Cosenza, also known as the City of the Bruzis, is one of the oldest cities in Calabria and extends across seven hills in the valley of the Crati river, by the confluence of the Busento tributary.
The origins of the city date back to the fourth century BC, when it became strategically important for the Bruzi family.
Cosenza was the birthplace of Parrasio and Telesio, two scholars who prized the city for its culture, dubbing it the Athens of Italy.
It was first ruled by the Lombards and then by the Byzantines, who named it Constantia, before being put under Norman control. Among the capital cities of Calabria, Cosenza is one of the most important in terms of economic activities and is undergoing a rapid period of development. Thanks to the University of Calabria it is also one of the most illustrious capitals in the field of art and culture.
The Cosentina Academy, which the humanist Parrasio founded at the beginning of the 16th century and which, in the same century, was attended by philosopher of nature, Bernadino Telesio, is still thriving. Both these philosophers are among the Cosentian scholars who highly valued the city for its cultural significance and who dubbed it the Athens of Italy. Today, the city’s cultural spirit has the full support of the University of Calabria, the largest state university in the region and the first university campus in Italy.
Upstream of the confluence, near the banks of the Crati, lies the old town which clings to the slope of the Pancrazio hill. Visitors can soak up its medieval atmosphere which evokes its history as the home of the Bruzi family. Since the last decades of the 19th century, the new town has been expanding evenly across the plain below.In recent years, the ancient city has seen a revival of its vibrant past. The historic centre is among the oldest and most beautiful in Italy, with its monumental buildings, manor houses, churches and urban design characterised by narrow and winding alleys that attest to its conformity. The city’s cultural life boasts many theatrical initiatives that are predominantly organised by the traditional Alfonso Rendano theatre, the historic Cinemateatro Italia and the Teatro Stabile d'Innovazione della Calabria. The Brettii Museum, which opened to visitors in 2009, can be found in the 15th century monumental complex of Sant’Agostino and is considered the cultural heart of the city.
Another of the city’s most impressive attractions is the Bilotti Open-Air Museum, which displays numerous reproductions of works of art along the length of the city’s main street. The new Science Museum and Planetarium, consisting of a large dome set inside a white steel structure, is also a must-visit attraction for culture-lovers. Named after Giovan Battista Amico, a 16th century Cosentian astronomer and scholar, the museum aims to become a new cultural centre of the city.
As for scenery, the territory of Cosenza prides itself on its stunning yet very diverse landscapes: from the dizzying heights of the Sila Grande plateau at almost 2000 metres high, to the legendary beauty of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts, not to mention the plethora of artistic and cultural sites scattered throughout the province. Sila National Park and Pollino National Park consist of vast areas of biodiversity and offer numerous leisure and holiday activities in both the summer and winter months.
Extending over more than 230 kilometres, the province’s coastline boasts many sites that are renowned for their spectacular and diverse landscapes. Located at regular intervals along the coastlines of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, these sites offer varied yet equally stunning features.
The Diocesan Museum
The Diocesan Museum of Cosenza is located between the Archiepiscopal Palace and the Cathedral Church and serves as a link between the history of the past and the present day. It is an important point of reference that brings to life the project of revisiting the past and discovering the present, often in unexpected ways. The various rooms of the museum house numerous works recovered in some of the churches of the Diocese. Among these is the magnificent polyptych of the Annunciation (1545) of the school of Negroni, which belongs to the Church of Borgo Partenope, formerly the Church of Turzano The museum also exhibits paintings, silverware, vestments commissioned by the archbishops of Cosenza in centuries past, including the chalice "of the Pope", a large work in silver and filigree from the town of Marano Marchesato, two eburnee statuettes attributed to the school of Michelangelo and a sixteenth-century glass chalice from Celico. The precious Stauroteca, or reliquary cross, a unique work in embossed gold, vermicelli filigree, enamel, adamantine and 12th-century rock crystal is housed in a semi-circular room. According to tradition, it was donated by Frederick II of Swabia on the occasion of the consecration of the Cathedral in 1222, and therefore became the emblem of the city. Other must-see artefacts include the fifteenth-century Torquemada chalice, the icons of the sixteenth century, paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some of the treasures of Our Lady of Pilerio, protector of the city, and the Archdiocese, including gold crowns, necklaces, precious stones and jewellery. The Pinacoteca (art gallery) houses the splendid painting of the Immaculate Conception by Luca Giordano (17th century), the precious San Gennaro by Andrea Vaccaro (17th century), who was born in Luzzi, and the evocative Marian artwork of Giuseppe Pascaletti (18th century).
The Duomo of Cosenza, a UNESCO Heritage Witness to a Culture of Peace since 2011, is among the most famous and special sacred buildings in Southern Italy. The building can be found in Piazza Duomo, which was once the heart of Cosenza and witnessed all sorts of major events that shaped the life of the city. Although its origins are unknown, according to architectural studies and numerous essays carried out at the end of the 1940s, it can be considered a work from the mid-11th century.
Its facade is divided into three parts in the transversal basement section which corresponds to the duomo’s internal division into three naves. An ancient rose window, originally with two adjoining smaller rose windows, has pride of place just above the doorway. The Duomo was built in a Cistercian Gothic style, which can also be seen in the Florense Abbey of San Giovanni in Fiore. Inside, visitors will find the chapel of the Madonna del Pilerio which houses the panel painting of the same name. This work is among one of the most important artistic products of the artistic-cultural movement of the period.The chapel of the Orazione e Morte Archconfraternity housed the remains of the Bandiera Brothers, which were subsequently transferred to Venice. In the transept stands the funeral monument of Isabella of Aragon, wife of Philip the Bold, King of France. According to many art history books, this sculpture was one of the first examples of French Gothic art in Italy. Another sight to behold is the 15th century wooden crucifix which showcases a late Gothic expressiveness. This was originally housed in the chapel of the Telesio family, which no longer exists today. Fragments of ancient Swabian flooring found in an ancient chapel suggest that at the time of its foundation the Duomo, in addition to being entirely frescoed, was paved with mosaics similar to those in the Patirion of Rossano and the church of Sant'Adriano in San Demetrio, Corone.
MAB Bilotti Open-Air Museum
Founded in 2006 and expanded in the following years, the Bilotti Open-Air Museum is a truly unique open-air art gallery which can be found in the main commercial artery of the city. It was originally designed to be enjoyed by the locals as they strolled through the city. Thanks to a donation from the Bilotti family, the museum displays a number of works of modern and contemporary art by nationally and internationally renowned artists. Visitors can admire works by the French artist Sasha Sosno (The Three Doric Columns, The Bronzes of Riace and The Seven of Hearts), Giorgio De Chirico (The Great Metaphysicist, The Archaeologists, Hector and Andromache), Giacomo Manzù (The Great Cardinal and The Head of Medusa) and Salvador Dalì (the beautiful bronze group of Saint George and the Dragon). Also on display are the works of Catanzaro artist Mimmo Rotella, whose great sculptural skills can be witnessed in the bronze statue titled The Rebirth of Culture and in the massive Wolf of Sila, constructed in green travertine. Large Bather by Emilio Greco, a symbol of feminine beauty, as well as the works of Pietro Consagra (The Red Iron, The Four Karsts and the Bifrontal) and the recent Caryatid Head by Modigliani complete the exhibition.
The Swabian Castle
The Norman-Swabian Castle, which stands on Pancrazio Hill, is the city’s main monument.
It was built by the Saracens on the ruins of the ancient Bruttian fortress before being renovated by Roger II in 1130. However, just 54 years later, the disastrous earthquake of 1184 made it completely unusable. It was Frederick II of Swabia (Stupor Mundi) who restored it, adding the octagonal tower in 1239. We enter into the so-called Angevin corridor, named after the coat of arms containing the floral symbol of the French dynasty which is embedded as a keystone. At one time, the right side of the Angevin corridor bordered the castle's vast courtyard, whereas the left hand side was adjoined by the hall of arms, made up of six connecting rooms. On the opposite side of the hall you can access the so-called throne room, which opens onto the remains of the 18th-century masonry built in order to convert the structure into a seminary. Further along are the 19th-century ramparts built on a foundation that most likely dates back to the Angevin era. Next to the castle are the ruins of the church and the Capuchin convent.
Rendano Theatre has its roots in the Renaissance, a period that saw the birth of the city’s first plays and musical performances. It witnessed the deep cultural buzz that characterised the city until the nineteenth century. It was dedicated to pianist Alfonso Rendano and was built according to a design by the architect Zumpano in 1887. Completed in 1909, it was inaugurated in the same year with the performance of Verdi's Aida. However, the extravagant soiree as well as the bathrooms of the upper middle class ladies and the city’s aristocracy were the cause of much controversy and disapproval as many people felt they were too costly. The building was constructed in a neoclassical style with an eclectic Umbertine style facade, an arcade with large pillars decorated with smooth ashlars, and an upper floor marked by pilasters bordering the balconies. The interior, originally decorated with paintings and stuccoes which were subsequently destroyed during World War II, is horseshoe-shaped, with eight hundred seats distributed over three tiers of boxes and a gallery. The theatre has preserved its original historical stage curtain, which was painted by Paolo Vetri of Naples and depicts the arrival of Louis III of Anjou (the Duke of Calabria) and Margherita of Savoy into the city.
The stage, with a depth of 14 metres, holds opera performances, prose performances, symphonic concerts, dance performances and conferences. Rendano is the centre of the entire Region’s artistic activities and strives to satisfy the demands of an increasingly discerning and large public.
The National Gallery at Arnone Palace
Situated in the prestigious Arnone Palace, the National Gallery is accessed through a large hallway with a barrel vault decorated with a painting of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Naples, dated 1755.
The Gallery displays a collection of paintings that were acquired as part of the State heritage in the 1980s. The collection documents the most significant periods of Italian art, with particular reference to the art of Southern Italy, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. It houses works by Mattia Preti, two sketches by Sebastiano Conca as well as art by Pietro Negroni, Corrado Giaquinto, Luca Giordano, Umberto Boccioni, and many other valuable works.
For a few years now, the city’s historic skyline has been significantly modified by the construction of the impressive Calatrava Bridge, designed by famous architect Santiago Calatrava. It is considered by many to be the highest cable-stayed bridge in Europe on account of its single, 104-metre-tall inclined pylon to which all the steel cables and the road deck are connected. Dedicated to St. Francis of Paola, the work is considered one of the most important in Southern Italy and connects two areas of Cosenza in the south-eastern part of the city which are divided by the river Crati. The design is inspired by the shape of a giant harp, a symbol of harmony, and is reminiscent of two other bridges by the same architect built in Seville (1992) and California (2004).
In addition to its beautiful landscape and historical and artistic treasures, Cosenza preserves a rich gastronomic heritage made up of traditional dishes, flavours, and aromas. The local gastronomy is characterised by simple specialities and spicy flavours. Typical first courses include fusilli, pasta and ara tijeddra potatoes, fried potatoes and pipareddre (peppers), sausage and broccoli rabe, and lagane and ciciari (large noodles and chickpeas). There is a huge choice of both red and white wines which tend to have a high alcohol content. Among the typical desserts, which are generally linked to religious festivals, visitors can sample the mostaccioli di San Giuseppe (a type of traditional biscuit) and focaccie made with honey or fig honey, cooked grape must, flour and almonds, which are typically made in the shapes of ancient offerings to the gods. Cuddrurieddri, salted doughnuts eaten on the occasion of the Immaculate Conception and throughout the Christmas period, deserve a special mention as they have rightfully become an important part of Cosenza’s culture. They are even sold in the city’s main streets by special snack kiosks. Turididdri and scaliddre are both types of fried Christmas pastries, however turididdri are coated in fig honey, whereas scaliddre are covered with icing sugar.