visit Reggio Calabria

Visit Reggio Calabria: What to See and Do in Calabria’s Largest City

Many people pass over Reggio in their rush to get from mainland Italy to the island of Sicily. Driving down the highway, they turn off at Villa San Giovanni for the car ferry to Messina, never giving a thought to what they might be missing just twenty minutes further along the road. What’s down there, anyway? Trust me, go the extra ten miles and visit Reggio Calabria —you’ll be glad you did. 

AN HISTORICAL NOTE

Visit Reggio Calabria

Contemporary view of Reggio Calabria with the Strait of Messina and Mt. Etna in the distance

First off, Reggio has been around forever. The “Calabria” or “di Calabria” was tacked onto the name after unification so as not to confuse it with Reggio Emilia up north. Its history predates the Greeks, who settled this strategic location at the exact center of the Mediterranean in the 8th century BC. They called their colony Rhegion, which was subsequently Latinized by the Romans and transformed through the ages under the area’s various rulers.

Reggio Calabria history

Treaty between Athens and Rhegion prior to 440 BC with a subsequent recut of the preamble when renewed with Apseudes in 433-432 BC, Collection of the British Museum

The casual visitor looking around Reggio for the first time might wonder just what happened to the old town that the good people of Reggio (the Reggini) had called home for so many epochs. The simple answer would be earthquakes, principally those of 1783 and 1908, two devastating seismic events that crushed southern Calabria and eastern Sicily. Consequently, Reggio’s architecture appears rather modern with respect to its long history.

The current population is about 180,000, the largest city in Calabria, with double the number in the greater metropolitan area.

REGGIO’S WATERFRONT

visit Reggio Calabria

Athena Statue, an homage to Victor Emmanuel III, on Reggio Calabria’s waterfront

Nestled against the foothills of the Aspromonte Mountains, Reggio Calabria sits along the Strait of Messina at the very tip of the Italian peninsula. The lungomare or waterfront is a great place for a stroll, either down at beach level or along the upper promenade, which flanks what is commonly referred to as Via Marina, a pair of north-south coastal roads laid out in boulevard style. The approximate two-kilometer strip of land between serves as a lovely city park the length of the downtown area.

Reggio Calabria

Roman ruins in front of Palazzo Pellicano (1922) on Via Marina

Stately mansions face this public garden and the strait beyond. Ruins of an ancient Greek wall and a Roman bath complex give a nod to Reggio’s past, and welcoming shade from the midday sun is provided under and amidst its many exotic plants and trees.

Reggio Calabria park

A Moreton Bay Fig, a massive-trunked, Australian evergreen with an impressive aerial root system, in the park along Via Marina

Reggio Calabria’s lungomare is not only a picturesque setting but the view across the waters of the strait—to Messina, the mountains of Sicily and on a clear day, Mt. Etna in all its glory—is truly spectacular. Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio is said to have proclaimed Reggio’s waterfront, “il più bel chilometro d’Italia” or the most beautiful kilometer of Italy!

Mt. Etna

Mt. Etna, the volcano as seen from Reggio Calabria’s waterfront

REGGIO’S HISTORIC CENTER

After the 1908 earthquake, the downtown was completely rebuilt. The city’s website characterizes the architectural style as being “between eclecticism and Liberty,” which is Italy’s art nouveau, a style for which Reggio is noted. Despite the building variety, with many instances of Neoclassicism, other period reinterpretations and a significant percentage of late art nouveau, the overall appearance is rather uniform with an air of genteel sophistication.

Corso Garibaldi

On Corso Garibaldi in Reggio Calabria

Corso Garibaldi, the pedestrian-only street lined with tony shops displaying their wares in the ground-floor windows of impressive edifices, runs parallel to Via Marina. The Reggini saunter up and down this attractive thoroughfare as they engage in Italy’s beloved passeggiata. This leisurely walking is so popular in Reggio that pedestrian traffic-jams form during peak meandering times. The passeggiata is a pastime for all ages and young people come out in droves on Saturday night.

passeggiata in Italy

A Sunday evening passeggiata on Corso Garibaldi in Reggio Calabria

Piazza Italia sits at the center of Corso Garibaldi, or il Corso as the avenue is called. This important square, the seat of today’s municipal government, prefecture and provincial administration, amazingly served as the agora or central public space for the ancient Greeks as well as the forum in Roman times. Recent archeological excavations have revealed six stratifications within a 6-meter (20-feet) depth: Hellenistic Greek, Imperial Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Angevin and the nineteenth century. The visitor can look through glass to see the ancient street below or if lucky and it’s open, descend to the lower level.

Reggio Calabria architecture

Piazza Italia with “Liberty” style Palazzo San Giorgio (1918-1921), the seat of the city government

An exhaustive study of the buildings in Reggio’s historic center would fill many pages. I can only entice with a few details.

Reggio Calabria architecture

Architectural details of Reggio Calabria

REGGIO’S THEATERS, CHURCHES AND CASTLE

The two theaters on il Corso are well worth a look. The classic 1,500-seat Teatro Francesco Cilea sits catty-cornered to Piazza Italia. Dedicated to the Calabrian opera composer, the theater produces a series of performances in its lovely 18th-century style interior. The Politeama Siracusa charms with its art-nouveau curvilinear motifs and appealing wrought iron work, but unfortunately is rarely open.

Reggio Calabria architecture

Interior detail of Teatro Francesco Cilea

As all over Italy, churches aren’t difficult to find. Reggio’s cathedral sits on the southern end of il Corso and faces a large, newly renovated piazza. Officially called the Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana di Maria Santissima Assunta in Cielo, the church was rebuilt in Romanesque Revival style following the 1908 earthquake and re-consecrated in 1928 almost one thousand years after its establishment. The marble Baroque chapel that was rescued from the previous structure is not to be missed off the left aisle. The Cathedral has been a focal point of Reggio’s Festival of the Madonna, one of Calabria’s biggest celebrations, for over 500 years.

Reggio Calabria

Anticipating the Procession of the Madonna from Reggio Calabria’s Cathedral

Amongst Reggio’s many beautiful churches, the shimmering sanctuary of the Church of San Paolo alla Rotonda stands out. Many of the interior mosaics are the work of Calabrian artist Nunzio Bava. The church is located near the Palazzo della Cultura on Via Reggio Campi in an elevated position from where there is an excellent view over the city. Back in the center of town near the castle, the Church of the Ottimati features a geometric mosaic flooring from the Byzantine period despite the present structure’s relatively new construction.

things to do in Reggio Calabria

Byzantine mosaic floor in the Church of the Ottimati

Reggio Calabria’s majestic Castello Aragonese (Aragon Castle) survived the 1908 earthquake intact, but much of the structure was subsequently knocked down in the name of city planning. Despite its size, the castle, just two streets up from il Corso, seemingly hides outside of a block’s range, when the impressive edifice suddenly looms above with its formidable cylindrical towers. Today, the castle serves as an exhibition space.

visit Reggio Calabria

Aragon Castle in Reggio Calabria

VISIT REGGIO CALABRIA MUSEUMS

A visit to Reggio wouldn’t be complete without examining the wealth of ancient artifacts at the world-class archeological museum. In fact, many people fly in just to see the famous Riace Bronzes, 2,500-year-old Greek statues of impeccable artistry. However, even without these giants of antiquity, the archeological museum in Reggio Calabria would be a must-see. It’s at the north end of il Corso facing Piazza De Nava.

Greek antiquities

When you visit Reggio Calabria, your miniature bronze chariot awaits (425-400 BC) at the Archeological Museum

Inside Teatro Cilea at the center of il Corso, the Pinacoteca Civica or the Civic Art Museum of Reggio Calabria is an interesting art space with numerous paintings by Calabrian artists in elegant rooms of the theater building. The Palazzo della Cultura is another museum that features local artists as well as art confiscated from a ‘Ndrangheta mafia boss. The Museo San Paolo, housed in the same palazzo up a hill from the castle, has a very nice collection, an eclectic mix of icons, paintings, sculpture, silver and books. And if that weren’t enough, the cathedral displays a collection of sacred objects in their Museo Dicesano and Reggio also has a Musical Instrument Museum, set up in the city’s old Lido train station in a little pine grove, a bit further north from the new one.

Italian art

Marinaio con pesci (Sailor with Fish) by Annunziato Vitriolo (1830-1900), oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Civica, Reggio Calabria

THINGS TO DO IN REGGIO CALABRIA

Are you still looking for things to do in Reggio Calabria? How about shopping, eating or going to the beach? In the summer, the seaside is lined with rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, bars, clubs and restaurants of seasonal concessionaires.

Visit Reggio Calabria

Ready for a sunset dinner on Reggio Calabria’s waterfront looking out over the Strait of Messina

The shopping choices are quite extensive, everything from high-end designer boutiques to general department stores. When you visit Reggio Calabria, you can pick up a specialty food item from the area or a bauble made by Calabria’s master jeweler Gerardo Sacco.

Gerardo Sacco

Window shopping at Gerardo Sacco on Corso Garibaldi

And make sure to stop in a bar of which there are many, all with gleaming, state-of-the-art coffee machines. Rub elbows with a local and remember that the Italian bar is not only home to Italy’s quintessential “espresso,” but a wide selection of beverages and delectable pastries, as well. Taste a delicious dessert or beverage made from the bergamot. After all, one of Reggio’s nicknames is the Città del Bergamotto.

A cone, dish or brioche filled with gelato will fortify a passeggiata, and Via Marina boasts two gelaterie that are local institutions, Cesare and Sotto Zero. There’s so much to see and do in Reggio Calabria, dinner will have to wait.

gelateria Reggio Calabria

The author at Cesare Gelateria in Reggio Calabria


Calabria bookAre you ready to visit Reggio Calabria? Join my Calabria tour! And read more about Reggio and the fascinating region in the toe of the boot on the above links and in Calabria: The Other Italymy non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this important area of South Italy. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.

“Like” Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page and follow me on Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for more beautiful pictures and information.

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CALABRIA: THE OTHER ITALY makes a great gift!

Calabria book

Comments 20

  1. Everybody with an interest in history, nature, art, geography, archaeology will find an answer to many questions, visiting or walking along the streets of Reggio Calabria. It is not just a walk in the streets it is a jump back in the past.

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  2. Perfect timing! We booked our first trip to Calabria (21st to Italy) and are flying in and out of Reggio, with two weeks in between to explore the region. I also have your book which, combined with this and other posts, gives us so much helpful information.

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      Wow, you’ve surely seen a lot of Italy in so many trips. Glad that you’re finally getting to see Calabria and that my book and blog have been helpful for you. Enjoy your time in the toe!

  3. Your enthusiasm and passion for Calabria is so infectious Karen. You make one want to visit every town and city that you write about and explore the culture and gastronomy that you cover in your posts. Auguri. Michele

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      Glad you liked the post. Reggio Calabria is a very underrated city and I’m sure will be greatly enjoyed by my tour participants. Grazie.

  4. Hi Karen, I live in Calabria some months of the year, and from the moment I made my second land I have been attracted by the history of this place in Italy, I read your book with great enthusiasm and I laughed a lot in the things that I felt very identified, with my wife we spent the summer there and we would like to invite you a coffee some day in Scilla.

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      Thank you, Mario, that would be very nice. I will look you up when there in the warmer months. How wonderful to have a home in Scilla! It makes me very happy to hear that you enjoyed my book. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  5. That view of the Etna from the lungomare is breathtaking!
    Great article, lots of useful info, as usual! I’ve yet to read your book (!!!), but after I left for South Tyrol I had to read books only in German in order to practice! Now it’s the time to read it! Looking forward to discover more about Calabria through your point of view ❤👌

    Sara

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      Thanks! I completely understand the language thing. I’ve gone on long stretches in which I’ve only read in either Italian or German to try and get a handle on them. And very early on, it was almost like doing a puzzle. Then I would go back to English and be amazed at how easy it was!

  6. Reggio Calabria looks lovely, but Calabria had me at the Riace bronzi! I really need to go see those guys! Calabria is one of the possibilities for the 2020 AICW Conference. We should be finding out soon. Ciao, Cristina

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      You wouldn’t be the first to be hooked by the Bronzi! Wow, that would be interesting, a bunch of Canadian writers descending on Calabria. It would certainly give them a lot to write about!

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      Good question. I liked the yellow color and the mythological silver face, and the fact that there wasn’t glare on that spot of the window. I don’t know if it was made for drinking, but it would look good on a desk with pencils or on a table with breadsticks coming out of the top. I don’t think the green jewel was attached. So I’m going with: definitely decorative with strong possibilities of functional.

  7. Beautiful article. My mother was 8 yrs old and never forgot the Earthquake and her fear of storms. Thank you for posting.

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      I have a friend who tells the story of her mother who was an infant during the time of the big earthquake. For some unexplainable reason on the eve of the event, her grandmother felt the need to take the baby into bed with her. The crib did not survive the earthquake. It’s no wonder that these are a religious people. Thank you for your comment.

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