To get there we take the SS 106 from Reggio Calabria that winds through all the major Grecanica towns, where nature has chosen to show itself in all its wild beauty. A rugged and undeveloped landscape that takes us from Montebello Jonico to Pentedattilo, easily distinguishable on the left of the road by a majestic mountain representing the five fingers of a hand. Continuing north, past Condofuri, Bova, Palizzi Marina, Capo Spartivento, Brancaleone, Bianco and Bovalino, until you reach to Locri.
The village of Gerace is located about 10 kms from here and the influence of the Greek colony of Locri Epizefiri, is already apparent from the origin of the name Gerace, the meaning of which revolves around certain legends. The first is linked to the history of Locri magno greca which would seem connected as Acropolis (Hieros-akis = sacred peak). The second hypothesis, more accredited, is linked to the legend of the flight of a hawk, (in greek Hierax) that landed above the rocky massif, pointing to the locrian refugees the exact point in which to build a new city.
What is striking when you arrive in Gerace is its elegance. Dominating this perfectly preserved village are beautiful buildings of the Byzantine and Norman era, a maze of cobbled streets, narrow alleys to explore and numerous churches. The presence of so many sacred places in such a small town (more than 100 throughout the past) has its roots both in the millennial presence of the Episcopal seat to which a large number of lay patronage.
A city that has overcome throughout the centuries different influences and dominations, including Arab and Norman. Explored by the Greeks and Romans, with the Byzantines and the Normans playing an important role in the economy and control of the territory for its exceptional strategic position, adopting the name “Beautiful City, grand and illustrious.”
Among the sacred places not to be missed include the Duomo dell’Assunta, the largest religious building in the whole region of Calabria. Despite having been consecrated at the time of the Byzantine rule, the cathedral follows the architectural style of the Normans. Deserving also a visit is the church of St. Francesco of with its Arab-Norman inspiration and the small Byzantine church of San Giovannello where mass is celebrated according to the Orthodox rite.
After the sacred, one should also leave a bit of time for the profane. In the Marco Polo Guides it is suggested, and confirmed by our staff, Il Brillo Parlante where you can taste local wine and typical food from Calabria. To this we add the Agritourism Le Macine, an old farmhouse from the ‘700s, formerly used as a mill and where they produced, according to ancient traditions, extra virgin olive oil, the red wine “Don Vincenzo,” salami, oil-marinated vegetables, cheese, jams and spirits. For shopping we can learn about the history of ceramics, inspired by typical ornamental tastes of the Venetian workshops of the ‘500s and artisanal woven items: within the social Coop of Arachne, part of the GOEL group, traditional fabrics and table linens are made by loom.
When is best to go? The most impressive time to visit Gerace is the last week of July when it becomes an “enchanted village” and the streets of the old town give way to performances by street artists from all over the world. “Il Borgo Incantato: l’arte di strada nei vicoli” is a must for all those who wish to discover the local traditions and learn about the many different foreign cultures that have shaped the history of Gerace.