With the “stay at home” order in place, I find myself flipping through old books and photos. And as news outlets report scenarios ever more ominous, I turn to images of better times and lovelier places. In this post, I would like to share a few beauties of Calabria through the words of visitors who passed through the region over a span of more than 200 years.
BEAUTIES OF CALABRIA – GREAT VARIETY AND CONTRAST
American Gertrude Slaughter (1870-1963) loved the severe beauty of the Calabrian landscape. In her 1939 book Calabria: The First Italy, she characterizes the region as:
… a country of great variety, of surprises and contrasts. Farther north, in the Basilicata, the mountains seem to shut in the valleys all day long and darken them with shadows. In Calabria there is far more sunshine. Barren mountains rising abruptly in barren cliffs or lifting their peaks out of dense forests descend in valleys that lie open to the sun and drop down to the open sea.
Scarred hillsides of bare rock of every shape and color alternate with idyllic glades, massed thick with ferns.
By precipitous descents, past towns perched on incredible heights, over ridges on which you seem suspended in mid-air, you pass through the shade of quiet woods to meadows brilliant with flowers—and always there is the sea, either close at hand or far away in the blue distance.
BEAUTIES OF CALABRIA – NATURE
The English journalist and travel writer H.V. Morton (1892 –1979) dedicated several chapters to Calabria in his 1969 book A Traveller in Southern Italy. Amongst many impressions, he spoke glowingly of the region’s flora and fauna. He was particularly taken with the olive trees:
I have seen the olive trees in Greece and Cyprus, in Turkey and the Near East, and in many parts of Italy, but never have I seen such splendid and romantic trees as in this part of Calabria, from the Plain of Eufemia southward to Gioia Tauro. From my window I looked into one of the most beautiful groves I can remember, a place which appeared to sum up the romance of the Mediterranean world.
And of the fresh air and strikingly clear seawater, Morton writes:
The air in South Calabria seems to have an added silkiness, while the water, where it meets the sand, is the clearest green ribbed with sun ripples fading to the darkest of blues. The wind blows scented with orange blossom and jasmine.
The English travel writer Henry Swinburne (1743–1803) spoke glowingly of the waterfront constitutionals he took on his visit to Reggio Calabria in his 1783 book Travels in the Two Sicilies.
I enjoyed several delightful walks along the beach… The views on every side are enchanting, equal to the charming ones of the Neapolitan gulf, and superior to all others that I have ever seen. Messina rises out of the waves like a grand amphiteatre; and the Faro, lined with villages and towns, seems a noble river, winding between two bold shores.
BEAUTIES OF CALABRIA – CALABRIAN WOMEN
British travel writer Richard Keppel Craven (1779 –1851) positively gushed over the chance sighting of a gorgeous calabrese woman in his 1821 book A Tour Through the Southern Provinces of the Kingdom of Naples:
On crossing the streams of Bagnara a young woman of the most extraordinary beauty arrested my attention… The steepness of the road, and its difficulty just at that spot, where the loose stones in the torrent rendered the footing very insecure, made it impossible to stop; and the transient glance to which I was compelled to limit my admiration, probably heightened the effect of the apparition which called it forth; but I can with truth aver, that nothing in human shape ever approached so nearly to all the ideas we are wont to form to ourselves of a supernatural being. Regularity of feature was combined with brilliancy of complexion, expression of countenance, and exquisite symmetry as well as gracefulness of form; her dark blue eyes glowed in softened radiance beneath straight black eyebrows, and her smooth low forehead was shaded by a profusion of light brown hair. Her teeth were no less perfect than the smile of goodness which disclosed them; while her cheeks bloomed in all the freshness of the most brilliant health.
Perhaps commonplace in the 19thcentury, Craven’s elegant turn of phrase would turn a few heads in the 21st.
Clearly, Calabria has turned the heads of many a traveler over the centuries, for many different reasons. The off-the-beaten path nature of the region can surprise and bring unexpected rewards. Not the Cinque Terre, not the Amalfi Coast. And you better bet that those olives transform themselves into a wonderful oil.
More from visitors to the region in my blogpost Three Classic Books on Calabria. All about the beautiful region in the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my award-winning book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating area of South Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions. And when it’s safe to travel, think about seeing the beauties of Calabria for yourself on one of my Calabria tours.
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