The ancient charm of Cirella’s ruins
Jul 9, 2020 1:06 PM
Jul 9, 2020 1:06 PM
Cirella, known in the past as Cerillae, was an important port at the time of Magna Graecia and Rome and there is plenty of archaeological evidence of this in the area.
Cirella was known and visited by the Greeks and then the Romans, and also preserves the remains of the mediaeval-origin town, whose old quarter was destroyed by the Napoleonic fleet in 1806.
The seabed around Cirella, mindful of the ancient history of the places, from time to time returns important archaeological finds.
These ruins stand out at the top of a promontory that dominates the sea and the Island of Cirella opposite, where the watch tower to warn of Saracen raids can still be seen at its centre. The current residential area is along the Riviera dei Cedri, and it welcomes tourists during the summer. From time to time, important archaeological finds are thrown up from the seabed around the island, evidence of the history of the area. The seabed also features Posidonia Oceanica (Neptune grass), an aquatic plant that forms submarine meadows; specimens of Pinna nobilis (fan mussel), the largest bivalve in the Mediterranean, can also be found. Erosion of the limestone rocks forming the cliffs surrounding the island of Cirella has formed many caves and creeks which have become a reference point for diving and snorkelling.
The ‘ruins’ are the remains of the old town of Cirella destroyed by the Napoleonic fleet early in the 19th century. Abandoned and neglected, whole colonnades of Greek and Roman temples were totally ransacked and many frescoes cancelled by bad weather. One of the surviving fragments portrays ‘The Madonna of the Angels’, by an anonymous painter of the late 16th century. This was detached from the crumbling wall at the end of the 1970s and has been patiently restored by the Superintendency. It is now displayed in the parish church. The monastery dedicated to San Francesco, built in 1545, and the modern ‘Teatro dei Ruderi’, where leading theatrical pieces, concerts and various shows are produced every summer, are a short distance from the area of the ruins. In August, the theatre also hosts ‘Cirella antica festival’, which covers almost all the summer period. There are many tourists on the Riviera dei Cedri and so, despite seating about 2,000 people, this is often insufficient.
The Island of Cirella is just off the coast of Cirella and is an outcrop of limestone that has become a true environmental and naturalist gem. It can be easily reached from the beach or the little port of Diamante. The island is covered by thriving Mediterranean scrub, illuminated by splendid blossom in spring. The Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria was devastated by Saracen forays for many centuries, which threatened Cirella more than once. In the end, in the 16th century, the viceroy of Naples ordered the construction of defence towers, fearing these incursions. At the top of the island there are the ruins of its tower, a square coastal watchtower, about 10 metres long each side with walls that are 3-4 metres thick. The shoreline of the island features caverns, ravines, little creeks and underwater cliffs that make submarine explorers very happy.
Although the church of Santa Maria dei Fiori is very old, there is no certain information about its age. There are many things to see inside, starting from the Roman columns, which are also outside the church, the funeral monuments of Duke Catalano-Gonzaga and Duchess Novellis di Belvedere, the fonts in worked local stone, the capital in Corinthian style, the tuff doorway dating from 1637, the 15th and 16th century frescoes detached from the church of San Nicola Magno in Cirella Vecchia and the Minim monastery, and the wooden statue of the Madonna dei Fiori, probably from before the 17th century and completely restored in 1996. The Palazzo Ducale, built in 1753, has recently been fully restored and turned into a hotel. The staircase, in bare stone, and the remains of an imposing column in Doric-Ionic style, can be seen in the courtyard, accessed through a stunning wide doorway. Excavations have been made recently at the extremity of Cirella which have brought to light the perimeter walls of an old Roman villa.
Chilli pepper is a traditional product in local cuisine. Every year, ‘Peperoncino in palcoscenico’ (Focus on Chilli Pepper) is held to valorise local resources at Cirella; for five evenings there are theatrical shows, all presented as spicy. At the end of each show, there are tastings of specialities based on chilli pepper, skilfully combined with wines from the ‘Terre di Cosenza’ (lands of Cosenza), presented and served by sommeliers and restaurateurs.