Rossano, the astonishing beauty of the Codex Purpureus
Jul 7, 2020 7:54 AM
Jul 7, 2020 7:54 AM
Nestled between the mountains of the Sila and the Ionian coast, the town of Rossano overlooks the surrounding area from a position that has always made it of one Calabria’s important strategic locations.
This is a fascinating place of ancient origins, in an area rich in contrasts between rugged mountains inland facing a coastline of fine white sand.
The Codex is one of the oldest existing gospels in the world, made extremely valuable and unique due to its beautiful miniatures, masterpiece of Byzantine art.
Presumably, Rossano was founded by the Oenotrians, and thereafter, the village underwent several rules: Roman, Byzantine, Norman and Spanish, while maintaining its own cultural independence. Rossano's most important historical period is the Byzantine: from 540 to 1059; in fact, it became a strategic centre of the Byzantium empire, among the most active and confident of southern-Italy, coveted by numerous invaders but never conquered. In 951-952, it was the headquarters of the Stratego (the civil-military head military of the two themes or “thémata” (military/administrative divisions of the Byzantine empire) in Calabria and Lombardy, thus becoming the capital of Byzantine possessions in Italy. During this age, Rossano was at the height of its power and reputation, which earned it the honorific titles of the Byzantine, Calabria's Byzantine Pearl, the Ravenna of the south. The X century, that for Europe was one of the most dramatic, was Rossano's golden age instead, when it became Calabria's most important urban centre, the headquarters of the Stratego, Vescovado, and of administrative offices as well as artisan workshops, art shops.
This rich and stimulating environment, a meeting place and hot-pot of various sensitivities, crossroads between East and West, was the birthplace of countless leading personalities in the Middle Ages, among which the Popes Zosimo, John VII, Zechariah, Antipope John XVI. San Nilo (St Nilus), the most illustrious of Rossano's citizens, founded numerous monasteries, among which the famous Badia Greca di Grottaferrata (Greek Abbey of Grottaferrata) near Rome; San Bartolomeo (St Bartholomew), disciple of St. Nilus and successor of his work, was co-founder of the Abbey of Grottaferrata, author of the "Bios", the life of St Nilus, a hagiographic work and most historically significant of that historical period. These roots have allowed the collection of many treasures, first among all, the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis; the ancient gospel recognised as documentary human heritage and listed by Unesco It is preserved in the Museo Diocesano (Diocesan Museum), which also includes ancient manuscripts, paintings, silver and rare and precious objects. The Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Achiropita is of notable architectural interest and aesthetic prestige, in whose sacristy the Codex was found in 1879. The codex was brought to Rossano probably by a monk fleeing from the East during the Arab invasion of the VII century or at the time of the iconoclastic persecutions of the VIII century. The Norman Tower of Sant'Angelo was built more than 500 years later, with its innovative diamond bastions, which at that time served as a defensive rampart against naval raids. Today, following the merger with the nearby town of Corigliano, Rossano is Calabria’s third largest city in terms of population: an important and populated urban centre whose prestigious history has made it a popular tourist destination, for those in pursuit of evidence of the many civilisations that followed one another in this land. The town, due to its enviable position, offers many leisure opportunities. In fact, it is the ideal coastal destination, with its golden beach and crystal-clear sea in Lido Sant'Angelo. But it is also suitable for nature enthusiasts who enjoy pleasant outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and trekking on the Sila mountains or, a little bit more to the north, on the Pollino Massif. Both these areas are home to two beautiful national parks: the Parco Nazionale della Sila (Sila National Park), characterised by a great variety of landscapes and by the presence of several species of animals; il Parco nazionale del Pollino (Pollino National Park), rich in green valleys, watercourses and very impressive views. Rossano also produces the famous Amarelli Liquorice, exported all over Europe, America and Australia. In 1996 the company that produces the liquorice was co-opted into the international association "Les Hénokiens" with headquarters in Paris, of which only 28 companies worldwide are members. Worthy of a visit while in town is the Museo della Liquirizia Giorgio Amarelli (Giorgio Amarelli Museum of Liquorice); Not to be missed, near Rossano, is another important document of the Byzantine Calabrian architecture of the medieval period: chiesa del S. Maria del Patire or Patirion, with its wonderful mosaic floor.
The Codex is one of the oldest existing gospels in the world, made extremely valuable and unique due to its beautiful miniatures, masterpiece of Byzantine art. It includes the remains of an independent cycle of miniatures related to the life of Christ, the oldest surviving in a Greek manuscript. Consisting of 188 sheets (376 pages) of parchment, containing the entire Gospel of Matthew and almost all of Mark's; it is one of the masterpieces of evangelical literature. The parchment sheets have been accurately carved and include purple ink which gave the work its name, with discoloured areas which may appear to be original but, in most cases, are due to various factors, particularly humidity. Rossano's code contains fourteen miniatures. Of them, twelve depict the events of the life of Christ, one confers the title to the tables of canons lost, and the last one is a portrait of Mark, which occupies the entire page. The Codex is immensely important from both the biblical and religious point of view, as well as artistic, paleographic, historical and documentary. A document which is he symbol of a region, Calabria, that has mediated and served as a link between the civilisations of the Greek and the East, between the Roman and Western world. Code has been dated between the V and the VI century by leading historians of Byzantine art and paleographers. The reasons for its arrival in Rossano are still unknown, but it is likely to have been due to the dissemination of Byzantine influence in Calabria and Southern Italy, linked to the expansion of monasticism. The codex was recognised as documentary human heritage and listed by Unesco, under the category "Memory of the World", 9 October 2015.
Rossano's Liquorice Museum is the only one in Italy to feature a display with the tools used in the processing, marketing and extraction of the root from which liquorice is obtained. The museum also displays clothes, items and manuscripts related to the Amarelli family, engaged for over four centuries in the production of the famous liquorice of the same name. The story of the Amarelli family began around the year One Thousand and continued over the centuries amidst Crusades, intellectual commitment and agriculture. The museum displays engravings, documents, books and photos of the time but also agricultural tools, everyday items and beautiful antique dresses that bear witness to the life of a family, that appreciated the underground branches of liquorice plants that grow wild on the Ionian coast, and that become the stage for a museum that is the only one of its kind in the world.
The large space of the "Concio” (ashlar), dating back to 1731, allows to easily see the idea of the flow of time between past and present. The funnel, with the initials of the Baron Nicola Amarelli, soars impressive from the roof of the ashlar that houses at its base the "Museum Open Air" with a really unique display of industrial equipment of the era. A new adventure that takes visitors back to a flourishing past and tells its present-day story as an excellent product to be enjoyed at the end of the journey through time; in the Liquorice Shop and Museum Cafè. Last but not least, the Auditorium "Alessandro Amarelli", with over a hundred seats which was always part of the complex of the end of the eighteenth century, is today a welcoming environment; the real heart of the cultural life and events of the Liquorice Museum.
The Norman watch tower of S. Angelo is located near Rossano's beach promenade, just a few metres from the sea. The structure is an example of fortified architecture dating back to the XVI century, built using the remains of the old Arsenale di Thurio that stood in its place. The tower, which falls under the type of coastal watch towers that sprang up along the Ionian Coast during the XVII century, had the dual function of a watch tower and that of protecting the area from enemy raids. Its star-shaped floor-plan is unique and it has four diamond-shaped bastions with a well at the centre of the star, which went through the whole tower vertically and served as a supply of water to all floors. The Torre Sant'Angelo was subjected to restoration works to return it to its original splendour as it fell into a state of disrepair. Works carried out on the tower have allowed for its structural and functional recovery.
In fact, especially during the summer period, today the tower holds art exhibitions, conferences but also various types of theatrical performances.
Like all of Calabria, even Rossano offers a wide range of gastronomic products that are truly exceptional, due to the fact that it can obtain ingredients both from the sea and mountains, the typical cuisine of this area is among the most varied of the peninsula. The town’s true peculiarity is liquorice, deeply rooted in Rossano's tradition. In fact, Rossano is the headquarters of the Amarelli family, one of the most renowned Calabrian companies in Italy and worldwide due to its tasty liquorice. Precisely in honour of this product, a museum was founded which is highly appreciated and filled with curiosities. Furthermore, the area of Rossano, the ancient leucolea which produces Calabria's historical white olive is cultivated; this is the only olive variety whose production was taken over by Coldiretti.