Visit Stilo in Calabria, a small village replete with Byzantine treasures
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visit stilo historic calabrian village
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Stilo

Nestled on the rocky slopes of Monte Consolino is Stilo, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. This quaint treasure trove contains the greatest Byzantine treasures of the entire southern part of the region, offering the chance to admire influences from the ancient Eastern Roman Empire

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A bit of history

The rise of Stilo is believed to be connected to the vicissitudes involving the Magno-Greek city of Kaulon, destroyed by the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse. Certain inhabitants of the colony took refuge at the base of Monte Consolino, likely forming the first settlement.

It was only in the 10th century, with the arrival of the Byzantines that the village of Stilo truly came to life. The presence of the Byzantines gave rise to profitable cultural and economic exchanges between the Eastern Mediterranean, which can be seen to this day in the significant artistic and architectural treasures, such as the famous Cattolica di Stilo. Indeed, from 554 to 1059, the history of Byzantium overlapped with that of Calabria, influencing its culture, customs and especially its religion. The Byzantine monks emigrated to the region and retreated to the caves just beyond Stilo, referred to as the “lauree”, to pray in isolation. These natural cavities still bear the beautiful frescoes of the Byzantine school, which document the great historical and artistic value. In 1072, Stilo was conquered by the Normans, much to the discontent of the entire population. To better oversee the rebel village, on 7th May 1093, on the summit of Monte Consolino, Roger I of Sicily ordered the construction of the Castello Normanno, which went on to have a prominent role during the subsequent Angevin domination. In fact, it was part of the 17 fortresses of the Reale Curia and was used as a prison. Stilo is the birthplace of the philosopher and theologian Tommaso Campanella who, in 1599, played a fundamental part in the revolt of the peasants against Spanish domination. His aim was to establish a Theocratic Republic, ultimately the reason behind his subsequent imprisonment. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, Stilo grew to be an important iron and steel hub, with the surrounding area becoming the headquarters of the important Regia Ferriere.

Wandering around the village

In the past, the heart of the village could be accessed via the 5 gates that formed part of the ancient city walls. Today, few traces remain other than the Porta Stefanina, which is still intact, adjacent to a round tower on one side and on the other to the wall of the Chiesa di San Domenico, built in 1600 at the behest of Tommaso Campanella. The ideal starting point for exploring Stilo is the main piazza, where the Baroque-style Chiesa di San Francesco is located, along with the bronze monument dedicated to the philosopher and author of “Città del Sole”(“The City of the Sun”), with traces of the house in which he was born still standing. A maze of alleyways, lined with traditional interconnected houses, leads to the greatest historical and artistic attractions of the city, known for being one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Of particular interest is the Duomo (Cathedral), also known as the mother church. In late-Baroque style, it was reconstructed after the violent earthquake of 1783. One stand-out is the ogival Gothic portal, which safeguards the monumental altarpiece by Caracciolo.  Of considerable interest is the Abbazia di San Giovanni Therestis. Observing over the town centre from Monte Consolino are the remains of the Castello Normanno, from where a breath-taking view overlooking the sea and mountains can be enjoyed. Continuing along, we come to the Fontana dei Delfini or Fontana Gebbia, the Chiesa di San Nicola and finally, the unmissable Cattolica di Stilo. Nestled within a beautiful natural landscape, the Cattolica can be reached by a short walk. This is the most evident and majestic demonstration of how the village has become imbued with Byzantinism throughout the centuries. Not far from this town rich in life and history is the Ferdinandea, an estate extending across 3,600 hectares, the first holiday resort of Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, and then headquarters of the Regie Ferriere.

Stilo all year round

Thanks to its strategic position between sea and mountain, Stilo offers evocative experiences to visitors both during the warmers seasons and in the cooler periods. Spring and autumn are ideal for hiking and trekking, with two of the most popular itineraries being those with the Castello Normanno and the Cascate del Marmarico as protagonists. In addition to the inimitable landscapes, the path leading to the fortress also offers the opportunity to admire the famous lauree, the caves in which the monastic communities took refuge, leaving behind an abundance of frescoes. The Cascate del Marmarico, being the highest waterfalls in Calabria and the Southern Apennines, are located along the upper course of the Stilaro river near the town of Bivongi, around fifteen kilometres from Stilo. The challenging uphill path is characterised by the perfumes, colours and sounds of uncontaminated nature. Exertion is rewarded by an exclusive panorama and possibly by a refreshing dip in the freshwater. During the summer, on the first Sunday of August, Stilo takes on a Renaissance feel, with the evocative celebration of the Palio di Ribusa. In the past, this event represented the extraordinary occasion on which all social classes could freely trade their wares without having to follow the rules imposed by the feudatories. Today, the inhabitants of Stilo embody their ancestors from the 500-600s, with the city populated by knights, dames, jesters, craftsmen, swordsmen and fire-eaters. Even the flavours hark back to those of the Renaissance. Held after a series of parades is the traditional and exciting contest between the knights representing the historic houses of the Contea di Stilo.

 

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