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E + 13 : Three Towns versus One Marina

The two classical columns were restored after the mud flooding of the Sibari site in 1985

The air was already simmering with heat when we arrived at the Parco Archeologico in Sibari. It was only 10 am in the morning. Our local guide Simone met us at the Marina Laghi di Sibari a few minutes earlier. Listening to him we learnt that over seven centuries three towns were built on top of each other. First came Archean Sibari in the 8th century BC, followed by Athenian Thurii in the 5th century and finally Copia during Roman time.

We are looking at Roman Copia which is four meters below ground level

Copia is four meters, Sibari even 10 meters below ground level. Year after year, the Crati River inundated the coastal plain and left new layers of sand and mud behind. Once these towns were abandoned, they simply disappeared. Simone’s story brought my attention to the brilliance of Greek water engineering. Not only did Archimedes from Syracuse invent the Archimedes screw to pump water, the Greek also knew how to drain marshes, dig artificial ports and build entire cities on drained land.

Our guide Simone walking on the Main Street - drainage channels are on both sides

As a foundation they used shingles from the nearby beaches creating a thick water carrying layer below the future city. With this method they were able to lower the ground water table and the marsh water could drain into the Crati river. Always believed that the Arabs were the first Masters of Water Management and Irrigation. But on second thoughts, where would they have learned it? There is no water in the Arabian peninsula. Did they adopt these skills from the Greek they ruled after the 7th century AD? Arab rulers were keen students of previous civilizations.

The fertile Crati Delta was crossed by many smaller creeks

Also wondered during the tour, why people would rebuild a town after it was destroyed twice. What was so special about the location? The economy of all city states in Magna Graecia was based on agriculture. Was the Crati River delta more fertile than any other area? Do not have an answer but something must have been extraordinary. We know from archeologic findings that people from Sibari maintained strong trading relations with Mainland Greece and Etruscans. Several writers mention that Sibari was far wealthier than bloody minded Kroton who destroyed it in the 5th century BC. Today, there are miles and miles of mandarin orchards – most of Italy’s mandarins now come from here. Mandarins, a cross between oranges and lemons, only arrived in Europe during Roman times. Thus there must have been some other product that was the source of its wealth.

Huge Storage Jars were found near the Sibari site

Back at the Marina Laghi di Sibari I noticed a fundamental difference between the ancient towns we just had seen and the recently built marina (1970s). Not even fifty years old, there are plenty signs of decay. The iron bars of the quays lay bare, some parts of the canal walk way leading to the sea already collapsed, the main building is half empty, the shop space looks like never rented, several houses remain unfinished. It makes a sad impression. Also, there are few new boats there. The marina runs at half of its capacity max. Makes me wonder why it was ever built. Was it another “blue elephant” of Roman transfer money? We have seen so many on our trip. Still, Calabria remains Italy’s poorest region with a GDP well below average.

Few items demonstrarte Sibari's wealth better than these

elaborate vases

Seems the ancient Greek business model worked extremely well and the transfer-based model of modern times not so much. Maybe it is time to study ancient history again.

The Castle built by German Knights in the 13th century - guess the farmers built it for them

We finished the day at the Castello Federiciano. Built sometimes in the 13th century by German Knights, it must be related to German Emperor Barbarossa’s attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Sicily. But it is strangely located. There is no port nearby. Castles were usually built to protect logistics points or communication lines. Could not detect either. But it looks great and is well preserved. We are going to have dinner in front of it.

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