An explosion of colours forms the backdrop of Morano Calabro, a small historical village to the north of Cosenza. Stretched across the hilltop like a crib, the village is framed by the Pollino massif.
Since 2003, Morano Calabro has been named one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is also one of the main attractions of the Pollino National Park with which it shares its majestic and lush nature and unforgettable landscapes.
Come and marvel at the white houses that appear to be cascading down the cone shaped hill that dominates the landscape. At its summit, you may be able to spot the village’s must-see castle.
The narrow stone houses, arches, and towers that characterise the village perfectly complement the natural surroundings. Morano is an ancient town whose name appeared for the first time on a milestone from the second century BC found in Polla in the Vallo di Diano. The engraving on the rock suggests that, at that time, the town was a pit stop along the ancient Regio-Capuam consular road.
Consisting of three districts surrounding the castle and the most important churches, the town of Morano extends towards the valley within a system of walls. Its dense and intricate urban layout has made Morano one of Calabria’s best preserved medieval historic centres.
To fully immerse yourself in its magical atmosphere head for the maze of narrow, winding, steeply sloping streets that are partly carved into the rock and tightly packed amidst a compact network of houses, churches, monasteries, arches, portals, underpasses, stairways, and squares.
The views are reminiscent of works by Escher. In fact, the great Dutch engraver himself visited Morano Calabro in 1930 and left behind an impressive work depicting a mirror image of himself with the village and surrounding landscape portrayed upside down, as if seen through a mirror.
The village also offers visitors the chance to admire an unexpectedly large number of works of art signed by leading artists such as Bartolomeo Vivarini and Pietro Bernini. The picturesque alleyways meander up through the village past stately buildings and churches, until they reach the top where the ruins of an ancient castle stand. The castle was once part of a defence system which was built in 1200 by extending a previous 10th-century structure. From the Norman Swabian Castle, you will descend towards the Church of San Pietro e Paolo, the oldest church in the village. Although built in the year 1000, it was renovated in a late Baroque style. Other religious treasures include the Church of San Nicola di Bari and the Church and Monastery of Bernardino da Siena, a rare example of 15th century monastic architecture in Calabria. The facade is preceded by a portico with four arches which is a 17th century remake of the original one. Its inner walls display the remains of frescoes dating back to 1499 which, unfortunately, have deteriorated considerably. The church houses a large number of valuable works of art including a wooden pulpit from 1611 carved with figures of saints in bas-relief; a statue of Saint Bernardino sculpted and gilded in 1600; and a 17th-century painting of the Immaculate Virgin Mary by Daniele Russo. The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maddalena dates back to the Byzantine period and features an imposing dome and bell tower decorated with green-yellow majolica tiles. An interesting fact about the bell tower is that it can be seen from everywhere in the village. The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Magdalena is particularly important on account of its historical and artistic value. It is a real museum church where art, culture, spirituality, and nature meet to create a place where visitors can revitalise both body and soul. Other must-visit religious buildings include the church of Santa Maria del Carmine and, outside the town, the Capuchin convent with its austere 17th-century cloister. The ruins of the monastery of Colloreto, surrounded by a large forest of holm oak and beech trees at the foot of the Pollino, is also worth a visit.
The Norman-Swabian Castle
Situated at the top of the village of Morano is the Norman-Swabian castle, whose structure is relatively similar to Castel Nuovo castle in Naples. The scenic ruins of the Castle are in an excellent location where it is thought that a Roman watchtower previously existed. The ruins of the castle overlook the entire valley of the river Coscile, formerly known as the Sybaris river during the Magna Graecia era. The Castle was built on the remains of this outpost and in the 16th century, with the help of nobleman Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, it was transformed into its current form. Used by Sanseverino himself as a summer residence, he commissioned the best Neapolitan architects of the time to create a castle with a lavish shape and all the features he desired. It was an imposing fortress with three floors and a square shape with six cylindrical towers, a moat, and a drawbridge. It was also enclosed by a ravelin and had ramparts and a moat with a drawbridge. In terms of its interior, it contained large rooms divided into several apartments and it was estimated to have an overall capacity for a garrison of a thousand men. However, after being bombarded by the French in 1806 it went into rapid decline. It was dismantled over time and very little of the building remains. Thanks to recent renovations, sections of its facades have been recovered, as well as two frontal towers and some internal rooms which are now used for exhibitions and cultural events.
Monastery of San Bernardino da Siena
The church of the Franciscan Observants, dedicated to San Bernardino da Siena, is located near the Villa Comunale. The church, an example of 15th century monastic architecture, has a late-Gothic style which was recovered during a 'philological' restoration in the fifties which removed the stylistic overlapping that characterised later periods. In the portico in front, which has four round arches on the facade plus one at the side, you can admire the many fascinating remains of frescoes dating back to 1499. These are similar in style to the cycle of the cathedral of Cassano Ionio. Two yellow stone portals, both in late-Gothic style, stand out on the facade: one is ogival on polystylar pillars (for access to the church); the other consists of a lowered arch (for access to the cloister) inspired by the durazzesco-Catalan genre and the styles used in Neapolitan civil architecture. The use of exposed materials gives the building that severe and sober look typical of Franciscan environments. The high and bare walls of the single-naved interior provided the perfect backdrop for architecture and art to co-exist in harmony. Still today they create a simple yet mystical ambiance. The centre is dominated by a large and dramatic 15th-century wooden crucifix bearing the inscription “Hic me solus amor non mea culpa tenet". Below the crucifix there once stood a grandiose polyptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini, signed and dated 1477, which was later recovered and kept in the sacristy of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maddalena.
The Flag Festival was held until 1806 in Morano Calabro and then returned in 1996. Currently, the event takes place in spring or summer and recalls an epic battle that took place around the year 1000 between the Moranesi and the Saracen invaders. It is said that during the battle, one of the Saracens was beheaded and his bleeding head was displayed in the streets as a sign of victory. The event, which benefits from the wide participation of the inhabitants, aims to promote the history, culture, and traditions of the area, and focusses on informing people about the city’s identity, which has influenced the local culture over the years. During the festival, many tourists flock to Morano to immerse themselves in the cultural entertainment on offer. Every corner of the town is brought to life by costumed figures, street artists, flag wavers, knights, exhibitions, and craft stalls. There are also many food and wine stands which provide the perfect opportunity to sample some typical local delicacies.
In addition to its stunning natural landscape, the wonders of Morano Calabro can also be found in its delectable gastronomy. The territory produces an excellent olive oil and many other exquisite flavours of Calabria including cheeses such as caciocavallo, mozzarella, treccia, ricotta, and pecorino, which are all made from sheep’s milk using a traditional process. One must-try cheese is la felciata which is a fresh cheese wrapped and preserved in fern leaves. Morano is also well-known for homemade dishes, in particular for its gnocchi, known as cavateddri. Other famous dishes include rascateddri, macaroni with sausage sauce; and lagane, tagliolini with beans or chickpeas. In terms of dishes that are exclusive to Morano there is stoccu e pateni, which consists of stockfish with potatoes and dried peppers.
Piazza Giovanni XXIII, Morano Calabro
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