Belcastro (CZ)

The birthplace of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Belcastro has ancient and uncertain origins. It is dominated by the ruins of a 14th century ancient castle of the Counts of Aquino and boasts an enchanting old town centre. Belcastro settlement has the peculiarities of a Medieval feud and is situated on a woody spur at the foot of the castle; here typical charming narrow streets alternate with newly built areas.
 
The rocky spur is crowned by the Norman-style castle that belonged to the counts of Aquino and that some propose as the birthplace of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
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The rocky spur is crowned by the Norman-style castle that belonged to the counts of Aquino and that some propose as the birthplace of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
 

Belcastro lies on the south-eastern slopes of the Sila Piccola towards the Ionian coast, and it is possible to get to the seaside or mountains in only a few minutes. Half an hour away by car, it is possible to drive to famous seaside resorts like Capo Rizzuto and Le Castella, in the Crotone Province, and Catanzaro Lido, Copanello Soverato and the Archaeological Park of Scolacium on the other side. It takes the same time to get to the Sila Piccola mountains. The valley of Nasari, a tributary of the Crocchio river, lies on the left side of the village: it is the area's most fascinating and uncontaminated natural site.

 
Belcastro
 

The grandeur of the ruins of the Castle of the Counts of Aquino overlooks the entire underlying landscape, whose historical town centre follows the mountain side and winds through its slopes. From the top, amidst the austere ruins of the fortress, the statue of St. Thomas seems to watch over Belcastro and its inhabitants. From inhabited buttresses an endless series of hills stretch out, that like waves chasing one behind the other, seem to make the views come alive. To the above hilly landscape, we must add the Marina, which beautifully unspoilt plunges in the Ionian Sea, leaving behind a wide beach of fine white sand.

 
The town’s churches

Located just after the entrance to the town, in the district that gave it its name, the Chiesa della SS. Annunziata (the Church of the Holy Annunciation) was built already during the first half of the XV century, and was later rebuilt and enlarged from 1607 to 1622.
Equipped with a high bell tower in the Romanesque style, originally the church had three naves and constituted a very impressive complex, which was attached to a hospice for pilgrims and a “Monte dei maritaggi” for poor unmarried girls. The church as it stands today features the main original altar, built at the bottom of the presbytery. The importance of this altar, unique in Calabria, is due to its architectural style that marks the passage from religious to secular architecture.
The Chiesetta di San Rocco (little church of San Rocco) is located in the central Piazza Giuseppe Poerio and was built during the mid XVII century by local feudal lords as family chapel.
The church has a very plain façade, where the portal opens up; admirable work of local stonemasons of the XVII century, of the Scuola Roglianese (Rogliano school). Above the portal there is a small window and, higher up on the left, the clock and a small bell tower that accommodates two bells.
At the front of the chapel there is a memorial to the fallen of the Great War, affixed in 1927 by local craftsmen.

 
Belcastro
 
The Castle of the Counts of Aquino

The Castle of Belcastro rises on the highest part of the town, in a dominant position with respect to the entire town. To defend the episcopal independence, and more precisely the cathedral and Bishop’s palace, the "Mastra” tower was used; a massive building, which dates back to a period between the XI and XII centuries. At its base, located on the first floor, was the entrance, which could be accessed by means of a steep staircase that could be conveniently removed. This tower, which occupied the highest position, was surrounded by defensive walls, inside of which stood the service buildings of the bishop's residence and the cathedral. Belcastro's strategic importance was mainly linked to the control of the road that linked the counties of Catanzaro and Crotone. For this purpose, toward the end of the XV century, and through works carried out by the Aragonese, the castle was fortified and new buildings were integrated into the existing walls, while the "torre Mastra" was reinforced at the base by building a barbican, which acted as a further defensive perimeter.
Following the above period, with the evolution of the art of war linked to the use of more advanced firearms, the castle of Belcastro, lost its military functions, to simply become the residence of the local feudal lords.
The castle, also called “Castle of the Counts of Aquino", hosts the chapel that was built over the ruins of the chamber where Saint Thomas was born. Currently, only the following remain from the majestic manor house: the mighty square keep on three floors, remains of perimeter walls with quadrangular, cylindrical and semicircular towers as well as the ruins of the works carried out by the Aragonese. The castle's courtyard, recently restored, allows visitors’ gaze to admire the entire Gulf of Squillace, from Le Castella to Soverato, a natural balcony which overlooks the whole surrounding area.

 
Belcastro
 
Gastronomy

Belcastro's cuisine is typically based on simple ingredients cooked in the traditional way, with a high usage of pork meat and home-made pasta.
Not to be missed are the ‘Mparrettati and sazizza (maccheroni with sausage) that combine the typical home-made pasta with the base tomato sauce cooked together with sausage.
Also worthy of a mention is the classic Morzeddu, typical of the entire area of Catanzaro, which is a stew of veal tripe cooked with lard and chilli peppers.

 


 


Address Piazza S. Tommaso d’Aquino
  88050 Belcastro (CS)
Phone number 0961 932090
Fax 0961 932189
Website http://www.comune.belcastro.cz.it/
 

 

The origins of Belcastro are very ancient, from the Neolithic, to the Oenotrian period to the Magna Graecia Age. Once a feud of the Aquino family, in 1300 Robert d’Anjou named it Bellocastrum for the beauty of the surroundings. The Church of Pietà keeps a Greek wooden Icon of Venetian-Cretan school representing the Madonna with Child, a Byzantine work (1000-1200), and three baroque sculptures representing Annunciation with the Archangel Gabriel, Saint Anne and the Almighty. The façade with the 15th century tuff lancet-arch door deserves to be seen. The Church of San Rocco, built in 1645, has a rectangular stone door with columns, the work of 17th century local stonemasons. It was subject to many interventions, and during the 1948 restoration, the main façade was re-plastered. The imposing Palazzo Poerio, from the name of last feudatory lord, was actually built by the Dukes of Sersale, and it is commonly called Palazzo Cirillo. It was erected by the Duke Francesco Sersale in 1645 after the earthquake that, in the same year, destroyed most of the town and the castle, causing 61 victims. On the outside, the building presents an arched main door with an architrave on top, two side columns, rectangular stone bordered windows and a dentil cornice. The tuff side façade has a Renaissance balcony probably taken from the ruined castle. In the inside, there is an arched stone staircase. Finally, the old area of the Castellaci district is worth a visit.

Remains of the Byzantine castle on the Timpe hill are still visible, including the entry tower, probably reconstructed during the Middle Age, and ruins of the surrounding walls. On the opposite cliff, the recently restored Medieval castle of the Counts of Aquino stands, with the imposing four-sided three-story fortified tower. The rests of the surrounding walls with quadrangular, cylindrical and semicircular turrets (13th-15th century remains) sketch the castle layout. The Chapel, built on the remains of the room where Saint Thomas Aquinas was possibly born, are of remarkable interest. The castle court also contained the hexagonal stone water well, with sculpted 15th century coat of arms, that was moved to the former cathedral and used as the baptismal font.



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