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E + 9 : Norman Day in the Calabrian Hills

With the new Drone we get Photos as never before! Amendolea's Church & the super dry Fiumare Amendolea

It is Norman day today. We plan to visit the villages high up in the Calabrian mountains which the Norman Knights founded to protect the population of the coast from the ever-present threat of Muslim pirates. It was – of course – also a way to control the local Greek population. The Norman Knights were a few only and they needed castles to hold their grip on power.

The beautiful rainbow at 5.45 am in Taormina

We expected a bright and sunny day today but were caught by a short rain spell when lifting anchor at 5.30 am. Yesterday’s cyclone had unexpectedly pushed further south. Within 15 minutes we sailed out of the showers and got rewarded with the most beautiful full circle rainbow we had ever seen. As the sun was rising in the east, its rays illuminated the sheets of rain washing over Taormina. The strong resulting rainbow stretched from the sea to the hills and lasted for almost ten minutes. What an incredible sight!

The Valley flanks are full of Orange, Almond, Olive and Bergamot Orchards

By 9.30 am we had arrived at Condofuri on the Calabrian Coast where our guide Tatjana waited to take us to Amendolea. On a narrow Strada Proviciale we followed the Fiumare Amendolea , the very large dry riverbed that covered the entire valley ground. High concrete dams protected the orange and olive orchards which lined the river bed on either sides . The Fiumare must be tumultuous during the torrential rains in the winter. The marks on the bridges were clearly visible - it rises up to two meters. The river carries more debris than anyone could imagine. The crossing bridges are thus built solidly and high.

The strong Earthquake in 1783 split the Norman Castle that guards the entrance into two

The van dropped us in New Amendolea – a small hamlet at the foot of the ridge on which Amendoela was built in the 11th century and towered 334 meters above us. The only way to get there was by hiking up the steep road. The way up lead us through the gardens behind the hamlet. We passed olive trees probably centuries old, almond trees just ready for harvest, black berry hedges full of ripe berries and bergamot trees with their ripening, distinctively flavored citrus fruits. All this against the scent of dried oregano and sage.

Amendolea - people lived on the northern side of the Ridge

Amendolea was inhabited for almost 1’000 years. Its Norman castle was destroyed by an earthquake in 1783, the village by another quake 125 years later. In 1908, the village was abandoned. More than a century later, It is still easy to imagine how people lived here. The ruins were stabilized with funds from the EU – we walked through Amendolea’s alleys as the inhabitants did for centuries. At the end of the ridge we found the Greek Orthodox Church. The villagers spoke Griko – the language their ancestors brought to Calabria 3’000 years ago – and followed the Orthodox Rite – the Catholic Church still has an orthodox branch with a dedicated cardinal under its wings (E - 109 ).

Bova in the far distance on 900 m above Sea Level

Our next stop was Bova, the Norman mountain village we could see from Amendolea. It was further inland and at 900 meters above sea level far higher up. Our van took a good half hour to get through the dozens of turns on the way up, clonking on every turn to warn on-coming traffic of our coming. There was just room for one car on the narrow road. Contrary to Amendolea, not much of Bova’s historic substance survived. Over the centuries, the village was rebuilt several times.

Bova as seen from the ruins of the old Norman Tower - it was rainy when up there!

Bova is older than Amendolea. It was founded by Greek people from the coast when the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD. It was repeatedly attacked by Muslim raiders from North Africa (probably people allied with the Fatimids) and in 953 AD sacked by the Sicilian Emir Hassan al-Kalibi who sold the inhabitants as slaves in North Afria. The Normans brought safety to the town – they were skilled master builders when it came to fortifications. We do not need to look further than the Tower of London or Windsor Castle to understand their skills. In Bova, people still speak Griko – the Street Names are written in both Griko and Italian.

The formidable Norman Tower - the empty EU financed exhibition centre to the left

Bova’s biggest problem is the lack of jobs. Since World War II young people leave the town. Some move down to the coast to Bova Marina where there is at least some summer tourism – the beaches are long, beautiful and pretty empty. Others move to the big towns like Reggio or Taranto for their studies and never return.

Bova's spectacular population decline (from wikipedia)

The landscape is littered with farms with collapsed roofs and many town houses are in desperate need of refurbishment. The Italian Government made the rules for refurbishments very strict though. Only rich people can afford it – and nobody in Bova is rich.

Bova's White Elephant - A giant Black Locomotive - Nowhere to go - Expensive to Maintain

For years now, the EU and the Italian Government are pouring money into the region. Bova has an old locomotive on the town square, an empty exhibition center with a collapsing terrace next to the Norman fortress and nicely paved roads and alleys. Under the latest EU scheme, anybody over 40 who resettles to Bova gets a EUR 30’000.- grant if they open a bar, a restaurant or a Bed & Breakfast. But there are no customers. Bova is too far away and has too few tourist attractions. Developing tourism here makes matters worse. The giant black locomotive shows what can go wrong with transfer payments and infrastructure investments. Infrastructure follows growth. Not the other way around.

After the visit we returned back to the boat and sailed along the coast the 1st Canadian Division liberated in 1943 within a week. They landed on 3rd of September 1943 north or Reggio di Calabria and were eight days later in Cantanzaro. The German Wehrmacht was not fighting but slowed their advance down by blowing up every single bridge. No wonder the locals greeted the Canadians as their liberators.

Whilst the German soldiers withdrew north to fight another day, the Calabrian had to live with the damage for years to come. No wonder everybody wanted to emigrate to the United States. There is one good result though – many of the old beautiful buildings have survived. They are not in the best shape but if they were ever refurbished, the coastal strip of eastern Calabria will look beautiful.

The Beaches of Calabria are mostly empty and go on for miles and miles

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