Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tickling and Trampling Around The Toe of Italy - Province of Reggio Calabria

Pictorial by Barry Greville-Eyres 

Mandorla - Calabria's Tree of Life! Historically this tree grew in profusion in the surrounding mountainous areas naturally or as a cultivated tree crop along with olive and citrus groves. Some literature refers to oak trees with acorns which were milled and used as a wheat flour replacement in the making of bread.  Its possible that this is a reference to almond flour. From a theological perspective a mandorla is a vesica piscis shaped aureola (protective shell-nut and kernel configuration) which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art. It is especially used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods. The term refers to the almond like shape: "mandorla" means almond nut in Italian. In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, such as the ResurrectionTransfiguration, and the Dormition of the Theotokos.  


The lower reaches of the Amendolea River with its broad floodplain on its relentless march to the coast. Dry for most of the year, it is quickly transformed into a raging torrent and one of the fast flowing rivers in the region with the onset of the rainy season. 

The destructive forces of nature in this harsh and dynamic bio-physical environment including episodic earthquakes (1783, 1908) and floods (1973) with associated landslides are on display and litter the watercourse of the Amendolea River. 

Views of the Amendolea hinterland mostly made up of clay-rich hills with low-rising and uneven vegetation, furrowed by winter-time torrents that deposit debris ripped from the mountainsides downstream. In spite of this, traditionally the river courses were the only ready access routes and lines of communication between the mountainous Aspromonte region and the seaside for long periods of time. In the past the Amendolea River irrigated fields of cereal crops and cultivated trees including citrus and olives also providing water-powered energy to turn the wheels of various mills.   

Agro-tourism and farm-stays have become a thriving cultural and socio-economic concern in Amendolea and the region generally, exploiting its true uniqueness. This includes bergamot orange (depicted in the image above) which is an iconic, citrus fruit  only grown in Reggio Calabria where more than 80% is produced. The tree may well be native to the region as there is evidence as early as the 14th century of a citrus tree known as Limon pusillus calaber.    

At the centerpiece and on the banks of the Amendolea River is the Il Bergamotto Farm-stay with mixed, cultivated tree crops - bergamot citrus (center with dark green foliage) and flanked by olive trees (grey-green foliage). The citrus thrives in the area due to its favorable micro-climate. The prominent rock outcrop at the center of the picture is the silhouette of Il Lupo or The Wolf.  

The bergamot orange harvest begins in early November and sometimes lasts until February. The  peels are hung out to dry, after which they are brought into workshops for processing. Essential oils are extracted from the ripe peels and its fabled that one hundred fruit yield about three ounces (85 g) of oil. The extract appears as an extremely fragrant fluid with a yellowish or green tint, depending on the peel ripeness. Whereas the fruit itself is inedible, the essence is used in perfumery for its ability to combine with an array of scents to form a bouquet of aromas which complement each other. About one-third of all men's and about half of women’s perfumes contain bergamot essential oil. The juice of the fruit has been used in Calabrian indigenous medicine to treat malaria 

Calabrian fruity, sweet delights consisting of dried figs with almonds inserted and configured in the shaped a cross - a legacy of Byzantine cultural heritage. Lightweight, all natural, wholesome and packed with calorific energy shepherds and now, more recent hikers have drawn great sustenance and pleasure from these trusty and tasty snacks. 


Guides, travel companions and aficionados from the Gruppo Archeologico Valle Dell Amendolea.

Timeless tones and textures - deserted farm homestead adjacent to the Amendolea River.

Local livestock foraging alongside the Amendolea River 

Restoration of iconic Calabrian national monuments.

Overlooking the Amendolea River are remnants of the Castello Ruffo di Amendolea directly adjacent to the namesake medieval village - both of which are an enduring legacy of Greci di Calabria. Definitively abandoned only after the 1908 earthquake, historic Amendolea was rebuilt as a small, agro-pastoral borough at the foot of a huge rock atop of which it is still possible to visit the ruins of the great Ruffo castle. The strategic importance of the site and the castle are immediately self-evident to visitors.     

Arches commanding  panoramic views of mountain, dale and sea.

Conceivably an underground water cistern, within the confines of the Castello Ruffo di Amendolea, used for decades to store this precious commodity.

Birds-eye view of the Amendolea River from the Castella controlling access to the coast and hinterland. 

Withstanding the ravages of time and an abrasive environment.

The ancient steeple of chiesa di S. Nicola or Church of St. Nicola occupying the adjacent ridge line from the Castello Ruffo di Amendolea.

The altar area of the almost medieval chiesa di S. Nicola over-looking the Amendolea River. 

The Grecanici, or rather the Greek towns of Calabria, are located upon the Ionian slopes of the Aspromonte massif, in the Amendolea river valley. Most scholars now believe that the local dialect originated with Byzantine civilization and was brought to Calabria in the 7th century by Basilian monks, excluding the possibility that it might date back to the Magna Graecia period, as was previously believed. At the beginning of the 20th century, the grecanica dialect was still widely spoken in the towns throughout the region, even just outside Reggio Calabria itself. Much has changed, however, and over the span of a century this dialect is now spoken almost exclusively among the older generations. The dialect is in dire danger of dying out. Today, various cultural associations in Bova and the surrounding area are dedicated to recovering this ancient culture and language as much as possible. 

Bova is regarded as the capital of the Calabrian Greek and is well-known for its interesting local crafts and products. These include beautiful blankets and other products woven by hand, featuring characteristic floral and geometric patterns. The town is also home to a number of local woodcarvers, who produce a wide range of traditional yet charming objects. Bova Marina is located at the mouth of the Sideroni tributary having divorced itself from inland Bova several decades ago. In the upper part of Bova town, visitors can admire the ruins of a medieval castle with its two cylindrical towers, which dates back to at least the 11th century. 

From the summit of Bova town visitors can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the hinterland and coastline extending all the way to the eastern coast of Sicily. 

An absent room with an enduring view

A tourism-oriented mosaic mural on the outskirts of Bova depicting the unique characteristics and attributes of the area.

Loggerhead turtle conservation on the beaches at Condofuri Marina. The turtle is known as a flagship species because of their enormous strategic role within the ambit of conservation, all the more so because their ecological characteristics also play a key role in ecosystems: their conservation automatically involves the safeguard of numerous other species, directly or indirectly associated with them, thanks to the protection of extensive habitats and natural territories. 

Condofuri Marina coastline at dawn prior to the invasion of local sun-worshipers

The Calabrian towns traditional known for their Greek origins include: Bova, Condofuri, Galliciano, Roccaforte del Greco, Amendolea, Roghudi and Ghorio di Roghudi. 

Charm, self-determination and resilience personified - Galliciano nestled in its mountain refuge. From the 1950's on, a series of landslides and floods affecting many inland communities materially displaced and dispersed them together with their unique language. The small towns inhabited by shepherds and peasants were rebuilt as anonymous coastal dormitory towns, retaining the original town identity but tacking on the word Marina. The new towns were located several kilometers from their original mountain sites and the populations forcibly transferred there en masse.   

Mass trans-locations were the fates of Africo in 1951 and Roghudi in 1972. Around the same time Galliciano and, later Bova, following landslides (1972/73) and an earthquake (1978), did not escape attempts to transfer the inhabitants on the grounds of natural disaster or political interference. The resistance of the people of a number of inland Greek-speaking villages who have managed to survive, is considered miraculous given the difficult logistic and economic living conditions of the inhabitants. In fact, Galliciano was provided with a completely bitumen-ed road only recently while Bova, the moral capital of the area, is still reached by an rainproof yet winding road built at the beginning of the 20th century.  

The medieval parish church in Galliciano features a magnificent facade and bell tower. 

The church also boasts a splendid 16th century marble statue of Saint John the Baptist and an ornate baptismal font, which is likely the 16th century work of Rinaldo Bonanno.  

The Calabrian towns traditional known for their Greek origins include: Bova, Condofuri, Galliciano, Roccaforte del Greco, Amendolea, Roghudi and Ghorio di Roghudi. Its little wonder that the Greek flag is openly displayed in the Galliciano piazza. 

Galliciano, the only entirely Greek-speaking village still in existence today, deserves special mention. The village is renowned in the entire area for its high degree of preservation of the Graecanic traditions, not only the language, but all socio-cultural dimensions including the music, food and rituals. Regrettably, the language is not used as widely as in the past but is primarily spoken within the family context. 

The blogger with Galliciano village folk visiting their unique Graecanic museum which pays homage to their extraordinary cultural heritage   

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