After the fall of the Roman Empire, a host of invaders flocked across southern Italy, establishing some of the most charming villages in Calabria. This period in our history is called “the Middle Ages,” and the towns they created along the way-Medieval villages-are everywhere in Calabria.
Travelers and expats alike are mesmerized by these towns, monuments of Calabria’s tormented past whose varied architecture represents the changing times.
If you are planning on visiting Calabria, here is a quick rundown on some of the most popular medieval villages in the region.
1. Gerace (RC)
Gerace is to medieval villages what Rome is roman ruins … in other words, it is the bomb diggity of cool mountain villages.
Located in the Aspromonte mountains in the province of Reggio Calabria, Gerace is considered to be the best preserved medieval village in Italy. The Assunta Cathedral, built in 1045, is the largest religious structure in Calabria and features cylindrical apses, arches and three naves. Other interesting sites in the village include the Norman Castle, the Byzantine Church of San Giovannello and the San Francesco Convent and Church.
2. Stilo (RC)
Stilo is a small mountain village just 30 miles north of Gerace at the foot of Mount Consolino and is home to one of Calabria’s most beloved icons, La Cattolica.
Stilo was one of the most important Byzantine centers in Calabria and housed Basilian monks and hermits who fled from persecution in the 10th Century. The five-domed church, La Cattolica, is the main attraction, but the Gothic-Swabian Duomo, Church of San Francesco and the Convent Church of San Domenico are also worth a look.
3. Monasterace (RC)
Ruins of a Byzantine castle are the focal point of this tiny village that overlooks the Ionian coast in the province of Reggio Calabria.
In addition to the castle that once housed the royal Caracciolo, Conclubet and Monaco families, visitors can visit the S. Croce Parochial and see a canvas that dates back to the early 700s or visit the remains of a Greek hill at nearby Kaulonia.
4. Pentidattilo (RC)
Pentidattilo, or five fingers, is not only a interesting village because of the Medieval churches and countryside views, but because of its formidable history that lead the city to be named one of Italy’s Città Morte.
The five fingers of Pentidattilo loom above the village, an ominous reminder of the decades of earthquake destruction and mandatory evacuations that cleared the village, as well as of the notorious Alberti family Massacre on Easter, 1686.
Interesting things to see include The Church of Saint Peter and Paul with its massive bell tower, numerous statues and the tomb of Don Giuseppe Alberti and the Chiesa della Candelora.
5. Santa Severina (KR)
Santa Severina hangs on a rock-filled ledge in the province of Crotone overlooking the Neto River valley.
The town is a testament to the groups who conquered this part of Italy and many of the architectural elements of the medieval times remain. The 11th Century Norman Castle overpowers the Byzantine ruins on which it was built and is referred to as “the stone ship,” for the strong walls that guard the castle’s entrance. The Baptistery, a circular building with four appendages with 10th and 11th Century frescos is the only Byzantine baptistery in Calabria still intact.
6. Cutro (KR)
Cutro is not only interesting for its Medieval city center and abandoned tower that dates back to the early 400s, but it is also well-known for its bread-pane di Cutro-that is made with durum wheat and has a signature thick crust.
A visit to the city should include a stop in a local bakery, as well as the Monachelle Church, with its Renaissance portal, the Santa Maria della Pietà Church and the Frati Minori Convent with its bell tower and 17th Century wooden crucifix.
Was your favorite medieval village left off of the list? Come back next week to see my pick of villages from the provinces of Catanzaro, Cosenza and Vibo Valentia.
Traveling to southern Italy? Click here to see how I can help with your Calabria travel plans.