Vibo Valentia is the smallest Calabrian province and embraces an area which includes the Tyrrhenian coast, the Apennine chain of the Serre and the vast agricultural district of the Poro plateau. The city took the name Vibo Valentia in 192 BC; the ancient Greek colony was called Hipponion and was one of the most important in Magna Graecia, becoming a Roman municipium with the name of Valentia in 182 BC.
The Vibo Valentia area is set into the southern heart of Calabria and seems a little spur that stretches into the Tyrrhenian Sea.The city has very old roots that safeguard a historical and cultural wealth that unites the profound cultural awareness of the ancient past with the wild beauty of the places.
The roots of the city safeguard a historical wealth which unites the profound cultural awareness of an ancient past with the wild beauty of the area.
An extraordinary heritage of natural and architectural beauty, history, culture, and popular traditions that contributes to making the city an important centre of attraction and interest for national and international tourism. The architecture of the town centre is dominated by the imposing Norman-Swabian castle. It is now the seat of the archaeological museum bearing the name of Vito Capialbi, an illustrious scholar from Vibo, and houses the Laminetta aurea (Totenpass), the oldest Orphic text found in Italy and probably one of the most precious finds from the Hellenic past. The old centre still preserves intact the geometries of the mediaeval village with monumental palaces in yellow tuff paved with large blocks of lava stone.
The Vibo area offers glimpses of extraordinary emotional intensity, full of landscapes of olive groves, fields of wheat, orange and lemon groves and vineyards perched on hillsides and the inebriating scent of orange blossom on hot summer nights. The jagged yet spectacular Costa degli Dei is full of rocky creeks that alternate with soft, sandy beaches. It is the realm of water sports and underwater excursions display the attractive sea bottom and marine fauna. The seas of the Vibo area and the winds attract many kitesurfers and windsurfers who find the ideal conditions for their chosen sport.
The hinterland of the province, with dense woods and the beauties of nature, is an ideal destination for hikers. One of the best-known places is the area of Capo Vaticano, which hides a typical Calabrian river surrounded by rich, lush vegetation with more than 300 plant species. The monks’ caves and paths around Tropea are also delightful to explore, and the paths here can be used for horse trekking or bike tours.
The variety of the landscape offers unique locations for observing the fauna and flora. The geological outline is typical of the nature heritage of the area, with special reference to the visit to the parks and nature reserves. Many birdwatching experts go to the Vibo area in all seasons of the year. Vibo Valentia is currently one of the main industrial centres of the region with companies in the food, chemical, textile and construction material sectors. The work of the port, which handles a considerable amount of goods, is relevant; the marina is also expanding quickly due to a farsighted policy of revaluation of the coastal heritage.
There are many wonderful sights scattered throughout the old centre of the city and the surrounding area. The old centre of Vibo Valentia is a rich pattern of churches, monuments and Mediaeval, Baroque and 19th century buildings where it’s difficult to distinguish where one period finishes and another starts - probably the source of its charm. The beautiful marble portal of S. Maria La Nova stands out when walking along Corso Umberto I while there is an optimal panorama from the Belvedere Grande which embraces the Tyrrhenian coast from Capo Palinuro to Messina. The Duomo of Vibo Valentia, dedicated to the patron saint Leoluca, was built at the end of the 17th century on the remains of a Byzantine church. It houses an imposing altar with the statue of the Madonna della Neve. The façade is framed between two bell towers while the beautiful bronze doors, which tell the history of the city, are well worth a look. It’s said that the sepulchre of San Leoluca is in the old church, of which some very fine architectural examples remain. It has three aisles and an 18th century high altar with a Carrara marble group by A. Caccavello, a 16th century panel and the Madonna della Sanità. The left transept with the marble triptych by Antonello Gagini is splendid. The elegant and imposing Valentianum, formerly a Dominican monastery restored in 1982, is annexed to the Duomo. The Sacred Art Museum, housed in its rooms, includes important sculptures from the Ciborium of the Certosa di Serra San Bruno, the sarcophagus of the patrician Decio de Suriano, and copes and sacred furnishings of excellent southern Italian workmanship. The Arco Marzano and the Porta Torre del Conte d'Apice, two 12th century gates among the oldest monuments in the city, are interesting to visit. Vibo Valentia is also a modern city and it’s worth taking a walk along Corso Umberto I to take in the current atmosphere amongst shops and workshops/ateliers. Bivona Castle, which started as a fortification against pirate forays, and the architectural complex of the Tonnara from 1885 can be visited as you go down to the sea at Vibo Marina.
The ruins of Hipponion
The walls and ruins of the ancient Greek city of Hipponion can be seen just outside the built-up area of Vibo Valentia. The pre-Hellenic settlement was called Veip by the Bruttians and then named Hipponion by the Greeks of Locri who reached the Tyrrhenian to ensure a commercial outlet on the sea. To date, archaeological excavations have only brought some areas of the urban fabric to light. Some necropoleis and areas of worship have been found in addition to the fortifications; strangely for the Greeks, the former are inside the walls while the latter are in the peripheral areas of the city.
The majestic boundary walls were found early in the 20th century. They are made of large sandstone boulders and have towers; they originally extended for more than 6 kilometres. The most consistent and best-preserved part, brought to light at Tappeto Vecchio, is about 500 metres long but isolated sections of wall can also be seen by walking up the road that now leads to the town cemetery. The stylobate of a Doric temple from the 6-5th century BC can be seen in an enclosed area. It dominated the wide gulf and its position on the top of the hill was an indication of the city to sailors. The temple was both ransacked in ancient times and used as a quarry for stone and little now remains. However, many fragments of architectural decorations, now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria, were found in the area. Vestiges of the Roman municipium were found at Sant’Aloe including the remains of at least three domus with thermae with multi-coloured mosaic floors. The oldest mosaic, datable to the 2nd century BC, depicts a Nereid riding a seahorse in a sea full of stylised dolphins at its centre.
The Norman-Swabian castle
The Normans built a castle over the acropolis of Hippónion, using some of the sandstone blocks from the ancient city. The castle underwent various changes and suffered damage over the centuries but much still stands, even though one of the reasons why it attracts so many visitors is the wonderful view it commands from the Tyrrhenian gulfs to the Sila and the Serre. The castle houses the State Archaeological Museum which displays remains from pre-history to the Mediaeval period, passing through Magna Graecia with vases and grave goods from Greek necropoleis. The castle was built between 1070 and 1074 AD by Roger I of Sicily, who had brought his army to these beaches and had camped it there. The castle was probably a simple fortification, consisting of a triangular tower at the centre of three circular towers. Despite the extensive changes made, Vibo Valentia castle preserves its Norman layout. The castle was extended and partly rebuilt in the Swabian period - the polygonal tower in the north-east corner of the complex certainly dates to that time. It was built in very large, well-squared segments with an orderly arrangement, a technique that can be found in other castles of the same period. The slow restoration of Vibo Valentia castle, one of the rare Calabrian castles with obvious Angevin contamination, started in the 1970s.
Vito Capialbi Archaeological Museum
The museum, named after Vito Capialbi, the archaeologist from Vibo Valentia, was set up in 1969 and lies inside the castle. It houses significant finds from the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. The main features of the museum are divided into four sections on finds from places of worship, archaeological finds from necropoleis, and material dating to the Roman period. A sword from the 13th century BC, found in a Roman necropolis, is especially important; the Capialbi coin collection contains fine aurei from Locri, another collection of silver Bruttian coins dating to the end of the third century BC, and the bust of Agrippa. The current display, arranged topographically and chronologically, includes material from recent excavations in the town and surrounding area as well as 19-20th century antiquarian nuclei belonging to local academics. The collection is divided into four main sections: finds from sacred buildings, the necropoleis, private collections and Roman age material. Other things to see include the goods from a Bronze Age tomb and votive material from the sanctuary discovered in the Scrimbia area. The finds from the necropoleis include a Totenpass with a Greek inscription relating to the Orphic cult, vases with black and red figures and painted architectural fragments from private collections in Vibo. Some finds from Roman necropoleis, the Late Antiquity period of the city and villas found in the area are displayed in the north tower.
Vibo Marina is an urban and tourist centre on the north-west coast of Monte Poro; it has a small port with the safest, best-equipped marina between Salerno and Reggio Calabria. The coast of Vibo Valentia is mainly an exaltation of nature and its infinite suggestions, ready to surprise the traveller at every step, behind every creek and promontory. A countryside that is, to some extent, still uncontaminated as disinclined to mass tourism yet, at the same time, remodelled by the skilful work of generations of farmers. Along the shoreline of the Costa degli Dei, the spectacle is one of a kind, unique because there are all the types of coast found in Italy. There are some of the most beautiful beaches in Calabria in the province of Vibo Valentia. Capo Vaticano, a short way from Vibo, is a promontory that extends into one of the bluest and most transparent seas of Italy. Watching the return of the fishing boats in the port area, the auction of the catch in the collection centre and the construction of the wooden boats with the old techniques of the master boatbuilders is very evocative. Vibo Marina also offers historical and architectural attractions such as Bivona Castle, built in 1442 to protect Bivona port from pirate forays, used for military purposes and often for economic ones, currently a ruin.
The Monte Poro plateau, defined as the balcony over the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Gioia Tauro, is one of the most evocative places in the province of Vibo Valentia. In addition to the splendid coasts, the area around Vibo has a very rich natural heritage in the form of a mainly hilly and mountainous panorama, brimming with biodiversity. Monte Poro can be defined as the fulcrum of the Vibo hinterland. It overlooks the splendid landscape of the Costa degli Dei, nestling in a panoramic position between the mountains and the sea, and has extensive grassland still used for pasture. It is not very high in altitude and this has enabled the development of rich vegetation with lush pastures, olive groves, vineyards and lines of poplars. The Pecorino cheese which has taken the name of the place is produced on Monte Poro; many consider it to be the best in southern Italy as the milk from local farms has the extra touch given by the essences of the plateau where there is extensive grazing. This cheese is a local excellence that is differentiated from similar products by some passages during the production process.
Vibo and the surrounding area
The beautiful Mediaeval village of Briatico, just before Tropea, is reached moving southwards along the coast from Vibo Valentia. Briatico is full of archaeological excavations where outdoor activity enthusiasts can hike up the River Ruffa to discover the old mills of Arab origin. Serra San Bruno, a centre in the Serre Vibonesi, is well-known for its Carthusian monastery (Certosa) and the surrounding mountainous environment. The old centre of Pizzo and the famous church of Piedigrotta, excavated entirely in the tuff overlooking the sea, are both worth a visit.
Wine and Food
The story and culture of Vibo Valentia are also reflected in the gastronomic traditions full of flavour. The best-known products include the preserves, tuna, olive oil, chestnuts, mushrooms and the desserts and cakes. However, the products par excellence of the province are the celebrated ‘Nduja di Spilinga, a soft, extremely spicy, salami, fileja, an egg pasta formed by hand into long braids and, lastly, the well-known tartufo di Pizzo (an ice-cream dessert). Wine-tasting, including the Zibibbo, a white wine produced in Pizzo and Briatico, shouldn’t be forgotten. The traditional sweets and cakes of the local cuisine that are a must for tasting include ciciriati, biscuits with a filling based on coffee, chick peas, cocoa and walnuts, pittapie - biscuits filled with a mix of dried raisins, walnuts, pine nuts and chocolate, and sanguinaccio, pig’s blood boiled with sugar, walnuts, dark chocolate and pine nuts.
Piazza Martiri D'Ungheria, Vibo Valentia