Explore all the hidden attractions of the magical town of Gerace, in the Calabria region.
The magnificent village of Gerace dominates from its hilltop a very picturesque portion of Calabria, in Southern Italy. Here, in fact, we are located within the splendid Aspromonte National Park, and the land surrounding Gerace is called Locride, an area much loved by anyone seeking wild and unspoiled coastlines as well as significant cultural and historical insights.
Accompanying you in the discovery of this Calabrian hidden gem, the beautiful Gerace, will be for us a wonderful journey of nature, history, but also an unsuspected network of events with a very peculiar character.
So, discover with us what to see in the Italian village of Gerace.
What to see in Gerace, the so-called village of the Sparrowhawk
Gerace is a word derived from Greek: Ἱέραξ (Hiérax), in fact, means "Sparrowhawk."
Legend has it, in fact, that it was a sparrowhawk in 915 that showed the inhabitants of the Greek colony of Locri Epizephiri, who had escaped a terrible Saracen raid, the exact spot where to found the new town. The approximately 500-meter cliff on which the town rests today, in fact, was the ideal place to defend against Saracen raids from the sea.
And, therefore, whether Gerace is the result of a legend or not, what is certain is that today its beauty never ceases to fascinate its guests, so much so that the village has been included in the list of Italy's Most Beautiful Villages.
Wandering through the streets of the center, you will discover a town fond of its religious traditions, with a considerable number of Christian monuments and places of worship: there were in fact as many as 128 churches, of which only 17 survive to this day! For this reason, Gerace has long been called "the holy city".
There is no shortage, however, of precious palaces whose facades beautifully tell of the city's medieval past. And, in fact, this is how Edward Lear, an English writer and illustrator, described it in the mid-19th century:
Full of beautifully situated palaces, set on a narrow edge of rock [...] Marveled at so many views from every side; every rock, shrine or palace in Gerace seemed to be arranged and colored especially for artists...
Here are the monuments, churches and all the things to see in the elegant town of Gerace in Calabria.
The Cathedral of Gerace
The Cathedral of Gerace, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, is one of the most interesting buildings to discover in Gerace. Not only because its history, among several collapses and damages, caused also by the earthquake at the end of the 18th century, follows the history of the village, but also because of its particular structure.
From the outside, in fact, the Cathedral of Gerace, built around the Year 1000, looks like a fortress. One of the walls, from which two apses protrude, seems like an enormous wall of limestone.
The style is Romanesque, and inside it presents itself in all the elegant simplicity of the Latin cross. In addition, one cannot fail to notice the contrast, also chromatic, between the white that hovers on the walls and the darker color that predominates on the trussed ceiling. The Baroque influence, on the other hand, is evident on the high altar, and the Byzantine influence on the transept.
Visiting the Cathedral of Gerace is an excellent starting point for learning about Norman religious buildings.
The Norman Castle of Gerace
One of the buildings most scarred by the countless earthquakes is definitely the Norman Castle of Gerace.
It dates as far back as the 7th century, but was fortified and renovated in the Norman era, around 1050. To that period, in fact, dates the central keep-the walls were made from huge megalithic blocks.
Few ruins of the castle remain today, but it was once surrounded by mighty walls and also had a drawbridge. In the center of the building, there was also a small Byzantine oratory, which was used until the 17th century. Unfortunately, the grandiose building on the top of the hill was largely destroyed by the violence of the mid-18th-century earthquake.
It is also worth coming here for the Baglio, the area in front of the castle: it provides wonderful views of the town of Antonimina with colors and atmospheres that follow the rhythm of the day and the seasons.
The Church of San Francesco d'Assisi
It is one of the most important Franciscan churches in southern Italy and is the most important example of the Calabrian Gothic style.
The building dates back to the 13th century and was part of a convent founded by Daniele, one of San Francesco' companions. In the 19th century, the church was deprived of all its art objects, as it was feared confiscation by the French. It was used as a prison, then a mill, an oil mill and even a private residence.
Today the façade has a pointed-arch portal with splendid Arab-Norman motifs. The interior, although rather sober, has several fine artistic elements, such as the Baroque triumphal arch and the sarcophagus of the warrior Nicola Ruffo.
Tocco Square, the heart of the town
"Tocco" apparently comes from the Greek and means "seat," or "assembly." For some, however, "tocco" meant the headgear of the official who administered justice here, suggesting that this was the Square of Justice.
Today, however, Gerace's Piazza del Tocco looks like a splendid open-air living room, overlooked by some splendid town buildings. For example, here are Casa Migliaccio, Casa Furci, as well as the home of Baron Macrì. Also not far away is the City Palace, which once served as the seat of the local feudal lords.
Gerace and its events: the splendid Enchanted Village
We do not do justice to the village of Gerace if we do not mention the magnificent events it hosts throughout the year!
Easter, for example, is an important time with the local confraternities engaging in sacred performances; a religious and country fair is also organized the following Sunday with the sale of typical local products.
Christmas is also a popular celebration, and year after year the traditional Living Nativity scene is staged and spread throughout the village.
Gerace's best-known event, however, is undoubtedly Il Borgo Incantato (literally, the Enchanted Village) an international street art festival. It takes place at the end of July and attracts a very large audience every year, drawn by events, tastings, performances by jugglers, musicians, clowns and tightrope walkers.
On those days, the village of Gerace glows with a splendid, at times magical atmosphere, as if inviting its guests to explore it again, and again.
What else to discover in the charming village of Gerace?
The typical dishes of Gerace
Gerace also presents some interesting peculiarities from a culinary (and wine!) point of view.
The flavors are strong, typical of the peasant tradition. For example, among the most beloved products is handmade pasta seasoned with eggplant or goat sauce. Also highly appreciated are pork by-products flavored with local chilies. There is never a shortage of traditional Mediterranean ingredients, such as sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
Typical Gerace dishes include fritters, alatucia with eggs, and curcudia, a polenta made of yellow flour and broccoli to be served very hot.
The best-known sweets from Gerace
Desserts are also well represented among Gerace's typical dishes!
Cicerata, for example, is a Christmas dessert, made with boiled chickpeas, honey and cinnamon.
Rafioli, on the other hand, are cookies made of flour, eggs and sugar, decorated with a white icing. They are famous since they are considered the sweets of weddings.
Then there are zeppole, nougat, ice cream, nocatule (similar to doughnuts) and the very good sammartine. They are made with puff pastry and typical local fruits: dried figs, almonds, walnuts, washed down with muscat wine.
If you visit Locride, you cannot fail to taste its wines. In particular, this land is famous for the production of passito wines.
The most famous is undoubtedly the Vino Greco di Gerace, which, as its name implies, was already known in Greek times and was served with honey and figs. Also famous, and delicious, is Mantonico di Bianco, a white berry wine of rather mysterious origins.
Where is Gerace located
Gerace lies within Aspromonte, in the province of Reggio Calabria.
This area is called Locride, after the Greek region from which the exiles who later founded the many colonies on the Ionian coast arrived.
The village is located about 100 km from Reggio Calabria and can be reached in about 1.30 hours by car.
We hope this trip to things to see (and taste) in Gerace has given you some inspiration for your next trip to Calabria!