Papasidero, the magical attraction of prehistory

© Regione Calabria


Papasidero is an old Basilian settlement, on one of the rocky spurs of Mount Ciagola on the left bank of the River Lao in the heart of the Pollino National Park in the province of Cosenza.

The old centre, with a typically mediaeval layout, is well preserved; access is mainly on foot.

The Grotta del Romito represents one of the most interesting expressions of Upper Palaeolithic rock art.

Papasidero owes its name to an eastern Hegumen monk, head of one of the many religious communities which populated the valley. The surrounding area preserves traces of man dating to the Upper Palaeolithic, supported by finds made in the well-known Grotta del Romito, a few kilometres north of the town. Outside the town, at the foot of Mount Ciagola, there’s the prehistoric Grotta del Romito site where the Aurochs petroglyph depicting a bovid, dating to 12,000 years ago, can be seen. There are also burials of skeletal couples dating to 9,200 years ago in the site to which a recent find of bones of a young man who lived 14,000 years ago can be added.

The prehistoric Grotta del Romito is certainly the greatest attraction for the tourists who visit the little mediaeval village, and is one of the most interesting expressions of Upper Palaeolithic rock art. The area forming the Archaeological Park has a small educational museum with all the essential information. Papasidero is also an area for the start of exceptional naturalist trips in the Massiccio del Pellegrino and the Pollino National Park. The whole Papasidero municipal area is in the beautiful Lao Valley Nature Reserve which extends for more than 5,000 hectares along the course of the river of the same name. The River Lao, one of the most intact water courses and of great ecological meaning in the whole of Italy, cuts the reserve in half, marking out two areas naturally. The western one is wilder and more attractive while the eastern one is equally interesting but has more human habitations and is subject to agricultural and pastoral exploitation. Although the village extends upwards to higher levels of the Pellegrino massif, it is only a few kilometres from the Tyrrhenian coast, thus close to the leading seaside resorts of the Riviera dei Cedri, like Scalea, Fuscaldo and Diamante.

The Grotta del Romito

This very important discovery was made in 1961 in the Papasidero area. It has thrown an extraordinary light onto the prehistoric events of northern Calabria, showing that it was already inhabited 20,000 years ago. The Romito man was Cro-Magnon, and didn’t know how to breed animals, agriculture or how to work ceramic. Homo sapiens lived intensely in the cave, leaving lots of evidence of his passage in lithic and bony tools, the stupendous graffito and the remains of his skeletons. The famous petroglyphs involve two great boulders at opposite ends of the cave. There are simple rectilinear lines going in all directions without any apparent meaning in the first one. In the second, the one on the ‘Bull boulder’, there are three profiles of aurochs, in the stylistic trait typical of the Mediterranean province and Franco-Cantabria. The cultural value of the Romito is also highlighted by the important burial contexts. A double burial was found with the remains of a young man affected by dwarfism whose arm was round an older woman. The grave goods included an aurochs horn, elements of rustic ceramics with holes and flint tools. Another double burial and two single burials are associated with this, all with grave goods (short bone spears with geometric incisions). The figure of the bull is about 1.20 metres long and is engraved on a boulder about 2.30 metres long inclined by 45°. The drawing, with perfect proportions, was made with a firm hand and certain details such as the nostrils, mouth, faintly traced eye and ear have been included. Under the great figure of the bull there’s another bovid figure, with much subtler engraving, but only the chest, head and part of the back have been carried out. Recent digs have brought to light the remains of a fourth, even older, burial.

Lao River Valley Nature Reserve

The course of the River Lao, whose name recalls the old Greek settlement of Laos, crosses the Pollino National Park flowing all year round through spectacular gorges that open along the valley of the Lao villages. As a result of its features, the river is a favourite destination of rafting and canoeing fans who, challenging the rapids, can enjoy the beauty of the uncontaminated landscape which is a feature of the Lao Valley Nature Reserve. Trips, organised by expert guides, bring unforgettable feelings, even to absolute beginners. Activities include hiking on the Pollino to discover the mountain and the historic villages. These are a treasure chest of works of art, handicraft (‘Road of old trades’) and traditional tastes to discover.      

Sanctuary of Madonna di Costantinopoli

Monks built many places of worship in Papasidero, including the Sanctuary of S. Maria di Costantinopoli. The sanctuary is set into a fascinating cornice and offers a highly evocative picture. The church, lapped by the River Lao on the right, was built on a rocky wall that protects it. The sanctuary is the favourite destination of people from Papasidero and can be reached by a path full of steps paved in stone and a bridge that connects the two banks of the river. The current bridge is the construction of an old mediaeval passage that still exists and is known as the Rognosa. Santa Maria di Costantinopoli is the patron saint of Papasidero and her sanctuary is the constant destination of pilgrimages by devotees from Calabria and Lucania. The original building is depicted at the foot of the painting of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in the chapel of Santa Sofia. The sanctuary preserves a fresco painted on the rocky wall dating to the 17th century, and the statue of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli.

Wine and food

The traditional products of Papasidero reflect the wine and food traditions of the region and range from fresh and smoked ricotta, soft (paddata) and matured pecorino cheese through to cold meats such as pancetta (bacon), guanciale (cheek lard), capocollo (coppa), sausage and soppressata. The traditional dishes of the area have old origins - fusiddi (strips of handmade pasta wrapped round a small square stick) with a goat meat sauce, rascatiddi (short pasta pieces) with smoked ricotta, laghini e ciciri (pasta and chick peas), and a soup of white beans known as poverelli. Traditional cakes and sweets include mastazzuli (flour, sugar, almonds lemon, cinnamon, honey and other flavouring), crispeddi (flour, water, salt yeast and anchovy fillets), pucciddati (a semi-sweet Easter bread), pizzatula (a sweet bread-like Easter cake), crocette (filled with a mixture of nuts, particularly walnuts), sanguinaccio, zirpoli (a Christmas delicacy that can be sweet or savoury) and bocconotti (small shortbread cakes filled with almonds and chocolate).

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Ultimo aggiornamento: Feb 5, 2024 2:07 PM