Located in the south of Italy, nestled between the regions of Puglia to the east and Sicily to the west is Calabria. This often overlooked region contains some of the most picturesque scenery in Italy, with mountains in its interior and a long coastline with beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. In this post I will provide a brief introduction to this often overlooked and untouched region and highlight some places of interest.
Calabria has a long history, it was colonised by the ancient Greeks, this part of Italy was known as Magna Greacia (greater Greece) the landscape was dotted with Greek towns such as Locri. In the Roman period the area was known as Brutium, the landscape was wooded with the sea playing an important part in trade. After the fall of Rome, the Byzantines (Greeks) ruled Calabria, building many churches in hilltop towns such as Gerace. The Normans, French, Spanish all ruled over this region until it was finally incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in the C19.
During the C19 -20 Calabria suffered due to the Mafia, war and the economy. Because of this many people emigrated to Europe and America. The infrastructure has also been slow in reaching this part of the country, consequently there are few trains and driving is recommended if you want to explore the interior of Calabria.
Santa Caterina Dello Ionio Marina
Located next to the Ionion sea, with the mountains as its backdrop lies Santa Caterina dello Ionio. A quiet sleepy town, a relatively new town with a church, train station, several café’s and a white beach. A bar near this beach regularly plays traditional music such as the Tarantella ( tarantula in English).
Santa Caterina Dello Ionio
Within the mountaintops lies the old historic town, today few travellers venture up into the mountains. However, it’s well worth doing because on the top of the hills you get a wonderful view of the sea and the surrounding landscape but also a insight into how little this region has changed.
The population has dwindled in recent years due to emigration and earthquakes. I found the locals to be friendly and they often invited us in for a glass of wine. I walked around this old town in the evening, the crumbling ruins of some of the houses made the place feel more enchanting. In the centre of the town, I was told that a aristocrat used to live in a large town. I later found out that this C18 town house was home to the Marquise of Francia, now the house is left in a dilapidated state. We walked around the eerie interior, with its magnificent staircase up into what must have been the ball room, glass shattered on the floor. Many of the buildings were left in such a state because of regular earthquakes which affect this area. When we left the town and drove back through the winding roads towards the sea, I felt like I had experienced the real Calabria. I wondered, how long would this last?
Further down the coast in the vicinity of the ancient Greek town of Locri is Gerace. This medieval town has its roots in the Neolithic period, it became an administrative and religious center under the Byzantines. Situated on top of a hill, the views are spectacular. The town once boasted 128 churches but today the most impressive is the Norman Cathedral, this was unfortunately closed when we visited however you can get a scale of it just by the exterior with its grand nave.
Situated along the coast near Reggio Calabria lies Tropea, nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean sea is this picturesque town. The highlights of this town,include an early church located high up on hill adjacent to the clear white sands of the beach. The town itself is perched on the side of steep cliff, it appears as though at some point probably in the 19C an arched structure, was built to support the houses above.
There are many sides to Calabria, from the beaches to the ancient hilltop towns. In economic terms it has always been poorer than the north, however It has a warmth and character, the locals are friendly and the food is distinct. At the moment few people visit this part of Italy, preferring the delights of Tuscany and Rome. Perhaps it is better that way.
Author: Jeremy Hallatt
Photos: All photos taken by author