The city has ancient origins and according to some theories it was founded by the ancient Greek colony that later became Scolacium.
In fact, legend has it that Magna Graecia, located just a few hundred metres from the seafaring district of Catanzaro, was founded by Ulysses thanks to the area’s unique characteristics which made it an almost obligatory passing point between East and West.
Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria and of the ancient province of Calabria Ultra, is often referred to as the City between two seas. This is because of its location on the Isthmus of Catanzaro, Italy’s narrowest point, which separates the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts and is just 35 kilometres long.
The name Katantzárion may, in fact, be related to the Greek verb "katartizen", meaning "to prepare” or "to make" with reference to the silk industry. In Italy, Catanzaro is often referred to as the Città delle tre V (City of the Three Vs), in reference to three of its historical distinguishing features, namely vento (wind), velluto (velvet), and Vitaliano, the Patron Saint. Catanzaro is cooled down by the constant strong breezes from the Ionian, Tyrrhenian, and Silan regions, which generate persistent gusts of powerful wind. Velvet, together with damasks and silks, brought prestige and wealth to the city. In Catanzaro, the thriving silkworm industry developed the artisanal silk and fabric trade to such an extent that the city gained an international reputation for the quality of its silk. However, the invention of Jacquard looms meant that from 1800 the craft started becoming industrialised, thus devaluing its artisanal quality.
Saint Vitaliano is the patron saint of the city and his relics were sent to Catanzaro as a sign of appreciation for the welcome given by the city to Pope Callixtus II.
Catanzaro is a major business, commercial and cultural centre for the whole of Calabria, and is home to many important administrative offices, including the headquarters of the Regional Government.
Since 1982 it has been the site of the Magna Graecia State University, whose main courses of study include medicine, pharmacy, and law, as well as numerous innovative degree programmes.
The city is equipped with prestigious and modern cultural facilities, such as the new Politeama Theatre, designed by Paolo Portoghesi; the museum area of the monumental complex of San Giovanni, which hosts important exhibitions; the open-air "Magna Grecia” Arena; and the Auditorium "Casalinuovo".
The historic centre has some important historical monuments, including the Duomo, where you can admire the Madonna and Child, a 16th-century statue by Antonello Gagini da Messina. The Norman Tower, with its square and crenellated shape, is all that remains of the ancient Norman castle.
Villa Trieste is surrounded by beautiful gardens with rare plants and marble busts of world famous Calabrians. Furthermore, the Belvedere is a perfect vantage point from which you can take in the views of the Fiumarella valley and the Gulf of Squillace. The Provincial Museum, located in the Villa Comunale, houses a collection of prehistoric artefacts and ancient coins.
The Duomo, the city's main church, was built in the 12th century and subsequently rebuilt on numerous occasions. The first cathedral, on which the current cathedral stands, was built in 1121 in Norman times and was dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and the Apostles Peter and Paul. In 1309, the chapel dedicated to the patron saint, Vitaliano, was built near the entrance to the Porta dell’olmo. His relics are now housed there together with those of Saint Fortunatus and Saint Ireneus, patron saints of the city during the Byzantine era. The current structure features three stunning bronze doors on the main facade and three on the side facade overlooking Piazza Duomo, while on the right you can see the 42-metre-tall bell tower which is crowned by the bronze statue of the Assumption. Inside you can admire the painting of Madonna of the Angels with Child of the school of Messina; a bust of the city's patron saint, Saint Vitaliano, displayed in the chapel dedicated to him; and, in the apse, an 18th-century painting of the Assumption.
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the most cherished building of worship for the people of Catanzaro. Built in 1254 in the heart of the city, over time the Church has undergone major renovation and extension works that have contributed to its current appearance. The interior is in the shape of a Latin cross with several chapels, each of which belonged to a noble family that embellished it with polychrome marble and stucco altars. Among the works of art on display you can admire the 18th-century wooden statue of Saint Rocco which was built in Naples, and the 18th-century wooden statues of Saint Joseph, Our Lady of Sorrows, Saint Michael, and Saint Alphonsus, from the suppressed Church of Santa Caterina.
This architectural giant was built in 1962 by Architect Riccardo Morandi. At the time of construction, it was the second largest single arch reinforced concrete bridge in Europe and in the world in terms of span width. When under construction, the bridge’s supporting beam was the largest in the world at a height of 120 metres and was able to withstand wind speeds of 140 km/h. Today the structure is the second tallest in Europe and the first and the only one in Italy with regard to its span, height, and length. The sheer size and features of this reinforced concrete structure have made it a real symbol of engineering and architecture. In fact, it has even become a landmark of the city and one of the most famous identifying features of Calabria in the world.
Monumental Complex of San Giovanni
The Monumental Complex of San Giovanni was built between the 15th and 17th centuries on the remains of the Norman-Swabian castle, using the materials of the imposing fortress. The monumental fountain of "Il Cavatore” (the Quarryman), a work by the Calabrian sculptor Giuseppe Rito is also part of the complex. It stands out for its contrasting colours, including a bronze sculpture of a workman and a grey granite base from which the water flows. Both parts of the fountain are contained within a brick, neoclassical style alcove. Also part of the complex are the large panoramic square, the Tower of Charles V, and the remaining castle walls. The Monumental Complex of San Giovanni boasts a large exhibition area, arranged across two floors, which is accessed via a beautiful staircase leading to the inner courtyard and then to the many rooms. Today the monumental complex, after careful restoration, has become one of the most important and prestigious cultural and exhibition centres in Southern Italy. In 2017 the ancient dungeons of the castle were unearthed and restored to become completely safe and as accessible as possible thanks to a complex redevelopment project. Over the centuries, the Gallerie del San Giovanni has been used for many different purposes. It was first used as a hospital, then as a convent by the Teresian Fathers. Later it became the site of the military engineering offices before finally becoming a prison. The past of the enigmatic and damp underground passageways is still a mystery to many, but we now know at least some of their uses. They were built not only to allow the Signorias of days gone by to have easy access to their places of worship, but also to enable soldiers to move or escape quickly in case of attack.
The Politeama theatre, the youngest of the great Italian theatres, is deeply rooted in the city’s ancient theatrical tradition. In fact, the Teatro Real Francesco, which subsequently became Teatro Comunale, was once the life and soul of the city. The structure of the theatre respects the architectural standards of the Italian classical theatre tradition, with a parterre that undulates across an almost concave surface. Following the curved lines of the theatre, the five tiers of boxes face each other and are decorated with seven-pointed stars representing musical symbols. Thanks to the large size of the stage and its technical equipment, a wide variety of performances can be held at the theatre including musicals, operas, symphonies, dance performances, dramatic productions, and musicals. An artistic fountain designed by architect Portoghesi can also be admired in the theatre’s entrance square.
Biodiversity Park and the International Sculpture Park
The Park consists of a green area of over 60 hectares situated in the heart of the city of Catanzaro and is an ecosystem in which a great variety of flora and fauna coexist. Above all, it is a multi-thematic space in which the naturalistic dimension is intertwined with the cultural, sporting, and recreational one. The Park is home to the CRAS (Wild Animals Recovery Centre) headquarters, MUSMI (“Brigata Catanzaro” Military Historical Museum) and the Provincial Police Force.
The prestigious open air collection of contemporary art promoted by the MARCA (Museum of the Arts of Catanzaro) is well worth a visit. It exhibits installations by Dennis Oppenheim (Electric Kisses), Tony Cragg (Cast glance), Jan Fabre (De man de wolken meet/The man who measures the clouds), Mimmo Paladino (Testimoni/Testimonies), seven iron sculptures from the Time Horizon cycle by Antony Gormley, a cement mixer by Wim Delvoye, Totem (a sculpture of Darth Vader) by Marc Quinn, and, finally, a painted bronze diptych by Stephan Balkenhol portraying a man and a dancer.
Museum of the Arts
MARCA is a multifunctional museum centre where different artistic expressions, from ancient art to contemporary language, stand side by side. The Museum is located in an ancient palazzo in the historic centre of Catanzaro and is spread over three levels. The building is surrounded by a garden and courtyard and a large terrace overlooks the city panorama. The current exhibition is divided into three rooms and consists of a wealth of creations that date back to between the 16th and 20th century. You will also find the works of the Rotella Foundation, dedicated to Catanzaro artist Mimmo Rotella, one of the greatest masters of the last century. The ground floor houses the Provincial Gallery and Plaster Cast Gallery which displays about 120 paintings and sculptures. On the first floor you will find the permanent Rotella collection and rooms for temporary exhibitions. The basement contains the multi-purpose centre of contemporary culture.
Catanzaro Lido is the coastal district of the nearby city of Catanzaro. It extends along the Ionian coast in the Gulf of Squillace. Originally known as Marina di Catanzaro, its promenade boasts a number of bathing establishments, hotels, and bars. The beach of Catanzaro Lido is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful urban beaches in Calabria. As it curves along the coastline it appears to be hugged by the buildings that rise just a stone’s throw away from the shore. The colours of the beach’s small grey pebbles also seem to perfectly enhance the cement of the houses just opposite. In addition to its typical seaside character, the urban area of Catanzaro Lido boasts many religious buildings and monuments of historical and cultural significance, including the Anchor, an imposing monument consisting of a concrete structure and a huge bronze anchor about 6 metres tall, which is situated on the sea front and is dedicated to those who died at sea; the 30-metre tall Tonnina Tower, which was part of the Ledoga, a factory that produced Tannins and from which the tower takes its name; and finally,acircular buoy with a 6 metre diameter which is located on the seafront of Gutta and is used for mooring fishing boats.
The staple ingredients of Catanzaro’s cuisine are simple and authentic, such as olive oil, chilli pepper, and wholemeal bread. Some must-try local specialities include pasta chjna, which consists of pasta stuffed with provola cheese, boiled eggs, and soppressata and then seasoned with meat sauce and grated cheese; and ciambrotta, a vegetarian dish comprising dried pasta accompanied by fried eggs and pecorino cheese. The most famous dish is undoubtedly u Murzeddhu, a distinctive tripe dish cooked over a low heat with a spicy sauce. Traditionally, Morzello (an offal sauce) is eaten inside a Pitta, a special bread with a circular shape. Stigghiole, which consists of goat, veal or pork entrails cooked with tomato, vegetables, and chilli pepper, is another dish not to be missed. Among the typical desserts are crocette, which consist of dried figs stuffed with walnuts, cinnamon, and candied citron and baked in the oven. As with other desserts, it is practically compulsory to eat crocette accompanied by a local Malvasia wine.