Having spent three weeks in Sicily and Italy I had difficulty in deciding which place I should choose to describe first. Thinking about Calabria, the first thing that comes to my mind (despite cities) is the hotel, where we had so many problems.
However, I am going to start with an introduction and definitely positive things.
Calabria: A Destination for History Lovers
History of Calabria
Calabria`s history dates back to the third century BC. Its name originally was given to the Adriatic coast of the Salento peninsula in Apulia. The history of this region is so abundant that it is impossible to include everything in one short text. Although Calabria is one of the least popular Italian travelling destinations, there are many fascinating places that originated here from ancient times. Without knowing the history of this place, travelling there, in my opinion, seems to be completely pointless.
During the eighth century BC Greek settlers founded many colonies in the regions known as Magna Grecia, that is the coastal areas of Southern Italy (Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily). This period in Italian and naturally Calabrian history is vital. In the southern regions of Sicily you may even get the impression of being in Greece. In this way you can see how much the ancient history has influenced today`s shape of this island. However, let`s come back to Calabria. During the period of Magna Grecia there were 9 great poets born there. We can mention: Kroton, Milo of Croton, and Stesichorus.
The period of Roman domination was completely different. After living the Greek Romans imposed their rules and re-shaped the culture. Nevertheless, places such as the Greek theaters or temples weren`t destroyed. Then after the fall of the Roman Empire, temples were very often transformed into churches.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian Peninsula was invaded by the eastern Goths (Ostrogoths) and then Lombards in the north. Nevertheless in the south part, in 6th century B.C, the Byzantines had come into power. Around 800 AD, the Saracens began invading this region. Then they had already been successful in Sicily. However in Calabria their power was never strong. It is worth mentioning that they introduced into Calabrian cuisine citrus fruits, eggplants, cloves and nutmeg.
While the Saracens and Byzantines were fighting to get control of these lands, another group became interested in conquering it. In the middle of the XI century Normans conquered it all. In 1130 The Pope gave the Roger II the Kingdom of Sicily and all of the Norman-controlled areas of southern Italy-Campania (including Naples), Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria.
Another important period is Spanish domination which lasted from 1190 to 1700. In 1501, Calabria came under power of Ferdinand II of Aragon. Spanish rule worked in introducing elements characteristic for Spanish architecture of this period. Another feature can be seen in the language, for example in many proper nouns as Playa instead of Italian Spiaggia.
Where to visit in Calabria
If you are interested or have just became interested in Calabrian history, the following places may seem to be worth visiting. The first is Museo Archeologico Reggio di Calabria. It is not a very big museum but as it is dedicated to Magna Grecia you can see there beautiful bronze sculptures.
Another place that I would like to mention is Parco Archeologico della Villa Romana in Casignana. One of their offers which seems to be the most interesting is aimed at ancient history lovers. It comprises a week of intensive sightseeing. The tour involves visiting: Parco Archeologico ArcheoDeri, Synagogue (the oldest in this part of the world), Villa Romana archeological area Locri Epizephyri (Magna Grecia), ruins of greek-roman theatre and a 9th-century church in the Byzantine style in Stilo.
Castello Aragonese is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Italy. It dates back to the XVth century. However its foundations come from Magna Grecia period. There Aragonese Fortress has been almost completely restored.
Another interesting castle to visit is Castello di Corigliano Calabro. It dates back to XIth century and was built by the Normans. Then it was changed by the noble families of Sanseverino, Saluzzo and the barons of Campagna.
Another place worth visiting is Tropea, one of the most charming cities in Calabria. It is situated on a reef in the gulf of St. Euphemia which is connected with the Tyrrhenian Sea. The history of this place dates back to the Roman times when Octavius was defeated by Sextus Pompey. Then, Romans built the commercial port. Among place I have seen, first I should mention Norman cathedral The Virgin Mary of Romania, of Byzantine origin which is dated back to 1330. According to one of the legends, a boat coming from the East-Byzantine Empire during a storm was driven there. During the same night the Bishop of the city, Ambrogio Cordova had a dream of Virgin Mary asking him to stay in Tropea. The Virgin Mary also promised to defend the city. If you are interested in sacred architecture, you should see also a small church situated on a reef, Santa Maria dell’Isola. Its history is dated back to 1066.
Without any doubt Tropea belongs to those Italian charming cities, where you can walk for hours and hours. Its streets and corners are unique and beautiful.
What to eat and where to stay in Calabria
If it comes to food, the only thing that remained in my memory is traditional Calabrian products made in an ecological way. “Artemide” situated in Riccia (Contrada Fontecupa, 401 86016 Riccia) offers rural tourism. They offer 3 spacious rooms, all with ensuite bathrooms and each with their own character suitable for couples, families and small groups. Their farm was founded by the owner`s grandfather in 1924. Despite typical rural activities, you can visit Decorata lake which is surrounded by oak woods and lies a few kilometers away. Within the 60 kilometers it is possible to visit Matese regional park. Another place worth visiting is medieval tower and museum of local life and crafts near to Riccia.
They have also a small shops where you can buy their product which are made in a typical and healthy way. I had an opportunity to observe their work during production. I can recommend their pesto, pasta and olives.
The last place I would like to pay your attention is a hotel San Domenico, situated in Parghelia, 3 kilometers from Tropea. When I started writing this text about 3 weeks ago, it seemed to me that there isn`t any single positive thing about this place. Probably it is one the worst hotels I have ever been. The staff doesn`t speak English at all (despite animators). The quality of the food was terrible. If it comes to the rooms many guests got rooms without air conditioning, with insects and without hot water. There are many posts about it in websites such as Tripadvisor. I didn`t have these problems, but they should pay more attention to the quality of their services. However, I was very satisfied with the views and surroundings. I didn`t spend much time in the swimming pool and preferred observe amazing sunsets, walk along the beach and admire the Tyrrhenian Sea.