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A holiday to live in colour


What to see in Calabria,Italy: seventeen places to see on the Costa Viola in Palmi, amidst history, myths and

2021-02-28 11:46

Dr. Domenico Bagalà

Costa Viola, Calabria, purple coast, marinella of palms, palms,

What to see in Calabria,Italy: seventeen places to see on the Costa Viola in Palmi, amidst history, myths and legends

The Costa Viola, so called because of the beautiful colour of its waters, is one of the most beautiful seascapes Calabria has to offer.

What to see in Calabria, Italy:

thirteen places to see on the Costa Viola in Palmi, amidst history, myths and legends

The Costa Viola (purple coast), so called because of the beautiful colour of its waters, is one of the most evocative seascapes Calabria has to offer: its "territory" starts from the Tonnara di Palmi and goes as far as the cliff of Scilla along the Tyrrhenian coast. The steep ridges of the Aspromonte Massif, from which it is dominated, plunge directly into the sea: up to 700 metres high, the ridges are interrupted only by geological fractures and gullies where impetuous torrents, the fiumare, flow in winter. The dense Mediterranean scrub with its garrigue of wild fennel, oregano and expanses of broom cover the sheer cliffs, modelled in terraces supported by the "armacìe", the fruit of centuries of work by the farmers. In the sea, the rocks take the form of bears, elephants or sea lions, there are numerous caves and magnificent seabeds with wonderful expanses of Posidonea.

Descending along the wooded slopes jutting out into the sea, you can see the Aeolian Islands, on the threshold of the horizon, on the borderline between image and myth. It is like a symbol of the past, and provides useful ideas for the future: one or two boats can be glimpsed on the sea, perhaps the characteristic one for swordfish fishing, but the history of this land and the waters it overlooks is teeming with ships. Those that followed the obsidian route, in a very distant prehistory, in many ways still very close (perhaps those sailors rested by taking refreshment in the nearby Trachina cave); that of Ulysses and Orestes, and again the Phoenician ships and those of Carthage; the belligerent Roman longships and later the fleets of the oneraria that during the Roman Imperial and then Byzantine eras travelled the maritime route of the annona.


Taureana the beautiful

Late antique and Byzantine Taureana had close maritime relations with Taormina and Syracuse; and we can suppose that it also had close maritime relations with Vibona (today Vibo Valentia), which, like Taureana, was a well-known stop along the ancient land routes. Not for nothing, among the few things we can admire today of this ancient city, is a stretch of Roman road. The Saracens travelled along this sea, bringing disaster and terror, but also peace and civilisation. And saints travelled it: Bartholomew, who, according to legend, sailed in his coffin from Armenia to Lipari; all the Sicilian ascetics, who extolled the religious potential of the Calabrian land; and, before them, Saint Fantino, who miraculously rode on the waters.  


The biography written by Bishop Pietro informs us that many people from Taureana were also part of the high society of Syracuse. On the other hand, the Saline (as the territory dominated by Taureana was called in the Byzantine era) had assumed great importance, so much so that in a fable written at the time of Bishop Peter it is stated that a king, who, according to this tale, dominated the whole of southern Calabria, had his palace precisely in the Saline, where he housed Tauro, the legendary founder of Taureana and Taormina, like a son. Over the following centuries, the prestige of the town gradually faded in favour of Seminara, which is located nearby.

Both the memory of Saint Fantino and a male monastery in his honour were moved here. In the meantime, many Saracen incursions brought havoc and new destruction to the ancient city, and the Temple of the Saint also had to suffer the violence: we can deduce this from the fact that today the crypt has shreds of Byzantine frescoes, which seem to date back to the 10th century, a sign that it had returned to being frequented as the main place of worship. On the other hand, while the crypt has survived almost intact in its wall structure, only a few ruins remain of the temple that was frequented during the time of Bishop Peter, hidden by the earth and the modern church that was built over the crypt and temple, with a different orientation of the main altar and an elliptical plan. The temple was probably destroyed by the fury of looters and was never rebuilt.

At the beginning of the second millennium, the Normans removed the dignity of Taureana as an episcopal see in favour of Mileto, which shared the pastoral care of the entire territory with the bishopric of Oppido.In front of the 'Pietre delle Navi'(ship stones) on the plateau of San Fantino, the 'Torre di Pietrenere', commonly called 'Torre di San Fantino' (San Fantino Tower) by the people, rises in all its beauty. This watchtower was built by the Spinelli family in 1565 to protect the territory of Taureana and the town of Seminara from Saracen incursions. A series of towers along the coast and inland allowed the alarm signal to arrive in time to give the population refuge within the fortified walls of Seminara.



Tradition tells us: Donna Canfora was a woman of extraordinary beauty. Her fame had spread. Some pirates, wanting to kidnap her, came to the beach below with a boat loaded with fine and rich merchandise and rare items for sale. It attracted many people, and even Donna Canfora, accompanied by her maid, went there to do her shopping, although she was distracted by a sad presentiment that had entered her mind that very day. The probable cause, writes Antonio de Salvo in "Metauria e Tauriana", was a squeaking sound produced by the fast turning of a spinning wheel, around which she was unravelling hanks of wool. When she was close to the merchants, they kidnapped her and immediately set sail from the shore, not without a bloody fight with the people who had come to the aid of the beautiful Canfora. Seeing herself already lost, she begged the pirates for a little freedom on the stern of the ship so that she could see her native land for the last time.

In the vicinity of the Tower, there is a rectangular factory, built with large bricks, about sixteen metres long and eight metres wide and just over two metres high. The Archaeological Superintendence of Calabria in collaboration with the University of Matera, have conducted research by excavating the whole area. The results show that the imposing concrete core, traditionally known as the 'Palazzo di Donna Canfora', was probably built between the end of the second and the first half of the first century B.C. and has always remained in the light near the north-eastern slope of the hill on which the city's acropolis stood. The large concrete nucleus is identified as belonging to the podium of an Italic temple, while the new section of the foundation brought to light on the north side may refer to the remains of the forepart of the front of the building, on which the stairway leading to the cella was set. This building must have stood on a large terrace overlooking the sea and the Metauro plain, bordered on three sides by a sort of triporticus or long covered rooms, according to models widely known in central-Italic architecture of the late republican age. The materials found also seem to refer to this period, although the still preliminary stage of research does not yet allow us to specify the chronology of the structure and its various construction phases. 

figure below: Roman sanctuary known as the palace of donna Canfora


Trachina the primitive


Navigando lungo la costa in direzione sud, si attraversa la costa della Tonnara, al termine della quale svetta imperioso lo Scoglio dell’Ulivo, sulla cui sommità, ormai da tempo immemorabile cresce un albero di olivo selvatico (Agliastro).

Dietro lo scoglio, protetta dalla naturale scogliera che ne vieta l’accesso, una piccola spiaggia che prende il nome della zona “Trachina”.

Nella costa soprastante la spiaggia, nascosta dalla vegetazione si trova la Grotta di Trachina, una cavità naturale piuttosto spaziosa che i segni del passaggio umano fanno pensare destinata a un uso culturale.


foto sotto:

  • vista della spiaggia di trachina
  • vista della spiaggia di trachina(foto Eugenio Crea)
  • le  grotte di trachina

The dolmens of Palmi

A little further on, almost overlooking the sea, one can admire a large, half-destroyed aristocratic house, Casa Oliva. Nearby there are three natural limestone cliffs, which have always been called Triari (the spur above the sea was also called "Capo Triari" in ancient times). Four large, tall limestone boulders can still be seen, arranged like dolmens, with three of them standing vertically in a triangle, and the other wider and flat, laid on top of them in Celtic fashion, leaving enough space underneath to bury a man. This is accompanied by the discovery, under a large limestone rock, of half a crushed skull, with half the lower jaw of a deer, and the section of the root of the horn, and pieces of long bones semi-fossilised, perhaps the remains of votive offerings (A. De Salvo "from Palmi and its Sant'Elia).


photogallery below: Oliva House



Petrosa beaches and Leonida Repaci's Villa


Continuing along the route, we come to the Pietrosa beach. It reminds us of the writer Leonida Repaci, who had his residence right on top of the cliff, surrounded by olive and cypress trees, where he lived with his wife Albertina during the summer months. Repaci can be considered one of the most important storytellers of the twentieth century. In 'Calabria grande e amara', this great writer of ours writes:

"[...] Here, the calm and beauty of the olive trees mirrored in the violet of the sea with its forests remains in the memory with a Homeric dimension, as if the founders of these cathedrals of olive trees that repel the light of the sun, only allowing the tree ferns to grow between trunk and trunk, had been giants or heroes of myth, not ordinary little men."

photo below:


  • Pietrosa beach(Domenico Surace photo)
  • Guardiola of Villa Repaci

    Port Orestes


Past the Pietrosa, we see the beach of Buffari, which means 'port' in ancient Greek; a little further on we are under the locality of 'Colonna', whose name certainly recalls the ruins of the mythical city of Porto Oreste mentioned by various authors, but which perhaps never existed. "The name of this port refers to the heroic tradition of Agamemnon's son, who, made furious by having killed his mother Clytemnestra, was admonished by the oracle that in order to get rid of the furies that agitated him, he should first find his sister and then purify himself in a river that took its waters from seven other rivers or springs. When he found himself in Tauriade (Tauriana, so called by Pliny the Elder), after having wandered through many regions, he found the river designated by the oracle in the border of the Queens; in which, having purified himself, he remained free from the fury that troubled him". This fabulous tradition handed down to us by ancient writers, together with the geographical indication of the seven branches of the mentioned river, guided the topographers of antiquity to find in the Metauro (today Petrace) the river of which the myth speaks and, with it, the Port Oreste or Rovaglioso, among the ruins of Taureana. (N. Corica "Brezza" anno...cap. 17 parag. 25 "Portus Orestis").

What is true about this legend? On the plateau above the cliff of Rovaglioso, one can still see the ruins of a noble chapel consecrated to the Virgin Mother of God under the title of S.Maria di Porto Oreste, owned by the philanthropic and religious nobleman Ludovico Iannelli, erected in 1797. A marble plaque on the left wall of the chapel bears witness to this, as recounted by G. Silvestri Silva in 1886. "At the back of the chapel there was an altar with Doric columns, on which a majestic oil painting of the Madonna of Porto Oreste was displayed. The Madonna was standing, with joined hands, amidst a halo of clouds, in the act of ascending to heaven; to the left was Saint Rocco and to the right Saint Francis, both kneeling in full adoration. In the lower part of the painting one could admire a glimpse of the sublime landscape of Portus Orestis above the above-mentioned inlet of the sea, whose first row of palagi (palaces) appeared on the rock almost dropping sheer into the sea, and among these a high crenellated tower and a temple stood out imposingly".  



Rovaglioso or Porto Oreste (taken by Antono Aricò)

Buffari beach( Ph.Eugenio Crea)



Pietra Santa and Capo Barbi


Continuing our coastal route, we pass "Pietra Santa" and "Capo Barbi", called by the locals "mussu i Prita" or "scogghiu i Prita", which constitutes the apex of the obtuse, protruding angle of the conformation of the coastline, and falls into an easy inlet and gully, with a natural, internal proda (sheltered from the libeccio and west winds) in a narrow grotto, at the water's edge, at the foot of a high and horrid precipice called Sirena.

Further on, "la Motta", a high cliff (about 130 metres above sea level) which is right at perpendicular and comes to a magnificent belvedere built by the municipality with the work of Don Nino Managò, the skilful head cantoniere who also built the Sant'Elia belvedere. A. De Salvo in "Palmi dal suo San'Elia" (Palmi from its San'Elia), written in 1939, recounts the visit of the Royal House of Savoy: "HM King Vittorio Emanuele III, who came to help and magnificently visit this unfortunate Palmi, on the morning of 1 April 1909 (following the disasters of the earthquake of 28 December 1908), having landed at the landing place of the Rovaglioso gully, formerly Porto Oreste, instinctively looking towards the horizon, towards Pietrenere, exclaimed: "anything but Sorrento!

photo below:


  • Punta Motta and Capo Barbi seen from Acqua dei Cacciatori near the Tracciolino path (PH. Eugenio Crea)
  • The Sant'Elia belvedere (ph Patrizia Arena)
  • Sirena precipice between Capo Barbi and Punta Motta
  • Punta Motta at sunset.



The  Marinella of Palmi

Marina di Palmi (commonly called Marinella), is a fishing village in Palmi consisting of a few houses and a small beach in front of a bay enclosed by high spurs of rock. The beauty of the bay contributed, in 2014, to Legambiente's awarding of 3 blue sails to the town of Palmi, putting the town in third place in all of Calabria.

La Marinella is the Palmesi's beach. In the past it was mainly used as a port, as it was used to carry out seafaring and trading activities by the population of the "Cittadella" (the first nucleus of the city of Palmi), after the destruction of Taureana between the 10th and 11th centuries. Characterised by a beautiful cliff, with fresh water outcrops and the scent of seaweed, Marinella still has a wild and rugged beauty despite the slow and constant degradation to which it is subject.

Historically, this place has been the scene of some noteworthy historical events.

"Marinella di Palmi, which is rather pebbly, but easy to get to, with a block of flats, and somewhat hollowed out in the very high rocky hollow, between the very high promontory of Sant'Elia and the Motta cliff'. (A. De Salvo, 1939).

photo below:

The marinella of Palmi


The "Vallone of  Saint Michael"

San Michele di Vitica is a district of the municipality of Palmi situated on the north-eastern slopes of Mount Sant'Elia, crossed by the valley of the same name, rich in water, a precious resource for the economy of the entire area; it flows into the Marinella beach and has an illustrious history, traces of which remain in the ruins of ancient mills and trappeti, of fortification walls whose construction technique deserves serious study (since it is probably, from an initial examination, Norman walls). Its history, unknown to most people, is known by scholars thanks to precious archive documents, especially for the presence in the 11th century of a Greek monastery known as San Michele di Vitica, from which the district and the Vallone took its name. In 1085 it was donated by Count Roger the Norman, for its economic rents, together with the possessions of the church of San Giorgio De Palmis, to the Abbey of Santa Maria dei Dodici Apostoli in Bagnara. The Norman diplomas of 1110 and 1125 delimit the ecclesiastical fief of S. Maria dei XXII Apostoli, in which they include the Corona-Aulinas area and the Corona Church, as confirmed by the papal encyclical of Celestine III in May 1192.

The Saint’Elia mount 

Anciently called Aulinas, also Salinas or Aulino, probably because in the 9th century the Byzantine monk Elias the Younger from Enna, founded a coenoby near the mountain giving it the name "le Saline". St Elias the Younger, a native of Enna, lived in the 19th century AD. His life, written by one of his disciples, says that he was called John and belonged to the noble family of the Rachites. Kidnapped by the Saracens at a young age and taken to Africa, after various vicissitudes he was able to visit the Holy Places, from Jerusalem, where he received the monastic habit on Mount Sinai in the famous monastery of St Catherine, which was already very famous at the time. He went as far as Alexandria, but then, to escape the fame and veneration that were already growing around him, he headed for Persia, where he wanted to venerate the places of the three holy children put in the furnace by the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar. When he arrived in Antioch, however, he received a vision telling him to return to his homeland and saw the mountain of Calabria where he was to found a monastery.

The mountain took its name from him and, in later times thanks to the gratitude of Emperor Leo IV, the great Imperial Monastery was built not far from the Monastery of the Saline, near the "Piani della Corona" in the territory of Seminara, also called "Monastero Imperiale" or "della Corona".

The discovery of the ruins of the Imperial Monastery of Sant'Elia is due to research carried out by the Archaeological Cooperative C.A.S.T. of Bari with the scientific advice of Prof. Carofiglio. The valuable research is contained in the study, unpublished to date, entitled 'Ethnoarchaeology of a maritime eparchy in southern Calabria' dated 1991.


photo below:

  •  Sant'Elia - three crosses by night
  •  Sant'Elia - three crosses
  • Sant'Elia - overlook
  • Sant'Elia- stone of the devil

the devil's stone

An ancient Calabrian-Sicilian legend tells of St Elias' victorious struggle with the devil, which was also recalled by Palmese philosopher Domenico Antonio Cardone. "The 'Legend of Mount St Elias' is carved into the monument erected to the philosopher on the summit of the mountain.

The story is as follows: "On the edge of the highest part of this mountain, not far away, to the west, from the site where there is a small wall with three crosses raised to the top as a calvary, called the Crosses of St. Elias, there is still a ruin, the remains of a few houses, and is close to a flattened granite boulder, which has imprints almost like knees or fists. From this we derive the fabulous tradition that St. Elias Iunior, in building the convent, was annoyed and tempted to anger by the devil, by destroying during the night, what was built during the day, but that, when the saint had surprised him, he threw it far away, in the sea below, causing it to strike violently against this rock where the said footprints remained. And with greater force than was used by the angry Jupiter with his powerful thunderbolt, to overthrow and precipitate Phaeton, disobedient and incautious son of the Sun, when he saw that he was driving his parent's chariot too close to the Earth, with the danger of setting it on fire! Others add that the devil, seeing himself vanquished by the sanctity of the Basilian monk, came back to tempt him by proposing that he would no longer bother him, provided that he allowed him to form a place of hell at the point where the Saint (believed to be a weak hermit) would throw the large stick on which he was leaning. But St. Elijah miraculously threw his stick at the extreme limit of the visible sea, that is to say at the place of Stromboli; where the devil then, all anger and fire, was forced to settle, repeatedly erupting lava, smoke, and shaking the whole region around, with frequent earthquakes and sinister rumblings. An old legend relates that these were the cries of the soul of Charles Martel, condemned to those abysses, and that, in addition to this, in the Middle Ages, crusader warriors passing through it on the nearby sea, sailing towards the Holy Land, claimed to hear the cries of the souls in Purgatory, who begged them to pray for them".

(A. De Salvo, 1939. 'Palmi dal suo Sant'Elia').

Photo below:

Sant'Elia - The Devil's Stone




Punta di Arcudaci, or Arcuraci is the part of Mount Sant'Elia that plunges steeply into the sea at Marinella. Antonio De Salvo gives the classical interpretation to the name, that is, at the foot of the mountain. In local tradition, the name 'Arch of Ajax' evokes an adventure of the legendary Ajax, Greek hero of the Battle of Troy, who, according to legend, while sailing towards the islands, was surprised by a storm. Pushed by the fury of the sea, he found shelter in the gorges of the Marinella and, already at the limit of his strength, he saved himself by hoisting himself onto the rocks with the help of his bow. Scholars, however, give another interpretation to the place name, probably linked to the shape of the rock similar to a bear, in fact the derivation from the Greek-Byzantine means 'arcto' or promontory with the appearance of a bear.


Galera stone

It is the first inlet after Marinella. The name recalls the times of the bloody Saracen invasions. It is said that in this little beach, not far from the access road to the Citadel, but hidden enough not to be seen, the Saracens held prisoners captured during their raids, waiting for ransom.

photo below:

Pietra Galera, the little beach
(Costa Viola, Palmi)
ph © Geotag Aeroview
all rights reserved


The 'Acqualivi' fountain and the Dragon Stone

The fountain no longer exists today, but an ancient story remains: 'At that time, according to an ancient tradition handed down to us, the pirates, having come to the Palmi marina again, landed there in considerable numbers, and against this land, although fortified, they advanced threateningly up the steep slope, eager to plunder. Halfway there, oppressed by the heat, they camped near the fountain of the Acqua degli ulivi, in the shade of the trees to rest and take a rest; there, unarmed and sleeping, they were attacked by the citizens with such impetuosity that a great number were killed, a few escaped by taking to the sea again; Their leader, Dragut, fell to the ground, seriously wounded, and the citizens caught up with him, laid him on a stone, and killed him there; then, having cut off his head on the end of a pole, they carried him around the town in triumph.

The stone on which the wounded Dragut was found lying was still visible until a few years later, and was called the stone of the dragon, an abbreviation of Dragut. This fact, which, as the most accepted, we transcribe from the Canticle of our fellow-citizen Oliva, is narrated by others with some diversity: Neither do we believe it to be true in all respects, especially as regards the killing of Dragut Kais, which, together with Oliva, we judge to be certainly false, and which perhaps arose from the fact that the people of Palma or Carlopolis, in killing the leader of that Muslim pirate army, believed they had killed the fierce and rightly hated Dragut, who had done so much damage to their country. That is why there is still today, near the site of the event, a shrine with a niche, in which an image of the Madonna del Carmine with the souls of purgatory is painted and exposed to the devotion of pious passers-by; and this shrine is called the Cross of the Dead by the locals, in memory of the massacre that took place there, not only of the Turks, but also of the people of Palma: who, warned by the towersmen, of the landing of corsairs, had hastily gathered together, in order to face them with advantage, and repel them before they had reached the plan on the coast. And in fact the Dragon Stone was located on the esplanade, next to the road that leads to the Marinella, about two hundred steps south of the aforementioned shrine: which stands at the point of intersection of this road, with another wider, formerly called Road of the elms, which starts from the door (Portello) of the western side of the walls of Palmi, and heads to the tower, now ruined, on the nearby west coast.

Caletta Sorrentino

A few years ago, Saint Elias Speleota appeared in a dream to a devotee of Bagnara, a talented confectioner and, therefore, not an archaeologist, and asked him to repair one of his hermitages on the beach on the edge of the ancient property of the monastery of Melicuccà. Guided by his dream, the devout confectioner searched the marina between Bagnara and Palmi with his boat, found the hermitage and restored it to his liking. It is located exactly where the ancient maps indicate the boundaries of the monastery. On the little altar of the church, which can only be reached by boat, the devotee has placed a sign saying: "prayers are accepted, not money". (D. Minuto, 2002).


Photo below:


Caletta Sorrentino



The Lion Beach

Very interesting is the story passed down from father to son among the fishermen of this area. It is said that the name of this part of the purple coast is due to the presence in ancient times of a colony of sea lions or eared seals, mammals adapted to swimming with their limbs transformed into fins. 

The other hypothesis, was put forward by the anthropologist Serge Collet, in the conference "I santi delle Saline", held in Melicuccà in July 1994, "[... ] and well conceivable that the imperial monastery of Sant'Elia on the Piani della Corona, had contacts with Sicily and Constantinople, through the way of the sea, and therefore the natural landing place underneath (the Leone beach), is linked to the name of Emperor Leone of Constantinople, benefactor of the Monastery, with whom the monk Elias had intense relations".


Cala Ianculla

Cala Ianculla is located in the centre of the Costa Viola in the municipality of Seminara, and is a Community site. It can only be accessed from the sea, has a beautiful white sandy beach framed by high cliffs, a magnificent cave that can be visited by boat, and overlooks the Straits of Messina and the Aeolian Islands.

Lega Ambiente, after carefully monitoring the coasts of Italy, has selected Cala Janculla as one of the 11 most beautiful beaches in Italy.

photo below:


  •  Cala Ianculla (source from the web)
  • Cala Inculla and the purple coast, panoramic view(source:

The Caves of the Costa Viola

The Purple Coast is a world of hidden coves and caves that can only be reached by sea. Among the many, here are the three most famous:

  • Grotta del Monaco
  • Cave of the Swallows
  • Perciata Cave
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