The millenarian history of Locri Epizephyrii (in Greek, Λοκροί Επιζεφύριοι) begins between the VIII and the VII century B.C. with the arrival, on the shores of southern Calabria, of a group of settlers from Locris, a poor region of the ancient Greece. From that moment onward, the history of the city develops in the course of the ages and it is studded by many meaningful events: from the magnificence of the archaic age and the alliance with Syracuse to the difficult impact with the Roman world; from the new positive dimension of Municipium to the unavoidable decline that will carry the city to drag itself on until the VII and the VIII century AD, when some environmental problems (lack of resources and spreading of malaria) added to the increasingly violence of Arab raids, pushed the last inhabitants of the zone to take shelter on the near mountains and, from then on, to contribute to the development of a new city: Gerace.
The polis of Locri Epizephyrii was ruled following a typical Greek model. A strict conservative aristocracy exercised the power through the "one-thousand assembly", which was probably composed by all the citizens in charge of full political rights; also the population was divided in three tribes and thirty-six phratries. Between the VII and the VI century BC the development of the polis was well underway; the city flourished with a strict and organized urban plan, and its sanctuaries with their cults were already well recognized almost everywhere in the Greek world. The internal situation was, as it has been already pointed out, ideal to start planning an expansion of the control over the territory around the city, even with the creation of some sub-colonies. That was necessary because, more than the need of control over a larger portion of territory, there was the risk that the great demographic increase of that age could harm the social equilibrium reached by the polis. Therefore, probably during the end of the VII century BC, Medma (the modern Rosarno) and Hipponion (the modern Vibo Valentia) were founded on the Tyrrhenian coast. By this time, with the foundation of these two sub-colonies, Locri Epizephyrii took the control of a large part of territory, spreading from the Ionian to the Tyrrhenian coasts and embracing the mountains between the two seas; this expansion created the conditions for the historical clashes against Kroton and Rhegion, cities which began to see in Locri Epizephyrii a dangerous problem for their future expansion.
The archaeological area of the ancient Greek city of Kaulon (or rather Kaulonia) lies near Punta Stilo, in the territory of the municipality of Monasterace Marina, along the Ionian coast of the province of Reggio Calabria. It is made up of both the Archaeological Park with a nice little Museum and the Archaeological Underwater Area in the sea section in front of the Park, where it’s possible to dive to see the underwater Archaeological Site of Kaulonia.
Over the centuries, due to a progressive phenomenon of coastal erosion and bradyseism, there has been a profound change in the coastline, which is backward compared to the age of the Greek colony. According to recent geo-archaeological studies, it appears that the coastline in front of the Kaulonia city, in the Greek age, was about 300 m further to the east than the present, as well as being characterised by a slightly arched shape. This wide area, time ago on the surface, is currently in the range of 7.5 m to 5 m deep and is characterised by the presence of many architectural elements, completed or semi-finished. These are pieces of columns (parts of the stem) and bases of grooved ionic columns, squared blocks of various sizes, rough hollow blocks and mooring bits. This important underwater site, made up of more than 200 finds, has been interpreted as an area of work of architectural elements or as a temple under construction, not completed for reasons still unclear. About the columns age, thanks to stylistic comparisons, it is probably set between 480 and 470 BC.
The first excavations were undertaken at the beginning of the twentieth century and supervised by Archaeologist Paolo Orsi. They explored the sacred area, the Doric temple and part of the walls, then in the 1950s topographic and urban studies were conducted by Schmiedt and Chevallier. The excavation of the House of the Dragon is attributed to Alfonso De Franciscis, following his researches there were others investigating the temple, the walls and one of the residential areas.
The archaeological investigations of the Ancient town of Kaulon started again only in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of the Archaeological Superintendence of Calabria in collaboration with the national scholastic system and other institutions, both Italian and foreign. The researches made in the last decades studied almost exclusively the side of the town that oversees the sea: the temple area is being studied by the University of Pisa and the Scuola Normale Superiore; the vast complex of the Casa Matta is being investigated by the Archaeological Superintendence of Calabria with the contribution of the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria and the University of Calabria; while the University of Florence has been investigating the northern part of the ancient residential area, known as San Marco, since 2003.
A path running parallel to the coastline, mimicking one of the main streets of the ancient city of Kaulon, allows visitors to observe the ruins of the residential area with its regular structure and its houses, preserved at the level of the foundations, starting from the buildings discovered in the area called San Marco, inhabited since the mid eight century B.C. Here were discovered some archaic structures to whose other buildings were superimposed, the “Casa del Personaggio Grottesco” (i.e. House of the Grotesque Character) built in the classical period and then a Hellenic period house on top of it. Continuing along the path, you get to the so-called Casa Matta (Crazy House), where they brought to light a luxury mansion that served different purposes in the course of time.
In the same area you can see the ruins of a thermal complex, the so-called Thermal Baths of Nannon, boasting one of the most important and big mosaics of the Magna Graecia, the mosaic with dragons, dolphins and hippocampuses. In the last section of the itinerary you can see the sacred area with the Doric temple of which you can distinguish the base, the altar, the stairs and other structures of sacred character.
Going back, a little road takes you to one of the most luxurious mansions of the ancient Kaulon, the House of the Dragon, where the mosaic now displayed in the museum was found. An underway located on the opposite side from the first will now lead you to a residential area at the feet of the hill of Punta Stilo’s lighthouse. The Archaeological Park also includes a wide underwater archaeological area, extending from the Doric temple to the Assi torrent, which is now submerged and under protection, and it coincides with a Hellenic period complex for the manufacturing of stone.
The wreck lies in the bay of Scifo, just south of the promontory of Capo Colonna (ancient Lacinium promontoriu, site of the sanctuary dedicated to Hera). It lies on the seabed at a depth of 6.5 m and 160 m from the promontory of Capo Pellegrino, known locally as Punta Scifo. Discovered by Luigi Canfora in 1986, the wreck was investigated in 1987 by the Cooperativa Aquarius, directed by Alice Freschi, on behalf of the Archaeological Superintendency of Calabria. These investigations, including excavation and planning, remained largely unpublished.
The site has been newly investigated using new technology and cataloguing has begun of the moveable finds (metal and ceramics) recovered during the 1987 campaign and largely forming part of the ship’s equipment. The archaeological deposit “Punta Scifo D” comprises over 50 marble artefacts belonging to the cargo of a stone transporting ship, which a preliminary study of the pottery and amphorae dates to the 3rd century A.D.
The marbles, in the form of blocks and slabs, are all in the rough-hewn stage and some are very large weighing over 20 tons. Minero-petrographic and isotope analyses undertaken by Lorenzo Lazzarini, I.U.A.V (Venice) on a series of samples, indicate that this is Proconnesian marble quarried at the site of Saraylar on the Turkish island of Marmara. During the 2011 investigation, a photo-mosaic was made of the entire area where the stone elements lie and all of them were re-measured in order to determine the volume and weight of the cargo on the ship. The first results suggest that the “Punta Scifo D” ship transported one of the largest ancient stone cargoes discovered in the Mediterranean.
Study and processing of the data is underway and this should make it possible to determine the original positions in stowage of the stone blocks and to understand what the maximum dimensions and hydro-static characteristics of the ship were. The few preserved timber remains from the hull showed the use of a double layer mortice and tenon construction technique. Like the marble’s provenance, some of the ships equipment (pottery and amphorae) was linked to productions in the Aegean-Microasiatic and Pontine areas.
Le Castella town of Isola Capo Rizzuto represents what remains of a more large ancient area. The fortress is surrounded by the Capo Rizzuto Marine Reserve and from one of the rooms it is possible to observe the seabed thanks to of underwater cameras positioned in marine environment.
The fortress built in the fifteenth century never hosted the nobility of the place but served as a shelter for soldiers committed against attacks by invaders from the sea. The current stronghold rests on foundations dating back to the Hellenistic period, used over time also by the Romans was the retreat of Hannibal. Even today it is possible to notice the different building phases superimposed on each other in different periods, Normans, Swabians, Byzantines, Angevins and Aragoneses who raised on the Greek walls strong defences castellane modelled according to the times. The fortress continually attacked by the Turks, remained populated until the beginning of the 800, when the population moved to the mainland giving life to a small village of sailors, today the current tourist center. The original unit of the fort goes back to the Angevin Age, and the massive cylindrical tower as well. Now it has a sixteenth-century shape and it dominates the fortress complex with its magnificence. The original plant of 13th century was built to defend the Gulf of Capo Rizzuto, and it is part of the Angevin system of fortifications. Towards the end of the 15th century the fortress passed in Aragonese hands and between 1510 and 1526 Earl Carafa implemented, according to the Spanish construction uses, the quadrangular rammed bastions.
The tower, divided into three floors connected by a spiral staircase, presents at the base a cavity for the collection and conservation of rainwater. Inside of fortress there are typical remains of an urban agglomeration, a kind of small village with shops and the ruins of a little church.
Le Castella was often the centre of strong quarrels and subjected to pirates attacks: in 1459 the King Ferdinando of Aragon came down on the battlefield, against the noble feudatory, Antonio Centelles. Then Castella was submitted to different noble families such as Carafa, Ruffo, Filomarino, Baraccos and Berlingeris. Between 1548 and 1553 the pirates Dragut and Barbarossa pillaged the area. In 1799 Castella was still the centre both of the fight between French and Bourbons and the landing-place for the troops coming from Sicily. Later, Castella was included first in the district of Crotone and then it became a part of the Isola di Capo Rizzuto.
Located nearby to the Aragonese fortress, “Le Castella” seabed hosts the ruins of an ancient Greek quarry along with those of an imposing wreck; while at “Capo Alfieri” site, divers will be able to explore some ancient Roman millstones.
ARMATA BRANCALEONE FILM
The Aragonese Fortress was chosen by Mario Monicelli to set some scenes of “Armata Brancaleone” movie. Brancaleone (Vittorio Gassman) succumbs ingloriously to the assault of Saracen pirates with his shabby company, after taking possession of the fiefdom, abandoned by the local population too.
THE PIRATE UCCIALÌ
Uluc Pasha, a powerful Turkish admiral, born in Le Castella, was kidnapped as a boy and became part of the ranks of Barbary pirates, up to the summit of the army and power. His ability and his strength as well as his origin particularly impressed the Italian companies of the sixteenth century. According to historical reconstructions, Giovan Dionigi Galeni was entering a convent to become a monk when, at 16, he was captured by the Algerian corsair Khayr al-Dīn Barbarossa in 1536, in Le Castella. The prisoner-boy was immediately put on the oars as a slave, but managed to survive thanks to an uncommon resistance and to the understanding of the enemy's codes. In this change, he was helped by contact with barbarian corsairs of Calabrian origin, including Ja 'Far Pascià, whose daughter he married, after having converted to Islam in order to be able to kill without a consequence a Turk from whom he had been offended.
The audacity of the failed Calabrian friar was enormous. As a privateer he raged throughout the Mediterranean and carried out acts of reckless robbery. He landed the Sicilian and Neapolitan coasts and woods, captured ships, attacked towns and cities, until he went to Liguria in Civezza, currently in the province of Imperia, which managed to resist him gloriously and also attacked the Dalmatian town of Korcula. He tried to capture the Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. His sea races therefore also had wide-ranging political goals. It was said that he had even tried, through strong local support, to turn Calabria into a Turkish-dominated Muslim region, snatching it from the Spaniards. He first became commander of the fleet of Alexandria, then Pasha of Algiers, and finally bey (governor) of Tripoli, became admiral of the Ottoman fleet, fought in Lepanto. In Italy, the former aspiring monk was called "the renegade" or, popularly Uccialì, which derives from his Islamic name.
He died in July 1587 in his palace on the hilltop of Top-Hana near Istanbul and left his many slaves and servants houses and possessions of property, concentrated in a village he founded and called "New Calabria". According to some reports, on his deathbed he would return to the Christian faith, but the Turkish historians denied this eventuality, given that already in life he had been offered fiefs and riches in Christian lands that he had always refused, preferring the freedom of which Christians converted to Islam at that time enjoyed.
The promontory of Capo Colonna hosts the homonymous Archaeological Park, where anciently the great Heraion Lakinion was located. The Park extends along 30 hectares of land used as excavations, and another 20 hectares covered by a wood and the typical “Macchia Mediterranea”. The Heraion Lakinion was one of the most famous sacred areas of the entire Mediterranean basin related to the majestic sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hera Lacinia.
The entrance to the Park consists of the new Archaeological Museum, a structure with three pavilions built into the ground to reduce the environmental impact, which collects the finds found in the excavation area in front. A long tree-lined avenue, immersed in the luxuriant “Macchia Mediterranea”, leads to the first evidence of the Archaeological Park. At the end of the avenue, there are the walls of the VI century BC. They were reinforced later by the Romans and of which the opus reticolatum is clearly visible. Crossing the entrance of the Via Sacra, 8.5 meters wide and partially discovered in 1987, it is possible entering the area of the sanctuary of Hera Lacinia, well protected by the large curtain wall reinforced to the north and south by two external towers.
The sacred area is divided into two zones oriented to the east, and crossed by the solemn Via Sacra. The Katagogion, a hotel for privileged pilgrims, is aligned towards the north side and shows a peristyle with stuccoed columns and capitals of the Doric order of the second half of the 4th century BC. The Hestiatorion, a building for banquets, located along the south side of the track is dated back to this period. The two buildings are not yet fully investigated. The temple of Hera Lacinia, the most important attraction of the park, is opposite the entrance of the Via Sacra, on the east side of the promontory of Capo Colonna. The temple was realized in Doric style with a rectangular plan of 6x19 columns and it dates back to the 5th century BC.
Unfortunately today only a column with stilobate remains of the temple: Doric style, 8.5 meters high with 20 flat grooves, and the powerful base composed of 10 levels of squared blocks. It was found next to the temple the foundations of a large building called B with a rectangular plan of 22x9 meters. In the area outside the sanctuary, but still inside the Archaeological Park, various domestic environments have been excavated, suggesting the priests' quarters, a Roman bath balneum, and a Roman villa, both of the III century AD.
The conspicuous objects found during the excavations in the Archaeological Park are divided among the different museums of the city of Crotone. The last discoveries are found in the new and adjacent Museum of Capo Colonna, while something of the pre-colonial era is exhibited in the Antiquarium of Torre Nao, located inside the Archaeological Park. The first finds of the Archaic period and above all the precious Treasure of Hera are placed in the National Archaeological Museum of Crotone.