Visit to MuSABA, the Sistine Chapel of Calabria

Visit the open-air museum created by the genius of two extraordinary artists, Nik Spatari and his wife, Hiske Maas
Mammola Musaba 3 (foto Luca Oliva)

© Regione Calabria

Art and Culture

Feb 15, 2024 3:51 PM

There is a place suspended between reality and imagination, contemporary art and nature.

A place that announces itself and it does not go unnoticed by the vibrancy of the colours and shapes that stand out on the edge of the state road leading to Mammola, a small town in the province of Reggio Calabria already famous for its gastronomic tradition of stockfish.

This place is the MuSABA, an acronym that stands for the Santa Barbara Museum Park and it indicates the impressive open-air museum created in the 1960s by the genius of two extraordinary artists, the late Nik Spatari and his wife, Hiske Maas.

A story of love and art called MuSABA

Artist Nik Spatari and his wife Hiske Maas' encounter with the Calabrian land was love at first sight.

It was 1969 when the two creatives, already well-known on the international avant-garde scene for their acquaintanceship with the likes of Le Corbusier, who initiated them into Primitivism, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst, arrived on an anonymous hillock in Ionian Calabria, never to leave it again.

Bewitched by the unique atmosphere of the place, which at the time combined the abandoned ruins of the ancient Monastery of Santa Barbara (4th century B.C.) with the Mediterranean maquis overlooking the Ionian Sea, they decided to stay indefinitely and they embark on a unique adventure in southern Italy, which still amazes visitors and artists from all over the world.

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From then on, that strip of land will be a true centre of experimentation of languages, materials and forms of contemporary art, transforming itself into one of the most beautiful en plein air museums in southern Italy and a unique immersive experience.

To visit MuSABA is to embark on a journey full of emotion and beauty, harmoniously combining sculpture, painting, mosaic art and every other form of expression in which artist Nik Spatari has ventured during his long and prolific career.

A space bordering on utopia, unprecedented in Calabria for the era in which it was born and developed, still unique and continuously enriching, like a living organism that from the work of its creator becomes an independent creature.

A museum-workshop that finds its barycentre in the filiform Ombra della sera (2006), the gigantic human figure, 15 metres high, that welcomes visitors from the centre of the cloister of the guest quarters. Then there is the Universal Concept (1983), the most imposing work in the Santa Barbara Park Museum, which is its symbol par excellence.

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Giobbe's dream, or the Sistine Chapel of Calabria

Juxtaposed in magnificence to the Sistine Chapel, a thoroughly contemporary and destabilising Sistine, the work entitled Giobbe's Dream represents perhaps Spatari's highest spiritual expression.

A 14-metre-long, 6-metre-wide and 9-metre-high dream, which unfolds in bright colours across the vault of what was once the apse of the former Santa Barbara Monastery, in which biblical, dreamlike and obsessive scenes converge, which the artist reworks directly from his own subconscious and from the memory of old files of a Bible illustrated by Gustavo Doré.

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Giobbe, the man abandoned by God and obsessed by the double - the twin, the two wives, the two lands - dreams and creates, from his own dream, this extraordinary work that closes the circle of an emotionally charged journey within MuSABA.

Beyond the park-museum area, the historical centre of Mammola, nestled on the slopes of the Aspromonte National Park, offers the beauty of ancient buildings and churches, such as the 12th-century, three-nave Matrix Church, the 16th-century Church of the SS. Annunziata, the Church of the Madonna del Carmine and the Church of San Filippo Neri (16th century). Not far from the town is the Sanctuary of San Nicodemo dedicated to the Basilian abbot who lived here in the 10th century.


How to end on a high note? With a meal based on the typical local dish, the famous Stockfish of Mammola, declined in a thousand variations.