of Sofia and thousands of Sofians would have died that winter."
In 1881, Positano was appointed consul to Damascus, Syria. In 1882 he was dispatched to Yokohama, Japan, where he died in 1886.