Gerace (RC)

The elegance of the Holy City

The village of Gerace is deep in the high grounds of Locride and presents its Norman and Byzantine hearts, displaying its simple yet elegant beauty. The name Gerace comes from the Greek word Ιέραξ (jerax), which means ‘sparrowhawk’.
 
According to the legend, a sparrowhawk indicated exactly where to build the village, far from the seaborne attacks of the Saracens.
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Gerace is a maze of alleys that inlay a landscape where culture and nature slide into each other.
 
Gerace is excavated in the rock on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea and is a labyrinth of lanes that adorn a landscape where culture and nature blend together. The foreign dominations reflected in the different styles of the wonderful squares in the village have left a complex artistic identity where the energy of a proud and elegant land vibrates.
 
Gerace
 

And elegance is the first thing that the visitor to the village notes. Gerace is slowly revealed to visitors, every corner hides chapters of culture and history. The Byzantine shapes of Gerace haven’t disappeared with the passage of time and other influences. The east has had to be hidden here as in other places but it’s been assimilated, digested and displayed with lightness.  

Everything in Gerace talks about civilisation, culture exchanges and a profound religiosity - the town once called Holy City with 128 churches now only has 17. The formidable artistic concentrate of churches and palaces doesn’t tell all about the charm of Gerace, which continues intact through the narrow streets, in the squares, arches, underpasses, rich doorways, the surviving domed wood-burning ovens for baking bread and the walls full of history, keeping in reserve wonderful surprises, as dazzling as precious stones. The Moorish mullioned windows of the so-called ‘Casa Catalana’, the studios of the potters dug from the rock, and the cathedral, one of the most important, and wonderful, works of art in southern Italy.

Gerace is rightly included among the most beautiful villages of Italy and claims a series of attractions that leave the visitor truly satisfied, starting with its architectural asset of national interest - the cathedral, the largest in Calabria.

 
Gerace
 
Through the village

The best way to visit Gerace is to walk through its four different nuclei - Borgo Maggiore, Piana, Borghetto and the old centre. There are about 30 churches, including the cathedral, consecrated in 1045 and certainly one of the most important in southern Italy, with the associated Diocesan Museum, the monastery church of San Francesco d’Assisi, the Greek Orthodox church of San Giovannello and the church of Santa Maria del Mastro, in the traditional narrow streets.

Only the well and part of the cloister remain of the monastery church of San Francesco d’Assisi. The church of San Giovannello, a small mediaeval building with a single nave that evokes a more subdued, austere spirituality than that of the magnificence of the cathedral, still emanates the oriental light of Byzantium. Byzantium is also in the evanescent frescoes, the architecture with a single nave, the mixed burials in the tombs of Annunziatella church, contemporary with San Giovannello, which was already crumbling at the beginning of the 16th century.

 
Gerace
 

The church of Santa Maria del Mastro, a superb building with a Byzantine layout even though it was constructed after the consolidation of Norman power, tells of a ‘Greekness’ still alive in Gerace.
Lastly, the castle, now in ruins, is reached by climbing past the church of San Francesco or the side streets of the cathedral, and crossing the open space called ‘Baglio’. It was built by the Byzantines on pre-existing structures and had fortifications that surrounded the whole cliff. It was devastated by the earthquake of 1783.

 
Gerace
 
The cathedral

Gerace cathedral has been declared a national Byzantine-Romanesque-Norman monument.
It’s the largest in Calabria and is the most imposing evidence of the Norman occupation of the region. Dedicated to Maria Assunta, the cathedral was built in the Norman period between 1085 and 1120 on an existing building dating to the 8th century. Its imposing structure makes it look more like a fortress than a religious building but its majesty also makes it the most representative monument of Byzantine-Romanesque-Norman architecture in Calabria.

 
Gerace
 

Two of the three semi-circular apses protrude from the large limestone wall. Inside, there are three naves hosting 20 granite and marble columns surmounted by late Imperial capitals, interrupted in the centre by two T-pillars. Its primitive style, between Romanesque and Norman, is pure and essential. There’s a bas-relief portraying St. Thomas’s disbelief along the left nave while the apse holds the altar of the Sacred Heart of Mary, created in 1771.
The long apsed choir, of the same size as the underlying crypt, opens in correspondence with the main nave while the large 15th century chapel opens on the side squares of the transept, covered by a cross vault and decorated by ribs with a complex section hanging down onto elegant corner columns.

 
Gerace
 
Il Borgo Incantato

Il Borgo Incantato (the Enchanted Village) is one of the local people’s favourite events and is an international exhibition of street art in Calabria that tourists flock to.

The aim of the Festival is to bring out both the local tradition and foreign cultures in a unique atmosphere where Gerace is the meeting point of cultures, arts and suggestions, in a marvellous setting where the taste of tradition, in the real meaning of the word, can be rediscovered.

The music, lights and feelings of street art, but also the sublime scents of the local cuisine - all this contributes to making the event unique. The hospitality of the townspeople enables the true local tradition to be tasted and the cellars open their doors for the tasting of local wine and products.
Il Borgo Incantato is a unique time of universal communion through feelings whose nuances turn the nights of Gerace into times of great enchantment.

 
Gastronomia

The food in Gerace starts with wine. The best-known product in the area is the legendary Greco di Gerace, a fortified wine (17 degrees) obtained from Greco grapes and produced in a limited quantity. It’s said that the Greeks offered it as a mark of hospitality, with honey.
The wine and food delicacies, all linked to the peasant tradition, include hand-formed pasta with melanzane mbuttunate (stuffed aubergines), seasoned with oil from large olives, typical of Gerace. Cooking based on frying is still in daily use and the following are typical dishes - alatucia (pork rinds) with eggs, and curcudia, a sort of polenta from Aspromonte. The production of ricotta and cheese using the oldest systems is well-known. Cured meats include coppa and soppressata (Italian salami) eaten with homemade bread. The dried figs prepared with almonds, mulberries and costee (dried pears) are tasty.

 


 


Address Via di Sottoprefettura 1
  89040 Gerace (RC)
Phone number +39 0964 356243
Website http://www.comune.gerace.rc.it/
 

 

There is a group of houses in Gerace village, outside the town walls, where peasants and clay potters still live and work. Clay craftsmen work in tuff-carved caves and continue a tradition that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Gerace has many architectural treasures, from the large Byzantine Cathedral to the tuff-carved houses where skilled potters still shape clay following ancient Greek models. Noble buildings have carved stone gates, the works of local stonemasons. Thousand-year old churches and tuff buildings, remains of the old castle in the upper town, paved narrow streets, everything here reminds the visitors of a fascinating past. The enchanting village has been included among Italian most Beautiful towns. The remarkable Byzantine church of S. Maria del Mastro, built in the 11th century at the center of the village, has a 17th-century façade. The upper area is called Borghetto and it is characterized by many medieval dwellings, some of which built on stone arches. The upper town is located on the flat top of the cliff and it includes Piazza del Tocco, the square where public assemblies were held. The most important noble buildings in Gerace overlook the square.

The Cathedral was partially erected on the rock and a Greek-Byzantine crypt that was probably built on an ancient oratory. The varied crypt columns support 9th-10th century sail vaults. The Cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption and it was consecrated for the first time in 1045 and later in 1222, probably at the presence of Frederick II of Swabia. It is the largest church and one of the most important in Calabria. It has a Norman structure and a Byzantine layout. The nearby Chapel of San Giacomo keeps the “Treasure of the Cathedral” with important liturgical furnishings and silverware, including a precious 12th century cross-reliquary from Jerusalem. The Church of San Francesco (1227) was once dedicated to Saint Lawrence, and the Monastery of the Friars Minor was annexed in 1252. The Gothic Church has a magnificent ogival side portal, with Norman-Arab triple decorated arches. The Church of San Giovennello stands on the Southern side of the Church, and it is a Basilian architectural jewel dating back to the 11th century. The church houses a well that was once employed as a baptismal font. The 18th century Church of Sacro Cuore, baroque Porta del Sole, charming Piazza del Tocco and Church of Sant’Anna are located in the lower village area.

Among the remains of the ancient castle, a round tower, rests of walls and some sparse relics are still visible. The castle was once connected to the town by a lift bridge, and it was a shelter for the population when the town was in danger. It was built during the Norman rule (1057-1060), and it was rebuilt in the 13th -14th century and remodeled again in the 16th century.



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