The picturesque Valley of the Argentina River, which meanders through the territory, has been recognised as a Site of Community Importance by the European Union. It is now a Nature Reserve featuring numerous karstic caves of exceptional beauty set in imposing rocky cliffs that alternate with thick Mediterranean scrubland.
The municipality is recognised as a Tree Plantation Promoter, meaning that a tree is planted for each child born.
The origins of Orsomarso date back to the Romanesque period when it served as a military fortress. It was positioned to defend the Roman settlements located along the valley of the river Lao, which was one of the most important arteries of communication between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. The river was used by Achaean, Etruscan, and Greek merchants and navigators who also traded in areas further inland closer to the current-day town of Orsomarso. Evidence of these relationships can be seen in the broken column behind the church of the Most Holy Salvatore.
During the middle ages, when Orsomarso became the heart of the Mercurion, the population grew with the arrival of Basilian monks from the East. The territory became one of the major centres of mysticism in southern Italy, as confirmed by the remains of numerous churches dating back to that period.
Among these, the most well-known is the Church of Santa Maria di Mércuri which is built into the rock in the village of Mercure. It consists of a single nave with a central apse and is adorned with frescoes. It is also home to a mortar and stone statuette of the Madonna which combines the attributes of the Madonna Odigitria and the Madonna Coronata.
After a short mountain walk you will arrive at the Grotta della Madonna di Lourdes, a natural cave housing a 3-metre stone statue of Our Lady of Lourdes which was built in commemoration of the centenary of the apparitions in Lourdes.
The Church of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist), built on the ruins of a medieval chapel, was totally rebuilt in 1700. Inside you can admire various 17th and 18th-century paintings and polychrome marble altars, whilst the sacristy preserves a precious parchment dating back to 1575.
Another building of great historical interest is the Clock Tower. It was built on a fortress which, during the 10th century, was the site of a monastery housing a community of Basilian monks. Today, the site is a picturesque vantage point from which you can take in views of the village surrounded by the greenery of the Pollino National Park.
Finally, the Grotta dell'Arcangelo San Michele (Cave of Archangel Saint Michael) in Simara, was the home of the hermit San Nilo da Rossano and is decorated with the remains of Byzantine frescoes.
At the time of the Eparchy of Mercurion, a monastery crowned the fortress where today the Clock Tower of Orsomarso stands. The monastery, perched on the highest and most imposing rock, was once a Lombard fortification, but its origins have unfortunately been lost in the mists of time. The stronghold housed a community of Italian-Greek monks who formed the cenoby known as di Castello or del Castellano. It was around this cenoby that the first inhabited centre of Orsomarso developed.
Along the steep, narrow steps leading to the top of the fortress there is a sturdy stone and mortar wall that was once the inner wall of the monastery hall. Continuing uphill you can admire some single lancet windows which, because of their similarity with those of the churches of San Leonardo, Santa Maria di Mercuri and the parish church of San Giovanni Battista, are evocative of a frequently used Byzantine architectural model that appears in many of the territory’s sacred buildings. Of all the places in Mercurion, this is the one that has best preserved its defensive aspect and gives visitors a glimpse into the contemplative nature of the area.
The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, made by sculptor Plinio Frigo of Vicenza from special stone from the Iberian mountains, was placed inside the natural cave by the Municipal Administration of Orsomarso in October 1958 to commemorate the centenary of the apparitions of Lourdes. In order to position the statue, which is about 3 metres high and weighs 1.5 tonnes, a 200-metre long cableway was built which connected the cave to Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
The Cave of Our Lady of Lourdes is one of the most distinctive attractions in Orsomarso and is visited by thousands of people every year.
Recognised as a Site of Community Importance, today the valley is part of the Pollino National Park and is one of the geosites of the UNESCO Global Geoparks of the Pollino. Carved out by the Argentina river, the unspoilt valley is home to a rich variety of plant and animal species. It also features picturesque gorges and cliffs with spectacular forms of erosion along the slopes that have created one-of-a-kind morphosculptures.
Caves, karst phenomena, landslides, and collapses co-exist throughout the valley, creating an extraordinary environment that is also one of the most important areas of wilderness in southern Italy.
The Valley is the natural environment of the Loricato Pine, the real treasure of the Park, as well as the Apennine wolf, golden eagles, otters, badgers, black woodpeckers, peregrine falcons, eagle owls, and ravens.
The Valley, in particular the city of Sybaris in Laos, was once the most important area of the road connecting the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts. In addition to agricultural products destined for export, including wine and oil, metals and minerals such as salt passed along the route.
Over the centuries, the valley had remained a thoroughfare for people and commercial traffic alike until the first half of the 20th century. At this point, it became a destination for immigrants called to transport the timber cut down from the forests covering the area’s mountains.
The valley’s pathways are equipped with signage and there are also botanical gardens and medicinal plants to discover. It is therefore well suited to both challenging hikes and leisurely strolls through the natural surroundings.
As part of Orsomarso’s gastronomic tradition, on 13 December various typical dishes from Orsomarso’s history are prepared.
One such dish is crespelle, made with or without potatoes, which is a type of pancake containing salted fish, dried peppers, or just pasta sheets and is served with new wine. The dishes are prepared and shared in the neighbourhood as a gesture of friendship and wishes for a period of festivity and peace.
Crespelle, well-leavened and sometimes warm and crunchy, must have a very long leavening time. For this reason, their preparation is best left in the hands of the village’s more experienced cooks who fully respect tradition.