Gesso, The Sicilian Village of an American First Lady

Gesso, Sicily

Gesso is the Sicilian village which is believed to be the homeland of Jill Biden’s forefathers. Jill is the wife of the new elect US President Joe Biden and on the occasion the presidential transition from Trump to him, I decided to talk about this so far unknown Sicilian town.

Gesso, indeed, finished under the spotlights in the past November, just soon after the presidential elections, when magazines and daily papers reported the news about the Sicilian roots of the new First Lady.

Just for that, I suppose that you would like to know more about the village of Gesso. If it is so, be ready to read this new travel guide.

Gesso: Tourist Information

Gesso is not even a municipality, because it is so small to have been included in one of the six districts of the municipality of Messina. The village is, indeed, a hamlet with not over 600 inhabitants. The town is placed on a hilly zone overlooking the Peloritani mounts and surrounded by wide woods, pastures, and farms.

The main features of this silent village are the untouched nature, fresh air, and the breathtaking views of the strait of Messina, Etna Mount and Aeolian Islands.

Until a few year ago, Gesso was not a place to put into your travel bucket list, because is so tiny that nobody has ever thought of it as a favorite travel destination, but ever since bookworms retraced the Sicilian origins of Jill Biden, Gesso, the small unknown village in Sicily, Italy, has become very popular all over the world. Why? Because the first Lady has a Sicilian origin.

Jill Biden’s Sicilian roots


The new First lady has Sicilian roots because, in the past century, on the search of a better future, her grandparents emigrated from the small village of Gesso to the United States. Jill’s grandfather, Gaetano Giacoppa, changed his last name into Giacobs, a stylized American surname to avoid distortion in the pronunciation.

Yesterday, as much as today, Sicily didn’t offer any opportunity to its inhabitants, no job, no other else than sun, sea, and tradition. But without a job, living in Sicily is hard and so, even Jill Biden’s grandparents endured the sorrow to leave their birthland.

I am sure they suffered all the difficulty that emigration entails, such as prejudice and racism against Southerners and a strong adaptation to learn English and forget the Sicilian language. But, if the result of this desperate emigration is what we see today, we can say that it was a successful choice.

Jill Biden's cousin in Gesso

Just think that when international reporters arrived in Gesso, in the past November, the Sicilian cousin of Jill (see the image above) said that if the first lady would go to Sicily, her Sicilian relatives were ready to prepare meatballs and baked pasta!

Yes, Gesso is a humble and genuine village that keeps all the simple life of the ancient Sicilian peasants. There aren’t plots, there, neither lies, nor deception, but only the great tradition of Sicily, with its mesmerizing landscape, its unforgettable treats, and delicious recipes, such as Sicilian schiacciata, Sicilian braciola, and the so called Sciuscieddu (soup) of Messina, a tasteful dish with cow meat and ricotta cheese.

Hence, when you visit Gesso, be ready to gain a bit of weight! Anyway, you can lose the additional pounds by walking on foot amid the woods or in the medieval alleys. This hamlet has, indeed, a medieval origin.

Gesso History

The origin of Gesso surely dates to the Middle Age (X-XII centuries AC). At the time, the local people of the coastal area, because of the steady threat of pirates, were forced to leave their villages and move to the shelters in the inland and amid the mountains.

The history reminds us that Gesso was the ground of a battle between The Saracens and the Normans of King Ruggero from Altavilla, just landed to conquer the whole Sicily (1063).

Resulted the winner of the battle, the king ordered the construction of a church and a monastery, in the small district of San Gregorio. They were dedicated just the namesake saint and served as a thanking for the victory of the king. Unfortunately, these two historical buildings were demolished in the past century.

Origin of the name

The name of the village, Gesso, derives from the namesake mineral (Gypsum in Latin and English) which was extracted in several caves of this zone. The extraction terminated in the 1960s. The word is called “ibbisu” in Sicilian. The inhabitants of Gesso, called Ibbisoti, take their name from this same word. 

What to do in Gesso

Gesso Mother Church

The town of Gesso is very small and the only things you can do, apart to taste its delicious recipes, are to visit churches and palaces. They are the brightest symbols of the history of the village. Try to visit the Mother Church (see the image). It is dedicated to Saint Antonio Abbot. It has a baroque style, because built in 1600.

The internal facade has three naves. There are several valuable artworks inside.

The most outstanding are the marble statue depicting the Madonna of Soccorso, the wooden statue and a canvas depicting Saint Antonio from Padova, and the one of the Virgin Mary with saints and the Triumph of the Cross between Jesus and Mary.

Absolutely to be admired, it is a wooden altar nicely engraved with a baroque style.

Another church to visit is Carmine Church, which has a majestic stony entrance dating back Renaissance.

The church is today used to host conferences and meetings. Another visit place is Museum of the Peloritani Mounts that contains music instruments and ancient artifacts of the old Sicilian tradition, such as marionettes called Pupi and the Sicilian Cart.

Absolutely to be seen it is the Festival of the Patron of the village, Saint Antonio Abbot (see the image), which is celebrated every year on January 17 and on the second Sunday of August with a scenic procession where faithful creates touching illuminations along the streets of the village.

How to reach Gesso

Gesso village map

Gesso belongs to the commune of Messina. You don’t need a map to visit it.  You can reach the village from Catania airport by bus or taxi, along an evocative and winding alley, namely Strada Statale 113. During this short trip, you’ll admire the vibrant Sicilian landscape, the view of Etna mount and the flourishing, typical Sicily’s vegetation.

There is no much to do there, but Gesso is a good opportunity to recall your Sicilian roots or to move into a quiet and silent landscape. There are also several old houses in Gesso. I don’t know if they are for sale for 1 euro, but a vacation in the town may allow you to get information on the spot and, perhaps, buy a picturesque Sicilian property to renovate your own way.

Meanwhile, it is better you look for a pretty accommodation in order to enjoy your vacation there, without concerns. You can select your favorite accommodation, hotel, guest house and more, here.

Photocredits in order of appearance:

Google Map

11 thoughts on “Gesso, The Sicilian Village of an American First Lady

  1. Torianna

    NO WAY! The cheater liar has ZERO Sicilian roots! Why would you even write about these freaks? Dont you have ANY clue on who they really are?? OMG!

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Torianna,
      This is a travel blog and when established newspapers release news about a place,
      my duty is to provide information about this place and mention the related news.

      1. Anna

        Hello Rosalba – I found this site while researching the jewelry my Sicilian grandmother brought to the US when she emigrated in 1909. She was a Guidara from Condró, and her mother was a MANCUSO.
        It would be so interesting to learn if we are related, and I’d love to hear from you! Sincerely Anna

        1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

          Hi Anna, thanks for sharing this with me.
          Mancuso is a traditional surname of Sicily. There are many Mancuso families in my island, even thought they don’t share any kinship among them.
          Hence, no, I think we are not relatives, but it is always nice to hear about the courageous history of people who have my same last name.

      2. Patricia Cessaro Baumgartel

        Hi Rosalba, My name is Patricia Cessaro “Cessato” Baumgartel. My Daughter and I are planning to visit Gesso in October 2023. We are hoping to find our Families. My Greatgrandfather left Gesso in the 1890’s He Married Caterina Sacco she also left Gesso 1890 – 1900. I’m hoping you can give us some information for the procedure locating families. Please if you’re able to possibly guide us through our Search.

        1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

          Hi Patricia,
          Gesso is a small hamlet that is ruled by the municipality of Messina.
          For your search, you can reach the website of the metropolitan city of Messina
          at this link:
          However, it is better if you reach the public officers on the spot.
          The office which takes care of the population in Gesso is located in Piazza Unione Europea, in Messina, but it has detached offices in the
          hamlet of Ganzirri. You find the addresses and the phone numbers in the link I provided above. I hope all this helps.

    2. ah

      What truly horrible things to say about any person!
      When you use such language you really should look in the mirror to see the kind of person who thinks this is acceptable. Then think about how YOU would feel if it was said about you. It made me sick to my stomach.

  2. Theresa Giacobbe Grieco

    Beautiful Article, Thank You Rosalba. My Father ‘s family came from Gesso they became berry& fruit farmers in Hammonton New Jersey. My father game me a book called the Italian on the land, it studies research done on Italian immigrants by Emily Fogg Meade (who’s daughter would become the famous anthropologist Margaret Meade.) My fathers name was Giacobbe and he confirmed that going to high school that Jill Biden was said to be a cousin! We are honored and proud! Thank You Theresa

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thank you so much, Theresa, for appreciating my article and for sharing your family history with me.
      I am honored, too, for your kind appreciation and happy to learn that famous American people have stunning Sicilian roots.

  3. Rosemary Augustine

    I’m learning that my great grandparents were from Gesso… Wow… pretty cool. Thanks!

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Rosemary,
      I am glad this article helped you discover your Sicilian roots.
      Thank you for reading and appreciating it.

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