The only official trace of his existence was his birth certificate, which had been locked in a hospital drawer since 1953.
It might seem impossible that someone could live their life invisible to the state in today's “big brother” society, and the story of how it came to pass involves an exceptional and convoluted set of circumstances.
La Repubblica reported that after being born the boy, known as Pietro, was placed in the care of a school run by nuns in Reggio Emilia, a city in the Emilia-Romagna region, because his mother decided she could not support him. He had never met his father.
The school was never required to ensure he was registered, and so Pietro grew up invisible to the state, left school and moved to Genoa to find work.
In Genoa he had been working without a contract, and paying rent in cash since the 1970s. He had never been in trouble with the law, and had neither left the country, been to the hospital or opened a bank account, thus avoiding the need for documentation.
His unregistered life was just fine – until two and a half months ago, when at the ripe old age of 62, Pietro had a problem. He needed to have a medical check-up, for which he needed an identity card.
Pietro decided to finally go and get one, but was unable to provide the civil registry office with any information besides his name and birthday.
He had nothing to prove his identity, show his marital status or place of birth, and did not know if he had any brothers or sisters.
This meant it was impossible for him to be issued with the document, creating a huge problem for the civil registry office in Genoa.
“At first we didn't think it was true,” registry office employee Vilma Viarengo told La Repubblica. “It was very difficult to reconstruct his life because we had such little information to go on.”
Obtaining the birth certificate was no easy feat for the registry office workers. Even though Pietro knew he had been born in Reggio Emilia, hours of frustrating searching initially failed to turn up the only official document that proved he existed.
But a few months later, the birth certificate was finally found. The cause of the problem? Although Pietro had been born in the north eastern city of Reggio Emilia, his mother had registered the birth certificate in the southern city of Reggio Calabria, where she claimed to be living at the time.
Once in possession of the birth certificate, the registry office sent the police to speak to Pietro's neighbours, in order to verify if the strange story was true.
They confirmed that yes, he was Pietro and had been living there for years.
And so, Pietro was finally issued with an identity card after 62 years, meaning he could go for his first ever medical check-up.
Viarengo said he was delighted to finally receive the official document.
“When we gave it to him, his eyes lit up as though he'd been reborn.”