Calabria: some history

Castle, Gerace

Norman Castle, Gerace(RC)

Calabria is one of Italy’s oldest regions. Millions of years ago it was part of the continent Tirrenide, which sank into the sea in the Tertiary Period. From the Archipelago it was made up of three islands and a larger peninsula which attached it to the massive Pollino. Calabria was invested with alluviums which covered its interior water bodies with a mantel of sediment, until eventually forming the current plains of: S. Eufemia, Corace, Sibari, Crati and Mesima.

Later on, erosion and a slow process of a rising coastline resulted in the phenomenon of terracing, until reaching, in some points of the Aspromonte, the thousand meter mark.

Today, Calabria is a narrow peninsula approximately 250 km long, with no point in the territory more that 50 km from the coast. The mountain system stretches from its border with Basilicata to the strait of Messina, and land surface lying less than 200 meters above sea-level represents only 9% of the territory.

The presence of humans in this region dates back to the first phases of antiquity, and around 700,000 years before Christ a type of Homo Erectus evolved leaving many traces of lithic industry spread along some coastal areas.

The arrival of the Ice-Age and the Riss-Glacier swept every trace of human life from the isolette that constituted Calabria. Humans returned to Calabria in the Mid-Paleolithic Period, leaving traces throughout, and during the Stone-Age created, in the Cave of Romito, in the town of Papasidero, “the most majestic and joyous expression of Paleolithic Realism in the Mediterranean”, the “Bos Primigenius”, a figure of a bull on a cliff which dates back 12,000 years. When the Neolithic Revolution came, man changed from hunter to farmer (agriculture), and founded the first villages, around 3,500 B.C., becoming numerous in Calabria.

Bos primigenius,Papasidero

Bos primigenius,Papasidero

During the Iron-Age new people came to Calabria, and around 1500 B.C. the prehistoric phase ended.

Greeks arrived in large masses on the coasts and founded colonies that soon became rich and powerful, and truly merited the name “Magna Graecia.”(Greater Greece!)

The region was called Saturnia, Ausonia, Enotria, Tirrenia, Esperia and finally Italia.

In fact, before the Romans conquered and unified Italy’s many regions under one dominion the inhabitants of the southern part of Calabria were called Italians.

The name, Italy extended from the south, northward, until identifying the entire peninsula by the time of Augustus, in 42 A.D. Numerous and infinite traces of Greek and Roman culture were left on the Calabrese territory.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Calabria remained, for centuries, under the domination of the Byzantines, though Arabs and Lombards tried in vain to conquer the entire territory.

The Normans arrived around 1000 A.D., and created the Kingdom of the South. After the Normans came the Swabians. In the regions of the south, Frederick II created one of the most civilized nations in the world, the famous Kingdom of the Sun, a place to encounter a variety of cultures and civilizations: Western, Islamic and the Greek-Orthodox…

In 1250, Frederick died and the reign fell into the hands of the Angevins, who created an “iron-fisted” feudal system to control the subjects and the territory. The Angevins were followed by the Aragonese, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons, and during these periods the population withdrew to the mountains and highlands, because of malaria, as well as numerous pirate raids along the coast, first by Saracens and then Turks.



This phenomenon created an internal and external isolation, with population centers of the highlands and the valleys unable to communicate, and with impassable roads during the winter season.

When Italy was unified in 1861, Calabria had only one road that crossed it from the north to Reggio in the south; the railroad was nonexistent and 90% of the towns had no internal or external roads. Only the effort of the national government contributed to breaking this isolation. And today, changes in social and economic conditions have resulted in a radical change of direction. Many population centers are situated along the marine coasts and are becoming increasingly more important than their highland counterparts, also because of tourism. But this has also created some problems: land and construction speculation have ruined the landscape in many places, and the dispersion of the population has caused a loss of heritage and cultural traditions that the Calabresi past has marked.


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