Between cliff-top castles and Stupor Mundi


Cultural historian

Apr 3, 2022 8:46 AM

Travel information


Cultural historian


Amici/Solo coppia

Calabria offers evidence of a warlike past in the powerful walls of the castles that border the region along the coast and inland, fortifications built to defend against frequent foreign incursions and then becoming monuments to architecture and beauty. 
Byzantine and medieval castles, rich in history and culture but also in legends and myths, hidden among the stones of the buildings that have remained standing to defy time, now as then. Ancient vestiges of proud and proud peoples, artistic receptacles under the open sky, Calabria's castles defy in majesty the cliffs that host them and add charm to the surrounding landscape. 
The castles in the Reggio area offered shelter to populations fleeing from overseas pirates and constituted a necessary point of reference for the development of culture in periods of great historical turmoil.

The itinerary is suitable for everyone, practicable by car and for all seasons.

Food tips

The IGP lemon, which has been grown for centuries in the Rocca Imperiale area, is known in the district as Antico or Nostrano di Rocca Imperiale. The fruit of the lemon, of an intense yellow colour, has an extraordinary aroma that distinguishes it from other lemons. 
The results of the analysis showed a high content of limonene and precious natural essential oils of particular aroma. Throughout the year, the Rocca Imperiale lemon produces three types of fruit derived from as many blossoms: Primofiore (harvested from May to July), or Maiolino (harvested from May to July) and Verdello (harvested from August to October).

The undisputed queen of the Roseto area, crowned Italy's most beautiful for 2016, is the cherry
One of the most beloved fruits of all, which no one can resist, the De.Co. Roseto cherry, one of the excellence of this area, has unique organoleptic properties and disarming beauty. Now a protagonist of the local cuisine, it can also be found in delicious first courses, such as maccheroncini with clams and De.Co. cherries, combined with exquisite second courses, as well as in desserts and jams. 

Among the many dishes and typical products that characterise Oriolo from the point of view of gastronomic excellence are the Taralli, crumbly salted biscuits with a distinct aroma of wild fennel. The taralli di Oriolo are made from soft wheat flour, white wine, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, salt and, of course, local wild fennel seeds. Before baking, the taralli are boiled in water and then baked in a wood-fired oven.

Stop 1 - Rocca Imperiale

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Considered the gateway to Calabria, Rocca Imperiale is one of the most picturesque medieval villages in the entire region. It is no coincidence that in 2018 it became one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy
The natural beauty of the landscape and the sea, combined with the architectural and historical heritage, the climate and the geographical position between the Pollino National Park, the Sibari Plain and the Metapontino area, constitute a fascinating tourist attraction among the itineraries of Calabria. 

The imposing Swabian Castle of Rocca Imperiale is located on the top of the hill on which the town lies. The fortress was built by Frederick II of Swabia, called Stupor Mundi because of his charismatic personality that contributed to making him a myth, who ordered the construction or renovation of no less than 200 castles for defensive purposes in southern Italy.
The castle was built in a place of great military and strategic importance and the surveillance action extended to the entire Gulf of Taranto. The construction of the castle was followed by the development of the town, into which the people of a series of fortified settlements in the area converged.
Over the next two centuries, many feudal lords took turns in governing the territory, which was constantly tormented by barbarian raids. In fact, in 1664 the castle withstood an attack by no less than 4,000 Saracen pirates who devastated Rocca, destroying the ancient 13th-century church in the old town centre, of which only the beautiful Romanesque bell tower with its mullioned windows and cornices remains today.
In 1989 the last heirs of the family that owned the Castle decided to donate it to the municipality of Rocca Imperiale.

Stop 2 - Roseto Capo Spulico

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One of the colonies of Ancient Sybaris, Roseto Capo Spulico owes its name to the flourishing production of roses, whose petals filled the pillows of Sybarite princesses. 
Today Roseto is one of Calabria's most sought-after tourist destinations, thanks to its enchanting sea, unspoilt nature, and a policy of territorial governance that has brought appreciable results over the years.
Roseto Capo Spulico offers breathtaking landscapes, a crystal clear sea, a temperate climate and natural beauty of unparalleled value. The attention and dedication to nature, the sea, agri-food production, environmental sustainability through serious policies of awareness and waste separation, have allowed it to be awarded the Green Flag recognition several times.

The Castello Federiciano in Roseto Capo Spulico is without doubt one of the elements that most characterise Calabria in the world. From defence outpost to templar castle, military garrison and sacred place for the Emperor, history and mystery, this is the magic of the Castle of Roseto.
Castrum Roseti was built, together with the surrounding walls, during the reign of Robert Guiscard. 
Originally, it was a self-sufficient castle with stables, prisons, a cistern for collecting water and rooms for the feudal lord's residence. 
The castle is fully representative of Frederick's architecture, but among the ancient stones and in the sunny courtyards one can breathe in the spirit of the Templars: alchemic-templar coats of arms, such as the 'Rose' and the 'Lilies' stand out on the arch that forms the entrance to the defensive walls, and its plan is said to derive from that of the Temple of Jerusalem.
It seems that it was in Castrum Petrae Roseti that the Holy Shroud and the Holy Cloths were kept, at a time when traces of them had been lost. After the sacking of Byzantium in 1204 by the crusaders, nothing more was heard of the relics until about 1356, when only the shroud reappeared in a French church, and then finally arrived in Turin. 
According to research carried out by a direct descendant of Frederick II, and endorsed by sindonologists, the emperor came into possession of them, inheriting them directly from his grandfather Frederick Barbarossa, and took them with him on his travels, even to the Castle of Roseto, only to lose them again during the massacre of Parma in 1248.
Today the castle houses the seat of the Municipality of Roseto Capo Spulico and the Ethnographic Museum of Rural Civilisation, a place where the roots of all the local inhabitants are preserved.

Stop 3 - Oriolo

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Oriolo, at the foot of the Pollino, is a town of ancient origins that grew up around the recently restored Aragonese Castle
The origins of the place are very ancient, if it is true that the kàstron Orzoulon, Oriolo's ancient name, was one of the twenty-five cities that the powerful Sybaris kept under its control at the height of its splendour. 
The village of Oriolo, like other villages in Calabria, was built as a fortress to defend the populations fleeing from the coasts because of the continuous Saracen raids. The town has a seventeenth-century urban layout, with the noble palaces facing onto the main road, which crosses the entire town and connects the feudal lord's residence with the fifteenth-century city walls.

Of Aragonese appearance, the castle, with its quadrangular plan, was first a fief of the Sanseverino da Salerno, then, in the 16th century, became a marquisate of the Pignone del Carretto family, whose coat of arms, with its five pine cones, dominates the entrance to the fortress. Recently restored, the castle built by the Sanseverino family retains its old structure with two watchtowers and the keep.
The castle became a refuge for coastal populations terrorised by pirates until the end of the 17th century. History recalls the devastation wrought in 902 by Ibrahim Ibn Ahmed, the Muslim leader who practised holy war against the infidels. The watchtowers built on the shores of the Alto Ionio, such as those at Albidona and Villapiana, were intended to signal the arrival of the Saracens.