The siblings that have seen a century

The Melis family may seem like any other traditional Italians; going to mass, tending a vineyard and living on the same soil they grew up on. But there's something unique about the Sardinian brothers and sisters that has them breaking a world record.

The siblings that have seen a century
At 105, Consolata is the eldest member of the Melis family. Photo: Ettore Loi/AFP

Who are the Melis family?

They are an Italian family from the Sardinian town of Perdasdefogu. The nine elderly siblings have around 180 living descendants.

180! That must be some sort of record.

Exactly, although not for the number of relatives. The Melis brothers and sisters were last year named by Guinness World Records as having the highest combined age, at 818 years.

All have lived to tell the tale a year on, meaning the number has risen once again.

The oldest is Consolata who will turn 106 in August, followed by Claudina, Maria, Antonio, Concetta, Adolfo, Vitalio, Fida, Vitalia and the baby of the family, 79-year-old Mafalda.

They are all the children of Francesco Melis and Eleonora Mameli, who were both born in the 1880s.

What was their childhood like?

While the children were growing up, penicillin was discovered, the Great Recession hit and Mussolini marched on Rome. Their father survived three years serving in the First World War, Consolata told the Observer newspaper, and when not at war ran a shop.

Life in Perdasdefogu was not easy and the family lived without running water or electricity, the Observer said, which did not reach the town until the 1950s.

Are the brothers and sisters relaxing in their old age?

They are not taking it easy just yet. Italian daily Corriere della Sera said that Claudia still goes to mass each morning, Antonio cuts firewood and Adolfo runs a bar and tends to a vineyard.

Is being active the key to the Melis’ longevity?

It may well be a contributing factor, although their island upbringing is key.

“Sardinia has a higher prevalence of centenarians than elsewhere in Italy,” the Okinawa Centenarian Study said. Researchers put this down to the low levels of heart disease and cancer, which could result from a number of factors such as diet or genetics.

A national health system may not be necessary; Corriere said that Consolata has cured diseases with ancient recipes passed down from her father, suggesting a doctor on the doorstep is not the answer to reaching 100. 

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Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again – despite fines of up to €3,000

With the return of mass tourism this summer came a new increase in the theft of sand, pebbles and shells from Sardinia’s protected beaches, environmental campaigners say.

Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again - despite fines of up to €3,000
A beach in Sardinia's Porto San Paolo. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP

A campaign group called ‘Sardegna rubata e depredata’ (Sardinia robbed and plundered) estimated that at least six tonnes of sand had been taken from the island’s beaches this year alone, mostly by foreign visitors.

In 2017, it became illegal to remove sand, shells and pebbles from Sardinia’s beaches as they were classed as protected resources. People breaking these rules face fines of between €500 and €3,000 – and anyone caught attempting to take larger quantities risks a prison term.

But it seems that many visitors haven’t got the message, as sand theft – and the number of fines being issued to those caught stealing – has risen again this summer with the return of international tourists.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to protect its coastline?

In July alone, customs officers at Sardinia’s Alghero airport seized 1.4 kilograms of sand from the island’s beaches during systematic bag searches, the Ansa news agency reported on Tuesday.

Items found in the possession of departing passengers at the airport last month reportedly included numerous plastic bottles filled with sand, 743 sea pebbles, 43 shells and a rock weighing 1.2 kg. 

All passengers caught with the illegal souvenirs were fined, police said.

Campaigners said most culprits are foreign tourists who usually “don’t really have a motive”. 

“Perhaps to arouse the envy of friends and relatives, or to recreate the feeling of the holiday in their living rooms, or even to decorate a home aquarium,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“Some do it probably because there is such a sense of discomfort in having to leave the island. They try in a desperate way to take it with them, in their hands, instead of keeping the memories in the heart,” the group said.

In rarer cases, the motive for the theft appears to be profit – with reports in Italian media that bags of precious pink sand from Sardinia’s protected beaches are being sold online to “collectors”.

A couple of French tourists last year were caught trying to board a ferry with 40kg of sand in 14 large plastic bottles in the boot of their car.