The origin of the word Monasterace is rather uncertain, and it is still shrouded in mystery: it is thought that it may derive from the Greek word Monasteraki, which means small monastery, owing to the monastery of Saint Mark, built under the Byzantines, the rests of which can be visited in the ancient archaeological site. A second interpretation of the name refers to the Norman period, during which people used to refer to towns, built for protection purposes, with the prefix Motta, and, in this case, Motta Sterace. A third assumption refers to the Sumerian period, when it was thought that the centre was the place of the star of Ishtar and for this reason, it was called Mulishtraki.
One thing is certain, this town is full of stories to discover and live, also owing to the mystery surrounding its origin.
A bit of history
Monasterace is a municipality of 3,486 inhabitants, in the province of Reggio Calabria located on the Ionian coast of Calabria and structured in two hamlets: the upper part, where the ancient Medieval-looking village is located, and the Seashore, where the Magna Grecia city of Kaulon was once located. According to tradition, the polis was founded by Kaulon, son of the Amazon Clete, in the VII century b.C., during the war of Troy. The thriving Greek town developed in the current territory of Monasterace Marina, from the Cocinto ridge, where the rests of the ancient Doric Temple can be found, up to the hills of Tarsinale and Contrada Lambrosi.
The destruction of Kaulon on behalf of Romans and the resulting epidemic, which spread out on the coastal area, caused the construction of villages on the hills and, accordingly, the development of Monasterace Superiore. The inhabitants at that time immediately tried to exploit the structure of the territory, which would have allowed a valid protection from enemy incursions, thus building the Medieval castle, the origins of which date back to the XI century. During the years, the four-sided fortress underwent amendments and enlargements: only the stone access bridge and some rests of the walls of the original structure still exist, whereas the current installation dates back to the XVI century. During the Norman reign, Monasterace became a Kastron of Stilo, a fortified location, that is used for protection purposes, owing to the shape of its territory. Then, it passed under the domination of the mysterious Order of the Knights Templar and, then, under the reign of the Angevins.
In modern times, the village, as many other centres in Calabria, was affected by the repeated earthquakes, which, although they have deeply changed its social structure, they were not able to change its original identity, which can be still noticed nowadays during the celebrations of the main local traditions.
Wandering around the village
The entrance of Monasterace Superiore features 3 ancient gates: the main one, Porta Marina, Porta “Tripu” and Porta a sud.
Once entered, you can still feel the magical atmosphere of a Medieval village. A maze of steep alleys and small houses, one on top of the other, built around a majestic fortress, lead the way to an emotional itinerary, rich of glimpses and history. The hospitality and kindness of local people are able to sweeten the walk in the village, which has some many beauties to discover. Among these, the Medieval Castle, anciently used for the protection of the town from Byzantine attacks, stands out. Four towers mark the sides of the four-sided perimeter, which contains inside a big courtyard, where a tank was located, for the collection of rainwater. Another required stop of this walk is the Mother church, located in Piazza Duomo, and dating back to the early decades of the XVIII century, and do not forget to visit the Church of Saint Nicholas of Bari, dating back to the end of the XVII century.
Moving to the front territory, Monasterace Marina, you will be lucky enough to know the history of the people, who lived in ancient Kaulon, thanks to the archaeological park, in the surroundings of the beach, which protects some remarkable vestiges. Among the houses, which can be visited, there is the well-known “Casa del Drago”, which is named after the many-coloured mosaic decoration (currently preserved in the nearby Archaeological Museum), which, in ancient times, was located on the threshold of one of the premises. Particulary interesting are the ruins of the Doric Temple of the V century b.C., the basement of which still exists.
The visit of the park can be supplemented with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Kaulon, where the underwater rests, consisting in very rare traces, both as for sizes and for their conservation status, are preserved. An integrating part of the ancient colony was the lighthouse of Punta Stilo, which stands out on the ridge, bearing the same name. This octagonal tower was probably built in honour of the king of gods, Zeus, and was used for the first time in 1895. The ancient part of Monasterace Marina is opposed to the modern tourist centre, featuring a wide waterfront, which runs parallel to the town’s beaches, stretching over several kilometres. Here, the deep blue Ionian waters break on a stretch of coast, full of several seaside resorts and restaurants, where you can try local culinary specialities: do not miss the fried “surici”, a typical tasteful dish of sea towns of this so unique area of Calabria.
Monasterace all year round
The unique shape of the town in Calabria, between sea and hills, allows pleasant visits all year round.
During summertime, when the coast is invaded by the perfume and colours of jasmines, the golden beaches of Monasterace Marina welcome beach lovers, who can choose between the comfort of the sea resorts or the adventures of water sports, such as sailing, windsurf or underwater archaeology. In spring, one of the most magical moments to live in the village is Easter. The celebrations of the Holy Week culminate with the “Cunfrunta”, a magical ceremony, which takes place on Easter Sunday and represents the moment when Jesus meets his mother. The ultimate dessert of Easter tradition is the “Cuzzupa”, a doughnut decorated with eggs, which represents the resurrection of the Lord. Every 3 years, in May, the “U territoriu”, one of the most original events of Calabria, takes place. On this occasion, the statue of Sant’Andrea Avellino, the patron saint of Monasterace, is carried on a shoulder by the worshippers throughout the whole town including cultivated and non-cultivated fields.
Autumn, just as spring, are the perfect seasons for hikes in the hinterland: nearby, there is the Vallata dello Stilaro, where you can discover incredible places in uncontaminated nature. Monasterace is rich of typical culinary dishes, which have deep roots in its past and every moment is good to try them out: local legumes are cooked in the “pignate,” ancient earthenware vases, which bear witness of a long ceramic-making tradition. Not to mention sausages, seasoned with plenty of hot pepper and wild fennel or preserves, prepared by the housewives, in complete compliance with traditional processes. Winter is the feast of San Nicola, on December 5 and 6, with the preparation of the delicious “paniceda”, typical sandwiches arranged on this occasion.
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