VERBANIA, Italy — Surrounded by relatives and neighbors, Italy’s Emma Morano greeted with a smile the news that she, at 116, is now the oldest person in the world. Not only that, but she is believed to be the last surviving person in the world born in the 1800s, with a birthdate of Nov 29, 1899. That’s just 4 ½ months after Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died Thursday in New York, also at 116. 

Journalists on Friday descended on Morano’s home in Verbania, a northern Italian mountain town overlooking Lake Major, to document her achievement, but had to wait until she finished a nap to greet her. Morano lives in a neat one-room apartment, which she no longer leaves, and is kept company by a caregiver and two elderly nieces. Morano told The Associated Press last year that she attributes her longevity to her unusual diet: Raw eggs every day — a diet she’s been on for decades after a sickly childhood. She said she is down to 2 raw eggs a day and 150 grams of raw steak after a bout of anemia. 

My father brought me to the doctor, and when he saw me he said, ‘Such a beautiful girl. If you had come just 2 days later, I would have not been able to save you.’ He told me to eat 2 or 3 eggs a day, so I eat 2 eggs a day,“ she said at the time. Her physician, Dr. Carlo Bava, is convinced there’s a genetic component to Morano’s longevity along with her positive attitude. "From a strictly medical and scientific point of view, she can be considered a phenomenon,” he said last year, noting that Morano has been in stable, good health for years. 

Italy is known for its centenarians — many of whom live on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia — and gerontologists at the University of Milan are studying Morano, along with a handful of Italians over 105, to try to figure out why they live so long. During a visit last summer, Morano was in feisty spirits, displaying the sharp wit and fine voice that used to stop men in their tracks. “I sang in my house, and people on the road stopped to hear me singing. And then they had to run, because they were late and should go to work,” she recalled, before breaking into a round of the 1930s Italian love song “Parlami d'amore Mariu.”


Merano, Alto Adige, (Meran, Südtirol), Italy

Most of the inhabitants of this province are German speakers. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled Südtirol until 1918 (end of World War One), when it was annexed to the victorious Italy, as clearly revealed by its buildings’ architecture. Some years after the end of the war, Mussolini’s Fascism ordered to Italianize every local place name (for example, Südtirol became Alto Adige (Upper Adige river) and Meran became Merano).

Moreover, the German language was forbidden and the locals suffered a large oppression.

At the end of the WWII (1940-1945 for Italy), a broad autonomy was granted to the area by new Republican Italian government, but these things of the past still make the relations between Germans and local Italian-speakers (about 26% of the inhabitants) quite troublesome. Basically, the two groups (more a 4.5% of Ladin speakers, a new Latin language) lived actually in two separate worlds.

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