Like most of southern Italy, Calabria has castles sprinkled throughout its medieval towns and villages. There are hundreds of them, some with barely a glimmer from their glory days, others remaining imposing monuments of their ancestors’ conquests.
Some you can enter, walk around and peer outwards from within their hollowed walls, while others are viewable only from the outside. Some are grand. Some are small. But they are all pretty damn remarkable.
Here are five of my favorite castles in Calabria.
Photo: Panoramio by RomanV
Ruffo Castle, Scilla (RC)
Newsletters subscribers might remember the Ruffo Castle from the December, 09 edition of Calabria Close-Up. This mysterious fortress sits on a crag overlooking the Marina Grande and Chianalea bays on Calabria’s west coast. It was once home to Calabria’s noble Ruffo family, and later became a monastery and church of the Basilian Fathers. Like much of Magna Graecia, the castle was conquered by the Normans and then fell under Swabian, Angevin and Argonese control … to name a few. The staircase and entrance hall are some of the most impressive remains of the castle.
Murat Castle, Pizzo (VV)
This imposing fort overlooks the main piazza in Pizzo and was witness to the 1815 execution of the King of Naples, Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, Jacques Murat.
The castle was built in the 15th Century by Ferdinand I of Aragon. According to 16th Century documentation, the castle held a small courtyard, a prison and a secret footpath that allowed residents to quickly escape the castle, and in fact, the city of Pizzo, in the event of an attack. Today the castle houses a museum dedicated to Murat.
Le Castella, Capo Rizzuto (KR)
One of the most famous icons representing Calabria is Le Castella, the 13th Century Argonese castle at Capo Rizzuto. In 1536, the castle was attacked by the Algerian pirate, Khair ed-Din, also known as “Barbrarossa,” and later by Turkish pirate, Dragut. For years the castle served as a lookout point, protecting inhabitants from sea raids-albeit not always well-given the two aforementioned attacks.
Le Castella is also known as being the mythical hiding place where Ulysses was held hostage in the Odyssey. Today, you can explore the ruins of the castle, swim in the waters that brush her feet or picnic in the shade of her massive tower.
Photo: Panoramio by Barnabe_78830
Torre Talao, Scalea (CS)
This coastal fortress was erected in the 16th Century to defend Scalea and her residents from Turkish invasions. Although today the tower sits on a peninsula overlooking the sea, the land was originally an island that has dried over the years. Interesting, yes, but not quite as fascinating as the fact that the caves near Torre Talao date back 30,000 years and show evidence of prehistoric life. During the last century, Princess Louise of Austria, the former Queen of Saxony, was a guest in the castle.
The Castle of Squillace, Squillace (CZ)
Rounding out my list of five fabulous fortresses-one from each province-is an imposing castle located about 15 minutes from me, right here in the province of Catanzaro.
This Byzantine castle was built on the ruins of the monastery of Cassiodorus, a famous Roman statesman, writer and monk who was born in Squillace. Like the other castles on this list, and in fact, most of the castles in Calabria, it was conquered, added to and renovated by the various forces who occupied the town. However, two of the castle’s most infamous guests were discovered in 1994, bound together in an eternal embrace in the polygonal tower and date back to between 1200 and 1300 AD.
Like I said, there are hundreds of castles in Calabria and southern Italy. Which ones are your favorites?
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