While art and architecture lovers naturally flock to the great art centers of Italy in Florence, Rome and Venice, there’s truly a wealth of art history discover in Calabria. What makes it all so unique is finding that unique Calabrian stamp – a fascinating blend of architectural and artistic styles and the feeling that you’re stepping back in time.
As you travel through Calabria you’ll spot churches–some great cathedrals and others tiny gems–each one both a relic to the past and a part of the living community. Ancient Greek bronzes, Byzantine churches and Norman castles – just a few of the highlights from the top 5 spots in Calabria for art and architecture lovers!
While it’s hard for visitors to imagine today, the town of Gerace in the Reggio Calabria province once had over 100 churches. How many more you ask? 128 to be precise! Gerace is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Italy, and that alone is enough reason to plan a visit. Add a stunning mountaintop setting and you’ve got one of Calabria’s most scenic spots. Of the 19 remaining churches, the Cattedrale dell’Assunta (Assunta Cathedral) is the most impressive. Built in 1045, this huge cathedral is the largest Norman church in Calabria. Strolling through Gerace you can also visit the town’s smaller churches and spot the Norman Castle.
Speaking of castles, one of Calabria’s most beautiful is the Castello Aragonese nearly surrounded by the Ionian Sea at the tip of Le Castella. The history of Le Castella is one of myth and magic, but one thing is certain – the views from the castle are extraordinary! While we’ll never know if it really was the home of Greek goddess Calyso as Homer wrote, walking around the castle and climbing the walls is an enchanting experience.
With a beautiful lungomare stretching out along the Strait of Messina, top notch museums and a lively atmosphere, a visit to Reggio Calabria should be at the top of any art lovers places to see in Calabria. Start off with a visit to the Duomo, or the Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta in Cielo, which is the largest religious structure in Calabria. While churches have been located here since 1543, the Romanesque and Gothic Revival Duomo was completely rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake.
Art lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria dedicated to ancient art from the Magna Graecia period. The highlight of the collection are the Bronzes of Riace, two incredible statues dating from about 450 BC. They were lost in the Ionian Sea for over 2,000 years until discovered in 1972. Considered two of the most important Greek statues in the world, the Bronzes of Riace are currently undergoing a restoration that is open to the public in the Palazzo Campanella near the Museo Nazionale (Via Cardinale Portanova, Reggio Calabria, Open daily 9am to 7:30pm, admission free).
The small mountain village of Stilo is on the art and architecture lovers map of Calabria because it’s home to one of the region’s most beloved churches – the 10th-century Byzantine church La Cattolica. This unique church is the only of its architectural kind in Calabria. It features a Greek cross plan, five domes, intricate brickwork and a picture perfect setting on the slopes of Monte Consolino. Stroll through the town and visit the Duomo with its Roman-Gothic entrance, the Renaissance-era Chiesa di San Francesco and the Baroque-era Chiesa di San Giovanni.
Often described as the Byzantine Capital of Calabria, Rossano is one of the most interesting villages for art and architecture in northern Calabria. The Rossano Duomo is home to the famous 9th-century Byzantine fresco of the Madonna Achiropita, which means “not painted by hand” since it is believed to have been created by angels. A heavenly creation or not, it’s the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis at the Diocesan Museum nearby that is the village’s main attraction. This rare illuminated manuscript depicting the life of Christ was brought to Rossano by Greek monks in the 6th century. Before leaving the village, stop in at the Amarelli Liquorice factory and museum where you can discover more about one of the world’s longest-operating liquorice producers in the world. History never tasted so sweet!
Photo credits: Castello di Gerace by Manlio Tommaso Gaddi, Cathedral of Gerace by kristobalite, Le Castella by Pierpaolo Perri, Duomo di Reggio Calabria by diesus, La Cattolica de Stilo by kristobalite, Rossano Gospels image in public domain.
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