Castrovillari to Scala Coeli

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From the north, take Autostrada A3 as far as the Morano-Castrovillari exit. Morano is a well-preserved hill town that looks like a perfect pyramid culminating in the ruins of a Norman castle. Take route 19 south to Castrovillari, where you'll want to see the imposing Aragonese castle, then head for the Old Town to see the 16th-century church of S. Giuliano, the Jewish synagogue, the 11th-century sanctuary of S. Maria del Castello and the medieval church of the Trinity. Aristocratic family homes abound. Click here for a Photo Album of Castrovillari.

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rom here, continue on route 19 to Frascineto, a town which takes great pride in its Albanian heritage. Everything in town is wirtten in two languages, and all the local residents will be happy to tell you about their ancestors, who came here in two waves, first in 1448 as mercenaries, and then in the 1500s to escape Turkish invasions. Perched on the edge of the picturesque Pollino National Park, Frascineto offers spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, as well as a remarkable museum housing over 250 Byzantine icons. The earliest of these, dating back to the 1500s, were brought here by the Albanians.

Now take the A3 south to the next exit, at Sibari-Spezzano, then take route 543 towards Altomonte. If you happen to be here on September 7, a detour west to San Sosti is worth your while, to see the many colorfully-clad pilgrims who climb the hill from the town to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Pettoruto, accompanied by the sound of local musical instruments. Copious gold is then draped on the statue, only to be removed the next day after a solemn religious ritual. On your way back east along 543, take the superstrada to Altomonte. The road is very curvy, but it leads to an important Gothic monument, the exquisite Santa Maria della Consolazione. The graceful façade and belltower would merit a visit on their own, but there's more inside the church, including a 14th-century tomb, some unusual alabaster relief panels in the church's treasury, and more panels by the 14th-century Sienese master Simone Martini. If you continue on up the hill, you'll find a town whose past was clearly illustrious but whose present is sadly impoverished.

Back on route 543, we travel east to route 106 north, which takes us to Sibari. Little is left now of the once magnificent Greek colony, whose residents became known for their debauched, self-indulgent lifestyle. In the days when Rome was little more than a settlement of warriors, the Sybarites were building sidewalks and covering them with roofs to keep off burning sun or annoying rain. They flourished until 510 BC, when the army of Crotone defeated them, mainly by rerouting the Crati River and flooding out the town. Today you can visit the rather disorganized archeological site.

Continuing on 106S you'll come to Corigliano, which has one of Calabria's best preserved Aragonese castles and several lovely churches. From here you can take another detour, inland to S. Giorgio Albanese, S. Demetrio Albanese, Vacarizzo Albanese and San Cosmo Albanese. This is the heartland of the arbaresh, Calabria's Albanian descendants. You're likely to see women dressed in colorful native costumes, and you'll hear the strange Albanian dialect that has been recognized by the Italian government as the official local language.

If you are inspired by breathtaking panoramas and you don't mind winding roads, follow the signs, about four miles south of Corigliano, to Santa Maria del Patire. All that remains of an 11th-century monastery, it sits alone at an altitude of 1800 feet, surrounded on all sides by rugged hills and valleys. Another major site is south of here, just two miles off route 106 in Rossano. The 11th-century church of San Marco, defiantly perched on its own outcrop, is a mystical masterpiece, one of the great Byzantine monuments in southern Italy. In town, you should also visit the churches of S. Panaghia, Santa Maria del Pilere and Santa Anna, the ancient hospital and the Parish Museum, whose most remarkable treasure is the Codex Purpureus, a 6th-century manuscript representing the Gospels of Sts. Mark and Matthew. Its name derives from the purple parchment on which it is written.

few miles farther south is the walled medieval town of Cariati, famed for its wild mushrooms (especially in June) and its unique stuffed eggplant. From here take route 108Ter to Scala Coeli, whose name means "stairway to Heaven." You'll know why when you see its steep narrow streets and charming houses built one atop the other. As the local saying goes, "If you want to go to Heaven, be sure to die in Scala Coeli." A more immediate alternative might be to visit the well-restored castle.

If you like, you can continue along on the unforgettably panoramic 108Ter to San Giovanni in Fiore and Lorica, in the heart of the Sila. However, this road is even more winding than the road to Santa Maria del Patire, and it is infinitely easier to get to Sila from Cosenza.

Aileen Dashurova asked us to add this note:

I am just making a plug for my family village in Cosenza province: Santa Caterina Albanese. We are not so exciting but we do have 4 beautiful new murals of the old ways, and the "usual" plaque of Skanderbeg (and a mural of him, too). It is a village that is more representative of the 1950's with the older population still speaking Albereshe and all signs are in Italian and Albereshe/Albanian. Thank you.

The Museum of Byzantine Icons and Tradition is located on Piazza Albania in Frascineto, tel. (0981) 32688, open Monday-Friday 10:30 am-1:30pm and 4-7pm.


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