From monte Sant'Elia, which with its terraces and panoramic viewpoints overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea is one of Calabria’s most breathtaking places, it is possible to admire Stromboli and the islands; looking north, instead, the green Gioia Tauro Plain can be seen, while southwards, the infinite shadows of the Costa Viola (Violet Coast) and the Tonnara bay near the iconic “rock of the Olive tree” can be admired. The reef naturally divides the area characterised by the terraced hills called “Giardini di pietra” (stone gardens) from the “bosco degli ulivi” (olive tree forest).
Palmi’s entire coast, where the Marina and the Bay of Tonnara are located, is enriched by marine and coastal caves, beaches and cliffs.
The origins of Palmi are very ancient, dating back to Ancient Greece. The name of the town derives from the many palm trees that, together with century-old olive trees, stood in the area.
The area was inhabited since the Bronze and Iron Age, but the town probably emerged in the 10th century as a refuge for refugees from nearby Taureana, destroyed by the Saracens. Exploring the neolithic caves of the grandiose monastic-Byzantine rock settlement of Tarditi is an exciting journey, surrounded by myths, legends and tales of buried treasure. The proximity to the sea has favoured the development of commerce, industries and tourism, which are increasingly growing. In fact, Palmi is today one of the main tourist destinations in the province of Reggio Calabria.
A large number of events take place in Palmi and above all, the “Varia di Palmi”; a religious and popular event of extraordinary importance, such as to be promoted by the Unesco as an intangible world heritage in the category "Celebrations of big shoulder-borne processional structures". Palmi’s events mostly take place in summer, which starts in mid July and ends in early September comprising, among others, religious festivities, festivals, musical concerts and theatrical performances as well as firework displays and the “Fiera di San Rocco”.
Every five years in Palmi, on the last Sunday of August, festivities are held in honour of the Madonna della Lettera (Our Lady of the Sacred Letter) and the fascinating procession of "Varia”; a votive machine that is brought by worshippers through the town’s streets. Palmi's “Varia” is one of Calabria’s most important religious festivities. The event has been listed since 2013 under the category of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the Unesco.The “Varia”, imported from nearby Messina since 1582, was originally called “Bara” or “Vara”. The supporting structure is that of a large wagon with a pyramidal shape, built using mainly wood. It is conceived choreographically in such a way as to represent the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The presence of living figures gives uniqueness to the religious representation and at the same time contributes to creating that atmosphere of expectation and pathos that distinguishes the entire duration of the "procession". At the top of the structure we find the Animella, a girl from Palmi who represents the Madonna, a figure full of religious and anthropological implications. The girl sits at the top of a pole that represents the culminating part of the wagon and is suspended at 15 metres high, while she smiles and continues to bless the town's crowd, enduring the jolts and ups and downs of the route. She is held by God’s hand; the man who sits a little lower hold her firmly, reassuring her both symbolically and specifically with his presence.
The people participate and emotionally reciprocate, following the fate of the soul with heartfelt inspiration. The wagon is wrapped in a cloud of silver cardboard that masks the underlying structure, on which other boys and girls who represent the angels of Paradise sit, while the other interpreters representing the apostles are positioned at the foot of the wagon. Further down are the carriers, positioned barefoot along the five beams fixed to the base of the structure (cippu) which supports the entire scaffolding. The carriers get their name from the dialect term “mbuttare”, and are the ones who have the very important task of carrying the structure as in the past.
The structure was designed by a craftsman from Palmi, Giuseppe Militano, who had the idea of building a mechanical wagon in order to bring back the festivities, which were suspended at the end of the nineteenth century following some accidents. In those days the structure of the wagon was much lighter and was transported on the shoulders, making the whole thing not very stable. The craftsman worked for years on a project that could guarantee the re-enactment of the “Varia” without having to compromise on safety, managing to create the “Varia Meccanica”; a structure that after more than a century has protected a centuries-old tradition belonging to the "Italian shoulder-machine network".
The “Scoglio dell'Ulivo” (the Olive tree rock) is Palmi's symbol, so much so that it was immortalised in a stamp issued in 1987. The rock that is home to this specific plant is located just a few metres from the coast and in local dialect, the rock is known with the name of “Luvareddhra”. The plant is a natural "unique sculpture", visually intriguing with its many effects, formed by the specific intertwining of its branches, roots and by the trunk itself, twisted and smoothed by time, embellished by matter, shaped by nature, uncontested for centuries, made of wind, salt, sun and rain.
According to legend, in the distant past, before a divine force chained them to the Mediterranean caves, the Aeolian Islands roamed the sea. Immediately after they were created, large incandescent boulders sank down from the peaks as the sea boiled and bubbled. The Aeolian Islands saw the first olive trees and fell in love with them, so much so that they moved to the coast in front of Palmi, longing for a single branch. It was then that a compassionate bird chose the smallest of the islands and dropped an olive seed on it. Today the olive tree lives on this small island with its roots is chained to the seabed of a mysterious and secret valley.
The Aeolian islands continue to search for the lost little sister and mourn her sad fate. The small island sees them. He despairs, he would like to be seen, to call them, but he cannot. All that that can be done is to simply move "the olive tree’s wild foliage populated by nests and birds".
Palmi’s Spiaggia della Tonnara, which overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea, owes its name to an ancient “tonnara”, built in the early 1900s for swordfish fishing. This is a beautiful white sandy beach, almost 2 kilometres long, nestled in the bay of the same name. The beach has what remains of the symbol of Tonnara di Palmi, or the imposing Olive Rock; a rock in the middle of the sea that can be reached by swimming, on which there is a solitary olive tree. To the north there are traces of an ancient cliff overlooked by the mountainous stronghold of Sant’Elia, which seems to take the form of a crouching lion.
The sea that bathes this beach is wonderful, turquoise in colour, with pristine water and the rich seabed is an irresistible attraction for divers and snorkellers. In the surrounding area there are many sea caves, including V (Mermaids’ Cave), Grotta dell’Arcudace and Grotta Perciata.
Palmi is renowned for the large number of tourists that visit it and loved by families who choose this charming beach of fine sand. Year after year, the city records a growing development of its seaside resorts, which offer beaches equipped with restaurants and bars but also a free public beach. The beauty of the beaches has contributed to being awarded by Legambiente, 3 blue sails in 2014: placing the city in third place for the whole of Calabria.
To the north of the beach is the small port of Palmi used by tourists but above all by local fishermen, who sell the fish caught directly on arrival.
The area of the ancient Tauriana can be placed within the area of the current municipality of Palmi, morphologically identifiable with a series of plateaus that can be cultivated, consisting of marine terraces of the Pleistocene, divided into various orders until reach the first rugged buttresses of the Aspromonte.
The area enjoys an strategic location, practically at the entrance of the strait, already known to the ancient Greek and Latins and feared due to the dangers of crossing it, being at the mercy of uncontrollable wind and currents. This position favoured its inclusion in the maritime trade routes, typical of the Mediterranean area.
Historically this area marked the northern limit of the Tyrrhenian chora of the Chalcidian colony of Rhegio, founded in the last quarter of the eighth century BC. C. from the city of Zancle, today's Messina, to control the Strait also on the Calabrian side. It was adjacent to the colonial centre of Metauros, founded in the seventh century BC. near the mouth of the river with the same name, known to the ancients for tuna fishing. The river, whose basin was characterised by numerous tributaries that reached the Aspromonte massif, constituted an important navigation route and as a result, the connection with internal areas was ensured.
Palmi's gastronomy has its roots in the Mediterranean tradition, and also offers spicy and sweet and sour notes typical of Arab and Spanish cuisine. As in many other sea towns along the coast, the main ingredient in local cuisine is swordfish, prepared in various ways: grilled with salmoriglio (a Spanish-origin sauce with lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano and parsley, salt and pepper), floured and pan-cooked, “ghiotta” style (filled with crumbled bread, capers, olives and pepper, sometimes raisin and pine nuts, following the Arab recipe), steamed or boiled, seasoned with different sauces, with tomatoes and capers, garlic and hot chilli pepper.
Typical starters include “pasta china” and “stroncatura”; a type of pasta of peasant origins that was made with grain processing residues and sardines.
Recommended local desserts include “zippuli” (fried dough from Calabria), “cuzzupe”(egg pastries) and “ricotta panzarotti”.