A very ancient site which some historians dated back to pre-Hellenic times, the city is rich in monuments and works of art and has the most impressive and breathtaking views of the entire region. And yet the peaks of Serra Dolcedorme and Serra delle Ciavole, the heart of the Pollino National Park, within the valley is the area of "Montagnola del Pollino"; it belongs to the area of Cerchiara and is renowned for the presence of specimens of "dwarf beech" and larches.
Due to discovery of numerous archaeological finds, it is believed that the first settlements of Cerchiara may date back to the Paleolithic period and at the beginning of the Hellenistic-Roman era. With regard to the etymology of the name, some believe it could derive from the oak that grows spontaneously on the area (therefore “Querciaia, Querciara, Cerchiara”); others believe its origins may lie in the semitic word kirkis (hot) due to the presence of a thermal sulphur water spring.
Cerchiara di Calabria is a great base for nature walks and trips to the Pollino. In the Acqua Rossa forest, there is a picnic area and a trekking trail that leads to Monte Sellaro. It is also possible to visit the Grotta delle Ninfe (cave of the Nymphs), a spa already known to the inhabitants of Sibari. However, if we wish to visit the caves of Cerchiara, we must be expert hikers.
The shrine, significant evidence of Renaissance art is an architectural complex, dug in part in the rock, which incorporates internally the cave that preserves the miraculous image of the Black Madonna, preserved in a silver reliquary. It rises in a site already in ancient times dedicated to worship, as evidenced by finds dating back to the X century, found in rocky caves of Monte Sellaro. Its construction - according to local tradition - began in 1440 when in the same place, precisely in one of these caves, some Byzantine tablets were discovered, among the oldest ever found, and the image of the Beata Vergine delle Armi (from the Greek tòn armòn - "cave"), from which the Sanctuary takes its name. Inside, the shrine preserves notable works of art and baroque silverware.
A fifteenth-century building restored during the following century, the church of San Pietro has an interior with three naves, original of the Renaissance architecture. The present tower, rebuilt in 1920, stands on the same point of the old one built in 1766 and which collapsed in November 1908.
Inside it preserves some paintings on canvas, such as the circumcision of N.S., with many figures around the old Simeon and the Virgin who attends, with a glory of the angels, to the rite; the Madonna with Child having at their feet in adoration S. Mark and S. Matthew; Our Lady of the Rosary with the Mysteries surrounding her, in rich wooden gilded frame. Both the paintings as the frame are of provincial Baroque art; the capture of S. Peter and Paul, a scenographic composition, with the colour and manner of Neapolitan painting of the second half of the eighteenth century.
The last feudal lords of Cerchiara were the Pignatelli, who in 1600 Built a new residence in the town of Piana di Cerchiara, to the left of the Caldanello stream. Due to the building’s grandeur and elegant architecture, it was called Palazzo della Piana.
Around the estate there was a mill, oil mill and the oven, where people could request, weather permitting, the service of the milling of wheat and olives or that of the baking of bread. These services of feudal origin were followed by the Pignatelli with one of the first agricultural industries of Calabria, that of licorice and linked with that of Corigliano.
The product was among the best on the London market, as London's commercial newspaper, the "Morning Cronich" classified it as "excellent due to the purity and colour".
The springs of the Grotta delle Ninf (Cave of Nymphs), whose sulphur water feed the spa complex with the same name are of great importance. In the impressive cave, whose walls of calcareous rock open up in some points toward the sky, there is a pool of hot water that was already known to the ancient citizens of Sybaris. Here mud with therapeutic properties is formed. According to the ancient legend, the Grotta delle Ninfe Lusiadi was the hidden cavern which guarded the thalamus of the legendary Calypso.
Selected by Slow Food at Turin’s last “Salone del Gusto” food fair, the bread of Cerchiara in Calabria is becoming known outside of the region due to its intense taste of oven-baked bread and its traditional aroma when it is freshly baked.
The Bread of Cerchiara bears the mark of the Pollino National Park, which adopted it as a typical product of the mountain area included among those to be protected. The large shape and slow cooling of the furnace cook the dough as needed and allow it to retain the aromas and flavours of its ingredients. The Bread of Cerchiara has created a small industrial interest which contributes to the town’s economic development, employing a good number of people for its production, appreciating a popular tradition.
The city of bread is constantly fighting against the times and modernity that is looming, and for this reason the Municipality has created the Museo del Pane e della Civiltà contadina (Museum of bread and of farming civilisation) in an old mill dating back to the 1800s, in the middle of the old town centre that dates back to the medieval period. Inside, the museum contains scenes of period equipment, antique millstones, photographs and life size figures of those who were a part of agricultural life and work at the bakery, from the moment in which the grain was threshed and brought to the mill. until its transformation into bread.
There are beautiful paintings in acrylic of two meters by three that revive the walls with rural scenes of the past. Moreover, the screening room, allows to watch documentaries that literally bring visitors back in time to living daily life at the bakery.
The Parco Comunale archeologico-speleologico della Cessuta (Archaeological-Speleological Municipal Park of the Cessuta), near the Santuario di S. Maria delle Armi, offers wonderful trails and itineraries, that unfold all the way to the top of the Sellaro. The park encloses the entire inhabited centre and spreads for over 300 hectares of forest in which to admire beautiful specimens of nerium shrubs, chestnut trees, holly oak, Hungarian oak and many other species.
The Park falls entirely on the eastern slope of Monte Sellaro and is in turn included in the Pollino National Park. The area is completely equipped with picnic areas to offer visitors the opportunity to come into direct contact with nature.
In the the town of Calvario- one of the starting points of the route - the refuge, although situated close to the town centre, is entirely immersed in a typically mountainous landscape, among forests of conifers and holm oaks. The attractiveness of these wild places calls on visitors to go on trips along these routes, winding along the gorge, leading to the town centre and accessed from various picturesque sites (Grotta delle Ninfe, Ponte Gravina, Calvario) and from the town itself.
The distance of these winding routes, open to all, is pretty safe because as they are protected by wooden fences, and, in the steeper points, the journey is facilitated by a steel cable anchored to the rock, which allows to continue the journey. A walk along the path of the Grotta delle Ninfe, offers six kilometres of breathtaking views; or it can also be accessed from the Ponte Gravina, along the Statale 92, passing through the gorge on winding paths for about five kilometres. Moving from Calvario, the stretch is shorter, only two kilometres, but is without doubt the most spectacular spot. From here, our gaze, captures all. If you are coming from Cerchiara, starting from Via Gravina, go along a kilometre descending down the cliff through a “via ferrata” (or protected climbing route found) almost at the shore of the stream, to then emerge, always in the centre of the town, near the Town Hall.