Gerace cathedral

Gerace, Medieval Village in Calabria

Beautiful inside and out, Gerace charms with its maze of medieval streets clustered on a promontory at the edge of the Aspromonte Mountains in Southern Calabria. The town can’t be missed for miles around and views over the surrounding territory out to the Ionian Sea are stunning. No wonder Gerace is one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages (Borghi più belli d’Italia)!


Gerace, Calabria

Doorway in the old town

Although the area has been inhabited from the Neolithic period, attested to by artifacts in the Civic Museum, the Greek foundation of Locri Epizephyrii in the 7th-century BC and its subsequent abandonment had a significant impact on Gerace’s development. When the people of ancient Locri moved away from the coast in the 7th century AD, the prominent hill just 10 kilometers inland became attractive as a new town center.

The landscape was a natural fortress that was enhanced by a castle, which was destroyed, rebuilt by the Normans, and ultimately left in ruins as a result of catastrophic earthquakes. Turreted walls enclosed the medieval town that once boasted 128 churches, according to local lore. The numerous noteworthy churches still standing reflect Gerace’s strong Christian ties that date back to early times.

Chiesa di San Teodoro (St. Theodore)

10th-century church in Gerace, on a visit with Karen’s Travel LLC


Several travelers have visited and jotted down their thoughts about Gerace (including myself in chapter 7 of Calabria: The Other Italy).

Borghi più belli d'Italia

In Gerace, one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages

In A Traveller in Southern Italy (1969), H. V. Morton mused that “had it been in north or central Italy, it would have been known to everybody and be as famous as San Gimignano.” He was taken with the location, writing: “The town of Gerace stands 1,500 feet above the Ionian Sea in a situation aptly described as a posizione panoramica stupenda. It really is a fantastic site and, as a survival of a former age, Gerace is one of the most striking towns in the region.”

Gerace, Calabria

Church of San Francesco

Thirty years earlier, Gertrude Slaughter was equally captivated with the town, and in her book Calabria: The First Italy (1939) described her arrival as follows: “After crossing the plain, where rivers languish in wide beds, the winding road leads up and up, through orchards of orange and olive trees and fields of dark-red clover, dotted with blue linen flowers and scarlet poppies, past hedges of yellow ginestra [Scotch broom] and fragrant rosemary, around cliffs overhung with aloes and fichi d’India [prickly pear cactus] to a half-deserted town that seems to be cut out of the solid rock.”

Edward Lear, 19th-century writer and artist spent time in Gerace, and in his Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria (1852) characterized the municipality as “a large cathedral town, full of beautifully placed buildings, situated on a very narrow edge of a rock, every part of which seems to have been dangerously afflicted by earthquakes…. The sharp crest of rock ends abruptly in a precipice, which on three sides is perfectly perpendicular. Here are the dark and crumbling ruins of a massive Norman castle…

Gerace, Calabria

Remains of the Norman castle

Lear continues: “The great height at which the place is situated, and its isolated site, give it a command of views the most wide and beautiful in character… In fact, Gerace is by far the grandest and proudest object in general position, and as a city, which we have yet seen in Calabria.”

Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria

Gerace by Edward Lear


The great number of churches and noble homes lining the stone streets makes it a delightful destination. First and foremost is the cathedral, in Slaughter’s words: “an impressive sight, beautiful in its proportions and its coloring.” Constructed by the Normans in the 11th century, the large Byzantine-Romanesque-Norman Cathedral of the Assumption has a magnificently simple three-nave sanctuary in the form of a Latin cross.

Gerace, Calabria

In the sanctuary of the cathedral

The duomo is also popular for weddings.

Gerace, Calabria

Waiting for the wedding party at the cathedral

The lovely crypt below was created in the same period. From the original grotto church to a Byzantine oratory to the beautiful space with vaulted arches and varied columns that survives today.

Cathedral of the Assumption, Gerace

Crypt of the Cathedral

Also of note is the locally made 17th-century wrought iron gate to a chapel carved out from the rock and dedicated to the Madonna of Hodegetria or Our Lady of the Way.

In the crypt of cathedral in Gerace

Detail of 17th-century gate made in Calabria

Highlights of the Diocesan Museum next door include a gorgeous 17th-century Flemish tapestry by Jan Leyniers,

Meeting of Meleager and Oeneus

Detail of Leyniers tapestry

a Byzantine stauroteca (reliquary holding a fragment of the true cross), and a valuable book from 1481 that documents the passage of Gerace from the Greek to the Roman rite.

Medieval cross with holy relics

12th-century reliquary cross in Gerace’s Diocesan Museum


As with the cathedral, the Church of San Francesco (St. Francis of Assisi) can be visited through the purchase of a ticket.

Gerace, Calabria

San Francesco Church on the Calabria Cultural Tour

The 14th-century gothic church has been deconsecrated and hosts lectures and concerts. The magnificent inlaid marble arch and altar dates from the 17th century and close inspection reveals interesting details.


Detail of altar mosaic in San Francesco Church

At the end of the last century, the Church of San Giovanni Crisostomo (St. John Chrysostom) or San Giovannello was re-sanctified with the Greek rite. The single-nave church retains its original 10th-century structure.

St. John Chrysostom Church, Gerace

Church of San Giovanni Crisostomo

As a result of earthquakes, later churches include the Church of the Sacro Cuore di Gesù (Sacred Heart)

Sacred Heart Church

Walking by the Church of Sacro Cuore di Gesù on the Calabria Cultural Tour

and the Church of San Martino (Martin of Tours), both reconstructed in the 18th century.

Chiesa di San Martino, Gerace

Church of Martin of Tours

One time on a visit to the town’s diocesan museum, a young employee who helpfully pointed in this and that direction, but always in silence, hesitated in the last room, turned to face me directly and said in a very measured, clear English, “The church is rich.” And that was the end of the discussion. Needless to say, this blogpost just scratches the surface.


What is there to do in Gerace? Take a walk or better yet, a stroll. The old stone buildings feature attractive portals.

Gerace doorway

Doorway enticing a peek in the courtyard!

Wind down a side street, and look up, you may spot Palazzo Delfino’s Renaissance double-arched windows, striped in limestone and lava stone.

Renaissance architectural feature in Gerace

Mullioned window of Palazzo Delfino

On Palazzo Scaglione you’ll see the plaque: Edward Lear slept here! Technically, it says “in memory of the painter, writer and English traveler hosted by the Scaglione family in August 1847.”

Lear Memorial in Gerace

Edward Lear slept here!

The commemorative tablet was placed by the town and the Anglo-Italian Club of Reggio Calabria, of which my friend Luisa was president for many years and I was a member and presenter. The people of Gerace must have been proud to read Lear’s description of his time there: “Nothing can be kinder nor more well-bred than the hospitable reception given us by this family.”

No doubt, Lear also had good views from inside the Scaglione home. Here’s the perspective from a former convent:

Window in Gerace

Looking out to the Ionian Sea

Today, you’ll find hospitality in bars, restaurants and B&Bs, but if you don’t have access to a building overlooking the coast, there’s always the Porta del Sole (sun gate)

Gerace gate

Porta del Sole

and the terrace beyond.

Karen Haid

The author in Gerace with Locri and the Ionian Sea beyond

Would you like to visit Gerace? Join me on my small-group Calabria Cultural Tour!

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.


Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook pageCalabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook pageKaren’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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Comments 12

  1. Karen— Thanks for the essay. My father who was born in Cirella di Plati would speak fondly of his visits to Gerace and Locri. Does the Anglo-Italian Club still exist?

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      It must have been interesting to have heard of his trips to the important towns of the area. Every once in a while the Anglo-Italian Club gets together for an event, but it doesn’t meet regularly anymore.

  2. My grandfather was a foundling born in Agnana, the town just north of Gerace, and baptized in Gerace in 1895. My wife and I visited both places nearly one hundred years later. Thanks for the lovely photos and thoughtful (as usual) text. I will only add that the columns of the cathedral are all different shapes, colors, and sizes because tradition has it they were salvaged from various ruined temples at Locri Epizephyri. Also, for medieval history and culture nerds, Gerace was once a major power base for Robert Guiscard, the first Norman overlord of Calabria, and later the home for the scholar Barlaam who taught Greek to Petrarch.

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      Wow, Gerace is practically home for you. Thanks for your informative elaboration, in particular the mention of Barlaam, as I always associate him with his moniker Barlaam of Seminara. Upon reading, it was Petrarch who worked on getting Barlaam appointed to the position of bishop in Gerace. So much history…

  3. My father was born in Plati, RC as was my maternal grandfather. My maternal grandmother was born in Carere or Cirella di Plati. They mentioned Gerace many times as I was growing up.

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      Check out Jerry Carbone’s very similar comment – his father was from Cirella di Plati and also talked about Gerace.

      1. Thanks Karen. I will send Joseph a message. I have a low DNA match with Dominic Catanzarite on the MyHeritage site. We have some common surnames in our family tree that include “Perri” and “Romeo.”

        A dopo


    2. Hi Joseph,

      See my reply to Karen. Looks like we could share some DNA with common ancestral name of Perri and Romeo.

      Nice to meet you,


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