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    Stilo - Byzantine Wonders of the Cattolica

    Stilo is one of the most beautiful and frequently visited cities in Calabria thanks to its wealth of history and monuments, its culture that spans more than a thousand years and the numerous events that it hosts throughout the year, much to the delight of its visitors.

    The old town and the nearby village are characterised by a maze of narrow streets and adjoining houses that almost seem to be propping each other up. Visitors can also admire the many enchantingly poetic courtyards, small gardens, majestic noble palaces, beautiful churches and, of course, the surrounding walls featuring towers and city gates. The walls give Stilo the appearance of a typical medieval town and make it one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

    Stilo has many delights to offer. Its position overlooking the river to guard the Ionian coast tells of the extraordinary culture that emanates from this town, which interprets and represents the culture of the whole of Calabria. Situated 400 metres above sea level and with the steep rock face of Mount Consolino behind it, Stilo is thought to have been founded in the 7th century by refugees from a mythical maritime city.

    The ancient village, arranged in terraces, is characterised by dark stone houses that appear to be painted into the rock. Of Greek origin, then subsequently coming under Byzantine rule in the 10th-century, the town became the most important Byzantine centre in southern Calabria. Known for being the birthplace of the philosopher Tommaso Campanella, author of The City of the Sun, it is dominated by one of the main monuments of the Byzantine period: the Cattolica church. This beautiful 10th-century temple has remained miraculously undamaged over the centuries and is considered one of the region’s most important buildings. Here the Basilian monks, who had found refuge from persecution in Calabria, pursued their ideal of poverty and detachment from the world. The most striking aspect of the church’s interior has to be the lighting, which is almost dazzlingly bright in the upper section but much softer in the lower part to create a meditative atmosphere.

    View of Stilo

    Another reminder of the monks’ presence in this Holy Land of Basilianism is the small church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Despite being in a poor condition, visitors can admire its charming trullo dome and the characteristic arrangement of the tiles covering its surface. From here, the view extends towards the endless horizons of the sea and the sloping hills of the Stilaro valley. The Renaissance church of San Francesco, with a facade rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th-century and supported by an imposing bell tower, is adorned by frescoes of the stylistic painter Francesco Cozza. The small convent of the church of San Domenico, built in around 1600 by the Dominicans, was the home of friar Tommaso Campanella in his early years. In Baroque style and decorated with stuccoes is the church of San Giovanni Theresti which was built in 1625 and dedicated by the Basilian monks to their saint, whose relics have been preserved. The church currently houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, which features works by more than 70 artists, and an Archaeological Museum displaying artefacts found locally that relate to the area’s thousand-year-old history.

    The Cathedral of Stilo was one of the oldest Episcopal seats in Calabria and showcases several masterpieces that are worthy of admiration. Such architectural gems include the majestic Gothic ogival portal, framed by numerous columns; the stone sculpture located to the right of the same portal which is decorated with two-faced stylised birds from the Norman or Byzantine era; and the 17th-century painting The Paradise of the Baptistery, painted by a Neapolitan artist and pupil of Caravaggio. The remains of the Norman castle, built on top of Mount Consolino by Roger II, are accessible by foot via a picturesque path that starts from the Cattolica church.


    The Cattolica

    The term Cattolica most likely derives from the Greek word Katholikon which refers to the place of worship of a monastic complex or the main place of worship of hermits living in the surrounding area. It is a small religious building located near the inhabited area of Stilo on the slopes of Mount Consolino. Its expressive richness, belonging to a typically Byzantine architectural tradition, places it among Calabria’s most remarkable monuments.

    The Cattolica was built by eastern monks who, in the last period of Byzantine rule during the 10th and 11th centuries, settled on the slopes of Mount Consolino where they lived in clusters of natural caves known as laura. The caves can still be seen today and some of them contain the remains of ancient frescoes. The building stands out thanks to the remarkable expressive beauty of its external surfaces, a characteristic that gives it the chromatic and geometric opulence typical of Eastern churches. This cube-shaped church is topped by small domes in each of its four corners and a central dome that is raised higher than the others.

    The church’s interior consists of a square space which is divided into nine equal parts by four columns that mark the corners of the central square space. The complex consists of a Greek cross plan contained within a basic square with three apses on the eastern wall. The Cattolica is illuminated using the method that is typical of Byzantine architecture, which entails increasing the light intensity from the bottom to the top of the building. The only exception to this rule is the eastern side of the structure, where the presence of single lancet windows in the apses and mullioned windows in the upper corner domes increase the brightness of this area, especially in the morning.

    Its interior decoration is characterised by the vibrant colours of frescoes which once completely covered the church walls. You will notice that various figures in the frescoes particularly stand out including the image of the sleeping Madonna who is covered by a blue cloak with yellow lilies on a white background of basic flowers. Around her, you can admire the Apostles and, in the lower part of the fresco, the archangel Gabriel with a sword, in the act of cutting off the hands of an infidel who tries to touch the virgin. Another important fresco shows the presentation of Jesus at the temple. Although it is slightly blurred, it is possible to make out the figure of a Saint in the act of blessing with a parchment in his hand.

    The Cattolica


    Norman Castle

    The first evidence of the existence of the Norman Castle of Stilo dates back to 1093, when the Normans chose the village for its strategic position overlooking the whole Stilaro Valley. The Castle was surrounded by various defensive structures, making it absolutely impenetrable. Some of these can still be identified along the steep slopes of Mount Consolino. Other barricades, water tanks and shelters preceded the Castle itself, which had autonomous fortifications crowned by several semi-circular towers. The remains of the vast fortification include the ruins of the perimeter walls, the towers and the gateway.

    It is now possible to visit the Castle of Stilo thanks to the works carried out on the access route. From the route, you can admire a beautiful landscape that extends from Capo Spartivento to Crotone and towards the sea.

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