Offers Week End Catanzaro - Calabria
Catanzaro, founded by the Byzantines in the 9th Century to control the mountain pass between the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea at Calabria's narrowest point, is the capital of Calabria and its eponymous Province.
Now, Catanzaro is a mid-sized city, whose economy is buoyed-up by government employment and spending, and a university. However, for centuries starting in the 11th century, Catanzaro was involved in large scale and sophisticated silkworm breeding activities, and was the lace and linen capital of the world, supplying the Vatican and many other royal and not so royal courts around the world.
Catanzaro's ancient centers sit on three hills (345 meters above sea level) split by the deeply cut Valle Fiumarella overlooking the Ionian Sea on Calabria's eastern side. The valley is spanned by one of the highest steel bridges in Europe.
At the very top of the highest of these hills is a castle built in 1060 by the Norman conqueror, Roberto il Guidscardo, after he defeated the Byzantines, and the now deconsecrated church of San Omobono, Gothic with Baroque portals, built in the 12th Century by the Sarti Confraternity). The views on any side of the hill top are magnificent, at any time of year.
Further down the hill, still in the "old town" are other churches in the Baroque style, including the the Monte dei Morti, the Chiesa di Rosario, Chiesa San Giovanni, and Chiesa d'Osservanza. In the latter, there are frescoes and paintings done in the 16th Century, and a beautiful Madonna by Gagini.
Palazzo Larussa (at one time Palazzo Fassari) on Catanzaro's main street, Corso Mazzini, is a Florentine looking building that was actually built in the 19th century.
Those travelers who enjoy traditional Italian festivals should arrive at Easter for A Naca, the Good Friday procession during which Catanzarese dress in biblical garb and perform the Stages of the Cross. In July, there is a Feast of the Sailors' Madonna festival. A statue of the Madonna is floated around town on a "barge" amidst a flotilla of other decorated "boats" bedecked with flowers and garlands. During the first 10 days of August, the city puts on a one week market where products and produce from the entire Province of Catanzaro are on display - and very much for sale.
If one spends any time at all in Catanzaro, one will work up an appetite. In the old city, the one dish highly recommended for lunch is a traditional plate called U Morseddu. It's made of liver, peppers and tomato sauce served on a crustless ring of flat bread. Other local dishes include A Tiana (kidney, artichokes, potatoes, peas, bread crumbs and various spices); Sopressata, a spicey sausage, and a variety of cheeses, Pravola, Butirri and Pecorino are among the best. Sweets are devised of figs, nuts, lemon and lemon peel, sometimes candied. For wines, the well-known (and loved) rose Giro from Crotone goes down well, but so do the local wines made from vintages grown on the slopes near Catanzaro.
The City's seaside counterpart, Catanzaro Lido, mostly a seaside resort and small fishing port, lies 5 kilometers east on the Ionian coast. In between, along the Via Cassiodoro, are the newer districts (Gagliano, Pontepiccolo, Corvo, Aranceto) with more modern buildings and most of the light industries that have spawned here in the 20th century, including distilleries and flour mills.
On the road to Lamezia to the west, higher than Catanzaro, is the village of Caraffa, a settlement founded by Albanians where a dialect heavily flavored by Albanian is still spoken, and where men and women don colorful traditional costumes at almost every festa.
At Caraffa one can proceed to Lamezia, or fork north to Tiriolo where at the top of the village one can look east to the Ionian Sea, and west to the Tyrrhenian. Artifacts left by Phoenecians many centuries ago, attest to the ages during which the area has been "trod by man". Tiriolo is also famous for its weaving, particularly of traditional Calabrian shawls.
Catanzaro itself is not the prettiest of Calabrian towns. It is, in some parts, down at the heels, and, admittedly, much of it is on the ugly side. The reason is that the City was virtually wiped-out by earthquake in 1783, and shaken badly all over again in 1832. Between the two quakes, much of "beautiful" Catanzaro was destroyed.
Still, Catanzaro has its pleasures, treasures and fascinations, and as Calabria's capital city deserves a visit. Compensation comes from an open-minded appreciation of its evolution since ancient times. If that is not sufficient, remember, at Catanzaro Lido one can swim, sail, scuba dive. And, at nearby villages and towns, which are not so sullied by modernity, one can catch a glimpse of Calabria at its most elemental. And that's something!