lands that today are geographically identified as the plateau of the Calabrian Serre, where the Carthusian Monastery of Santo Stefano del Bosco was built; first monastery in Italy and second in Europe after the one in Grenoble, France.
The entire town, with its churches, monasteries and charterhouses is immersed in an aura of mysticism and deep spirituality.
The town is formed by the old town centre called Terravecchia and Spinetto; a more recent district built following the earthquake of 1783, which destroyed most of the old town centre and some of the monastery’s buildings, among which is the charterhouse’s convent church. Today, only the sixteenth-century façade in granite remains as evidence of the monastery’s full grandeur.
The town’s houses have carved granite main doors, small sculpted wooden loggias and wrought-iron railings. Notable churches of Serra San Bruno include the chiesa di San Biagi (church of St Blaise), which has a beautiful façade in local granite and still preserves in its central nave four beautiful statues from the ancient charterhouse, that respectively represent St Bruno, the Madonna with Child, St Stephen and St John the Baptist.
Worthy of interest are also the chiesa di Maria Santissima dei Sette Dolori (church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Seven Sorrows), built in 1721, which represents one of the greatest examples of Calabria’s late-baroque, and older chiesa di San Giovanni (church of St John) built in the town centre. Inside them important works of art are preserved, among which: a precious wooden baroque pulpit, marble and bronze items as well as paintings from the ancient monastery.
There are countless hiking trails to explore in the area of Serra San Bruno, from the most simple to the most demanding and adventurous, through unspoilt places and spectacular views, reserved for every kind of audience: from experts walkers to simple tourists lovers of walks in the woods; trekking and photography enthusiasts wishing to discover the area's flora and fauna and by canyoning and climbing fans to those who practice cross-country skiing and mountain-biking.
Following the paths of the Bosco di Archifòro (Archifòro's Wood) leads to the Pietra del Signore (Stone of the Lord); a large monolith of granite rocks that seems almost suspended. The woods, in addition to housing a rich biodiversity, are home to the largest white fir-tree in Europe.
In a forest, in the town's southern outskirts rises the Carthusian monastery founded by Bruno of Cologne; founder of the Carthusian Order, on lands donated to Munich by Count Roger the Norman. Certosa di Serra san Bruno (San Bruno’s Charterhouse) is Italy's first monastery and the second in Europe following the one in Grenoble, France.
Immersed between secular holly trees, huge beeches, oaks and enormous chestnut trees, the Charterhouse was destroyed almost completely by the earthquake of 1783, to then be rebuilt in neo-Gothic style, between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth Century.
Construction works began immediately and continued rapidly. The main part, in fact, had to be completed before the beginning of winter. The cells for hermits were built around a spring and were to resemble the huts of shepherds and lumberjacks. The church was the only stone building, an indispensable condition for its consecration, which took place on 2 September 1085. Today, over the place that it is believed used to be the cells of the first Carthusian monks, the Cappella di San Bruno (Chapel of San Bruno) stands, together with another chapel dedicated to the Madonna, called "Madonna di Casalibus”.
The inhabitants of the Charterhouse lived completely isolated from the world in legal solitary retreat, which was only the outer framework of an existence where what was essential was to be found elsewhere.
In the six years during which Bruno lived in the great Carthusian monastery, he initiated solitary life within it, running its small community; the Order’s first cradle. Of the original complex, all that remains are: the sixteenth-century walls (with a quadrilateral floor-plan with angular cylindrical towers), the lower part of the façade of the Doric order, part of a rectangular cloister from the seventeenth century with a fountain at the centre, the church's renaissance façade and the old cemetery of the Carthusian Monks. The monastery preserves some valuable works of art of the 17th-18th centuries: in the canopy above the church’s main altar there is a reliquary bust in silver of St Bruno, which dates back to 1520 and a canvas depicting St Francis of Paola.
Today, only a few friars live in the charterhouse. Access is absolutely prohibited and not even the impressive library inside can be visited. Here visitors may only visit the recently opened “Museo della Certosa” (the charterhouse’s museum), that displays the most significant evidence of art in the charterhouse. The Museum is located inside the cloistered perimeter and it can be accessed by means of an independent entrance which is accessible to all.
A few hundred metres away is the church where St Bruno died in 1101. At the base of a large staircase, is the cave where the founder of the Carthusian Order withdrew to pray and sleep, and the pond, which features a statue in the middle of the saint deep in prayer. Tradition tells us that here lie the friar's remains and that when they were brought to light in order to be transferred, a spring began to flow which now feeds the pond.
Serra San Bruno has a strong gastronomical tradition. Typical foods range from tasty pasta dishes such as "pasta alla serrese" (with a sauce based on tuna, capers, anchovies in oil, tomatoes and chilli peppers) to main courses with lamb or pork served by a thousand varieties of mushrooms (fried or preserved in oil). Typical sweets include “gli 'nzulli"; biscuits prepared with a simple water and flour mix with toasted almonds that following baking become quite fragrant and a delightful addiction.