Important historical relics can be found in the Aragonese Castle which dates back to the 15th century and was where Joachim Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother-in-law and King of Naples, was held prisoner and later sentenced to death.
The whole village is a treasure chest brimming with fascinating historical places just waiting to be discovered. From the 15th century Aragonese Castle we make our way through the squares and alleys to a very special church known as the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta (little church of Piedigrotta). This magnificent work of art where myths and legends intertwine lays claim to a rather special record: in terms of visitor numbers, it exceeds even the more well-known Bronzes of Riace.
The church was built into a rock face that opens into a cave full of shells. The cave itself, which is well-defined and complex with areas of varying depths, houses groups of statues, frescoes, and chiaroscuro, which create an iridescent and mystical atmosphere. The environment changes according to the slant of the sun's rays which filter into the space through carefully designed openings.
With no less than 14 ice-cream shops, Pizzo is recognised as the "City of Gelato” thanks to the Tartufo di Pizzo, which was created in the town. This traditional, artisan ice-cream is now enjoyed throughout Calabria and in various other areas of Italy.
Pizzo is also well-known for its ancient tradition of tuna fishing, which dates back to Roman and Arabic times. Nowadays, tuna fishing is practised with sophisticated instruments and computerised boats and the abundance of tuna in this stretch of sea, combined with the old tradition of conservation, has facilitated the birth of an industry specialised in the canning and large-scale sale of tuna.
Pizzo Calabro is also known as a city of love on account of the steep staircase in the historic centre named “vicolo del bacio” (kissing alley). The staircase is decorated with photos and images of the most famous kisses in film, literature, and music to attract young and old couples alike.
Pizzo is famous for its beautiful churches including, first and foremost, the Cathedral of San Giorgio located in the town centre. This baroque-style cathedral was completed in 1632 and features a marble portal created by sculptor Fontana and a statue of Christ by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On the beach, however, we find the Church of Piedigrotta. This completely unique structure was dug into the sandstone rock face at the end of the seventeenth century by shipwrecked Neapolitans who wanted to thank God for saving their lives. Inside you can admire many statues carved in tufa stone by Angelo and Alfonso Barone. These sculptures are particularly striking when illuminated by the light that filters through the cracks in the rock.
The historic centre boasts many examples of civil architecture, such as the Palazzo Musolino, which is the most important building in Pizzo from both a historical and architectural point of view. The Palazzo was built in around the 17th century on the ruins of an old Basilan Convent. The 18th-century Palazzo Mattei is characterised by its imposing architecture which is enhanced by a portico supported by pillars with cross vaults and three round arches decorated with pilasters. This combination of features makes it one of Pizzo's most beautiful buildings.
The charming narrow streets of Pizzo's old town, especially during balmy summer evenings, are packed with residents and tourists who are enticed by the many clubs concentrated in the lower part of the town right by the sea.
Another interesting attraction is the Museum of the Sea, with a section exhibiting various tools for the construction of boats, and another dedicated to the sea which displays shells, crustaceans, and skeletons of aquatic mammals as well as some embalmed sharks.
The Aragonese Castle of Pizzo is dedicated to Joachim Murat, who spent his last days here until his execution on 13 October 1815. Inside the Castle, the rooms have been set up to portray the last moments of the King of Naples’ life.
The castle, which is now a national monument, was built in 1400 at the behest of Ferdinand I of Aragon. It was originally built as a prison and military fortress rather than a noble residence. In keeping with the style of Renaissance military architecture, it features two cylindrical corner towers and a large quadrangular body with casemates and ground floors that descend perpendicularly to the cliff. The other side is surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. The fortress was equipped with walkways leading out of the town which were built to defend the coast from attacks from the sea.
The entrance door recalls the drawbridge and the plaque in memory of Joachim Murat which is affixed to the portal.
One of the Castle’s many highlights is the Bust of Joachim Murat, made in 1812 by French sculptor Jean Jacques Castex. In the same room you can admire the marble helmet and the remains of the statue of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon which was sculpted by Canova and De Vivo and destroyed in 1860 by Garibaldi's brigade.
Meanwhile the trial room displays a collection of coins from a private collection which was donated to the Municipality of Pizzo.
Inside the castle, a historical reconstruction tells the story of the last few days of Murat's life, portraying the different moments of his imprisonment in the various areas of the Castle. The prison has been recreated within the cells of the dungeons and the first floor portrays the scene of the trial. The second floor of the castle portrays the cell in which the King spent the last few moments of his life, where he wrote his farewell letter to his wife and four children.
The church of Piedigrotta is the highest rating monument in Calabria in terms of consistency and visitor numbers. Through a combination of history and legend, it introduces visitors to art, religion, anthropology, and culture.
The church's access route gives visitors a taste of the unique scenery that awaits them. It starts down a staircase that leads to both sides of the Gulf and to the cliff which is lapped by a sea marked with rippling reflections of the sun. The area is so magical that you wouldn't be surprised to see a mythological creature appear right before your very eyes. You will finally arrive at a cave that offers a perfect mixture of art, religion, anthropology, and culture: it is a true gem that will enchant just about anyone. Divided into three rooms, it displays a series of statues whose reflections and contrasting colours can be seen peeping out from behind the water springs. At the end of the nineteenth century, Angelo Barone, an artist from Pizzo, started work on this Carthusian monastery. He worked on it day after day and year after year until, slowly but surely, it became the church we see today. He sculpted the statues directly into blocks of tufa stone using a mattock and a pickaxe. The result is an extraordinary group of statues depicting the life of Jesus and the Saints. Barone was helped by his son Alfonso who, on the death of his father, further embellished the interior with frescoes.
The cave has three entrances which lead, respectively, into each of the two side vaults and the main, central vault. The tufa rock is supported by arches and pillars and its religious subjects include the Madonna of Pompeii, the life of Jesus, and a beautiful nativity scene that perfectly conjures up images of the traditions of southern Italy.
The vault on the right hand side is more diverse and its main protagonists are Saint John and the Angel of Death. Many people have declared the church of Piedigrotta to be the most outstanding expression of popular religious art in Southern Italy. It’s certainly no surprise that with its unique yet down-to-earth character it attracts visitors from all over the world.
Lovers of the sea and nature simply must visit the Marina, which is renowned for its beautiful shores where rocky bays and small, enchanting beaches adorn the extensive coastline of the Coast of the Gods.
The beach of Marinella or Nautico, named on account of its proximity to the Nautical Institute, is characterised by its clear water which is perfect for snorkelling or scuba diving. The beach of Piedigrotta is another must-visit attraction. Pineta di Colamaio beach extends across a beautiful stretch of Tyrrhenian coast. It boasts a wide sandy beach, home to the famous Angitola dunes, and a pine forest which also contains eucalyptus trees.
In addition to the beaches you will find many cave-like formations that are true spectacles of nature. The most famous of these has to be Grotta Azzurra (blue cave).
The local cuisine typically contains fish, large quantities of which are caught from the sea just in front of the city. A variety of seafood including cod, stockfish, grouper, shrimps, swordfish, sardines, cuttlefish, tuna, and roe, to name but a few, are all widely used in the traditional dishes of Pizzo.
But Pizzo's world-famous speciality is undoubtedly the renowned Tartufo di Pizzo, an artisan ice-cream with a rounded shape and an irresistible heart of melted chocolate. For years, this traditional artisanal speciality, to which Pizzo owes much of its fame, has enticed and delighted even the most discerning palates. Very popular in the summer months among the tourists who flock to the Coast of the Gods, for many years this treat has been enjoyed well beyond the borders of Pizzo Calabro in Calabria and various other areas of Italy.