Santa Maria del Cedro is located on the Northern Tyrrhenian coast in the province of Cosenza, between Diamante and Scalea in a beautiful area of Calabria that includes mountainous areas immediately adjacent to the stretch of coastline known as the Riviera dei Cedri (Citron Coast). Santa Maria del Cedro lies at the foot of a green valley of citrus and olive groves that perfume the air with an intense and unique scent. The origins of the name "Santa Maria del Cedro", enshrined in 1968 with a decree of the President of the Republic, are clearly linked to the cultivation from ancient times of citrus fruits that cover the area in green with vast citrus groves. The cultivation of citrus fruit is so important that every year during the summer period, a large number of Jewish priests arrive to this location to select and gather in person the purest citrus fruits to send to Jewish communities scattered throughout the world to celebrate the "Sukkot"; the Feast of Tabernacles, which is one of the most important religious Jewish events.
Santa Maria del Cedro lies at the foot of a green valley of citrus and olive groves that perfume the air with an intense and unique scent.
Santa Maria del Cedro was established in the modern era. In contrast, the history of the modern-day hamlet of Marcellina, heir to the city of Laos, is much older. Following a series of archaeological excavations in 1994, on the hill of San Bartolo, Laos Archaeological Park was created; the park contains visible remains of the old urban grid, ruins of houses and walls. Palecastro hill, in the hamlet of Marcellina, includes the ruins of the Greek city of Laos, whose numerous finds are now preserved in Scalea's antiquarium and in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia di Reggio Calabria (National Museum of Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria). The remains of the early medieval village of Abatemarco are of great interest. The ruins of the Castle of San Michele (St Michael's Castle) and the Norman aqueduct are very visually appealing, while the so-called Carcere delle Imprese (Workhouse Prison) dates to a later period; it is believed that it was probably used for the forced labour of prisoners for the production of oil and that today, following recent restoration works, hosts cultural events. Of particular interest is also the Torre Sant'Andrea; it formed part of the defensive system of coastal towers of the Riviera dei Cedri (Citron Coast). With the tourist boom in the 1980s, various facilities and modern residential complexes emerged that have made Santa Maria del Cedro a much sought-after location for the summer holidays.
Laos Archaeological Park
The area's main cultural attraction is located on the hill of San Bartolo in the hamlet of Marcellina, in Via degli Scavi. Historical documents show that the inhabitants of Sybaris, following the destruction of their city by the Crotonians in 510 B.C. moved to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea founding new towns, including Laos. Laos archaeological park covers an area of about 60 hectares and was built in 1994 following archaeological research conducted by an Italian-French team. A large part of the archaeological findings can be seen today at the Museo Archeologico di Reggio Calabria (Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria) while a smaller part is housed in the Antiquarium di Scalea (Antiquarium of Scalea). Along the old road network, it is possible to see the remains of some homes, such as the brickwork in masonry and roof tiles. Immediately after the entrance there is a wider stretch of road, bounded by walls that create two footpaths and two houses which overlook it: the one on the right, dug almost in its entirety, is called “casa della rampa”; while the other is called “casa della zecca”. On the other side of the road going toward the north, lies the "house with the furnace" and even more to the north the last great house, the "Casa delle Botteghe". There is also a small Antiquarium that preserves findings from the Roman period.
St Michael’s Complex
At the entrance of the valley of the river Abatemarco, perched on a rocky relief, stands the medieval complex called San Michele or Abatemarco. The highest part boasts the ruins of the Castle of San Michele (St Michael’s castle), while in the lower area those of the Chiesa di San Michele (St Michael’s Church) can be found along with some remains of dwellings. The Castle of Abatemarco, name that derives from the adjoining abbey built by the Basilian monks (which was an important base of their order), but better known by locals as the Castello di San Michele (St Michael’s castle), represents one of the most important monuments of the Alto Tirreno Cosentino (Cosenza’s upper Tyrrhenian). According to some historical sources the fief of Abatemarco also included some towers to guard the whole area, including the Alto Tirreno Cosentino and it is precisely from the fief of Abatemarco, constituted around the castle, that the current historical centre of Santa Maria del Cedro emerged.
No documents have been found as evidence to the construction of the castle, but it can be assumed that it is of Norman origins by observing the architectural lines of the remains that are still clearly visible: a long wall with a cylindrical tower and a tower of smaller size with a quadrangular shape. The church, probably of Basilian origins, has a single nave illuminated by a series of single lancet windows and is entirely painted, as evidenced by the two frescoes that in the early eighties, were transferred to the Town Hall to prevent deterioration; one of which depicts St Sebastian Martyr and the other the Madonna and Child with a Holy Bishop and St Leonard.
Citrus Fruit Museum
At the border with the municipality of Grisolia, lies the majestic Palazzo Gabriele Marino. This building of the late medieval age houses the Museo del Cedro (Citrus Fruit Museum) and was established to promote and improve the cultivation of this ancient citrus fruit. The buildings quarters have been fitted with educational panels and multimedia stations to tell the story of the citrus fruit and explain the steps of its cultivation process. The building's restoration works, completed in 2004, were slowed down due to the discovery of pottery fragments of Hellenistic and Roman times. In the past it was a structure designed for forced labour by prisoners for the production of oil and wine; for this reason, it is also known as the Carcere dell’Impresa (Workhouse Prison).
The area of Santa Maria del Cedro boasts the ruins of three sighting towers which are clearly Norman in style. Torre Longa and Nocito Tower, in the town of Foresta, and Torre Sant'Andrea, in Via Nazionale, visually connected between them in such a way as to allow the sighting of invaders and immediately warn the population of the imminent danger. There was another watchtower in the town of La Bruca, different from the preceding ones, which together with other coastal towers was a defensive sighting and communication system along the coastline of the kingdom of Naples to defend it from the frequent Saracen and corsair raids.
As established by the Israelite tradition, citrus fruits are always present in Santa Maria del Cedro’s culture and economy. Its cultivation flourished at the mouth of the River Abatemarco in the I century A.D., led by Jews that once upon a time had known about this fruit (according to some leading authors on this matter) in Egypt and had chosen it as a symbol of perfection. Citrus fruits are therefore an element of a secular tradition, that has come to form part of the agricultural world of Santa Maria del Cedro, as the crossroad of different cultures; two distant civilisations but united by an identical interest, although with different aims. In every family, especially in recent centuries, the cultivation of the cedar has assumed an unquestionable decisive economic role. Among the various varieties of citrus fruits, produced in Santa Maria del Cedro, the variety known as “smooth diamond” is the most sought after. It has a very thick peel and its pulp is filled with seeds. In addition to having an intense fragrance, the fruit is esteemed due to its organoleptic properties that for some time have played a significant role in research and pharmacology in the field of anti-ageing medicine. Citrus fruits are great for “salamoiatura” (pickling), but are mostly used for producing liqueurs, extracts, cream, jam, yoghurt, pastries, ice cream, sorbets; moreover, citrus fruits are also used in refined culinary recipes.
Via Nazionale, 1, Santa Maria del Cedro
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