Altomonte (CS)

A Crossroads of History and Contaminations

Altomonte lies at the foot of the Pollino National Park, in a fold of the mountains of northern Calabria. It is one of the most charming villages of the province of Cosenza, and is well-known throughout Italy for its notable artistic-cultural heritage, making it one of the most important artistic centres in the region.
 
The town is partly in the plain, lapped by the Rivers Esaro, Grondi and Fiumicello, and partly in the hills, where the climate is wonderful and there is an extensive panorama through to the Sibari plain and the Ionian Sea.
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Place of encounters and contaminations, between the oriental vein and the derivations of the Arbëreshe ethnic group.
 
Altomonte
 
Altomonte is in a central position and so is a place of meetings and contaminations with an oriental vein, demonstrated by the persistence of Greek rituals, the Arab-originated urban layout, and the Arbëreshë, i.e. the Albanians of Italy, who have maintained their language and traditions despite being fully integrated for centuries.
 
Gothic-Angevin art

The town was built on an existing fortified nucleus and still has a mediaeval setting with old houses with stone doorways, the work of famous local stonecutters of the 17th-19th centuries.

 
Altomonte
 

The centre is full of churches and monuments of great artistic and architectural value which make the town the best example of Gothic-Angevin art in Calabria. The Church of S. Maria della Consolazione, with a magnificent doorway, a large rose window made up of small arches arranged in a wheel and the elegant mullioned window of the massive bell tower, is in the upper part of the built-up area. A monastery founded by the Dominicans in the 15th century is annexed to the church. Today, this houses the Civic Museum, full of fine sculptures and paintings, including masterpieces by Simone Martini and Bernardo Daddi, which have led to Altomonte being described as a sort of island of 14th Tuscan art in Calabria. The museum also hosts a sophisticated collection of old sacred paraments and another of choral books illuminated by the Dominicans.

 
Altomonte
 

The castle of Norman origin is definitely worth a visit. It was extended and restored several times by the successive lords but has maintained its original layout. There are many palaces in the old centre full of charm and culture including Palazzo Giacobini, home of the old hospital, as the place where pilgrims stayed was called; today, it is a reception and conference centre.
The Belluscio Theatre, where prestigious national and international events are held, is worthy of separate mention. The ‘Belluscio’ is an open-air scenic space, cradled in the folds of the old centre of Altomonte.

 
Old centre

There are other surprises here. It’s not unusual to see women sitting in the doorway to their homes, peeling wild cardoons gathered in the countryside. The air in the old centre is full of a mix of scents from the kitchens, the legacy of a flavour-filled peasant culture with ancient Phoenician roots, still alive today and perpetuated on the tables of each house in the village and the trattorias and restaurants offering the most genuine dishes of the local cuisine.

 
The Bread Festival

The Great Bread Festival is held in the streets of the old centre in May. This is one of the most eagerly-awaited dates in Altomonte’s cultural and tourist calendar. There are many stands of local producers, representatives of towns belonging to the Associazione Città del Pane (Association of Bread Towns), towns in the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy ranking and Slow Cities displaying and offering tastes of specialities and quality products. Altomonte Pro Loco (Tourist Office) arranges guided routes among the Forni Accesi (Hot Ovens) and Catui Aperti (grottoes, cellars, stables, etc.). This is a splendid opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the old centre and the goodness of traditional local products.

 
Altomonte
 
Gastronomy

Peasant cuisine is based on the genuine nature of local ingredients. Place of honour goes to homemade pasta and mischiglia, a vegetable and legume soup made of nine wild herbs cooked together. The zafarani cruschi, sun-dried chilli peppers tossed in boiling oil, are typical of the area. The sweets with honey from Arab tradition stand out.

 
Altomonte
 


 


Address Largo della Solidarietà, 1
  87042 Altomonte (CS)
Phone number 0981 948041
Fax 0981 948261
Website http://www.comune.altomonte.cs.it/
 

 

The residential area is located on a marvelous hill 500 m high, surrounded by the majestic Pollino mountain chain. The ridge outline is characterized by the Mediterranean scrub vegetation that creates a wonderful landscape reflected into the artificial lake of Esaro Valley, crossed by clean water flows.

Altomonte presents itself most magnificently to visitors thanks to its wonderful medieval town center harboring historic and artistic remains of greatest influence and interest. The splendid buildings, the fascinating glimpses of the old settlement attract thousands of tourists every year and make the town one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Local gastronomic culture evokes flavors, fragrances and colors of the past by promoting and enriching old cooking traditions that identify the area and foster its development. Among the actions for the protection of local food tradition, the town joined the National Association Città del Pane (“The cities of Bread”) All year long, Altomonte streets are crowded by tourists charmed by its historical and artistic treasures, and customs and traditions of the town. The increasing number of tourists has contributed to the promotion of services and accommodation infrastructures. Altomonte’s economy mainly depends on agriculture (vineyards, olive groves and peach trees), tourism, livestock farming, construction industry and craftsmanship. Peaches are the leading product of this area and they are exported all over Europe. An outstanding traditional product is handmade pasta: which include “maccaruni”, “rastatieddri" and "lagani e ceci" (eggless pasta with chickpeas). Traditional food products comprehend homemade bread and “pitte”, a typical focaccia bread kneaded with pork rind, tomatoes or elderflowers. In May, the Great Bread Festival takes place in the streets of the old center. It is one of the most eagerly awaited and characteristic events of the rich cultural and tourist program in Altomonte. Several stands host local producers together with member cities of the “Associazione Città del Pane”, representatives from the "Borghi più Belli d'Italia" (Italian most Beautiful towns) and "Città Slow" (Slow Cities) that expose and offer tastings of specialties and top dishes. Local Pro Loco Association organizes guided tours of the “Forni Accesi” (“Lighted Ovens” and “Catui Aperti” (that is caves, cellars and sheds). The town was awarded the “Alesini” Prize in 2006 as the City of Prevention; the 2005 Tourism Prize by the Calabria Region Authority and the Cerere Prize as the most beautiful old center in the province of Cosenza.

Among the historic artistic heritage, the fourteenth-century Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione and the art collections safeguarded at the local Civic Museum are worth a visit. The church of Santa Maria della Consolazione is one of the most representative examples of Plantagenet architecture in Calabria. It was built by Filippo Sangineto, the local lord at the service of the Anjou House, and substituted the Norman church of Santa Maria de Franchis. Construction ended in 1380, and the small Norman building was replaced by a majestic church. Filippo Sangineto also endowed the church with a valuable artwork collection. When the county government passed to the Sanseverino family, the building was enlarged and in 1443 the Dominican monks were granted the custody and founded a monastery. The church is single-nave, with a late-gothic façade, a cusped pediment and a wide renewed rose window, consisting of sixteen mullions supporting trifoil arches inscribed within pointed arches with small ornaments in-between and the rich portal with an ogee arch above a lowered one, probably the work of Sienese artists. On the right stands the square bell tower with an elegant mullioned window, the work of Calabrian craftsmen of the fourteenth century.

In a dominant position stands the Castle where remains of frescos are still visible, together with loopholes and carved stone corbels. In the same location, old buildings have carved front doors, the work of local stonemasons. Altomonte probably corresponds to the ancient Balbia, a Phoenician-origin name (meaning Lord) also cited by Plinius the elder when he praised the goodness of the Balbino wine.

The Belluscio Theater has hosted national and international events since its opening in 1988. Its façade is decorated with mosaics made by renowned artists. The egg-shaped Belluscio Theater is set in the old center of Altomonte. The idea of building the theater arose in the 80s, during the construction of a parking area. One of the most representative structures of the town was thus erected.



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