In recent years there has been an increase of fauna, encouraged by the restrictive measures of hunting that have favoured the restocking of various animal species. In addition to having an old town centre that is stunningly beautiful and full of charm, with remarkable buildings and constructions of considerable historical-artistic value, San Giovanni in Fiore preserves traditions of great interest, such as weaving and ancient recipes.
In the lowest part of the village, near the confluence of the two rivers is the famous Abbazia Florense (San Giovanni in Fiore Abbey), founded by the Abbot Joachim of Fiore. The built-up area developed around the Medieval monastery and spread to the top of Serra Cappuccini.
The history of San Giovanni in Fiore and its name are closely linked to the figure of the famous Abbot Joachim of Fiore, a Calabrian born in Celico, who around 1189 began the construction of a monastery and the new monastic order of San Giovanni in Fiore. Once the works of the monastery ended, the great church took the name of the Abbazia Florense (San Giovanni in Fiore Abbey). The ancient medieval village of San Giovanni in Fiore, with its narrow streets and small houses gradually began to grow around the Abbazia Florense.
Still today the splendid Abbey represents the symbol monument of the village of San Giovanni in Fiore and welcomes a large number of guided visits. In the vicinity of the Abbey, near the medieval ogee arch there are some jagged teeth-like remnants in walls representing what remains of several arches, that were built in the town. These arches were the gates of the town and acted as boundary, beyond which no penalties could be imposed by the Judicial Norman Court.
San Giovanni's old town centre boasts a great number of examples of the art of stonemasonry. The architectural works are evidence of a genuine school of the stonecutters in San Giovanni, active since the middle ages. Not to be missed are the wrought iron works on the railings of balconies as well as the gratings on entrance gates, along the stairs inside and outside of houses.
San Giovanni in Fiore was the town where a nationally relevant historical event took place. In fact, it was precisely here were the Bandiera brothers were captured, to be subsequently executed in July 1844 due to their attempt to revolt the local populations of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies against the government of Ferdinand II in the draft national unification project.
The town of San Giovanni is also renowned for the traditional costume of women, who wear a typical white head-dress that falls on their shoulders and for its typical handicraft products. In fact, some beautiful fabrics are produced with vibrant colours and artistic designs of Oriental inspiration as well as gold embroidery as a result of know-how that is handed down from generation to generation since the 1700s.
San Giovanni is a town which still preserves some traditional festivities from the past, among these are the festivities of its Patron Saint, St John the Baptist, celebrated in the old town centre on 24 June of each year. Like in many other towns of Calabria, the tradition of lighting a bonfire on the night of Christmas Eve still lives on. Worthy of mention is the historic Fair which is held from 26 to 28 August and which attracts many visitors from the surrounding areas.
The Abbazia florense (San Giovanni in Fiore Abbey) is the most important monument of S. Giovanni in Fiore and the town’s symbol. Founded in 1189 by the Abbot Joachim of Fiore, it was re-built many times and enlarged over the course of the years, even it retains a large number of original features such as the entrance portal and lobed rosettes; a typical symbol of the monastic Order of S. Giovanni in Fiore.
The Abbey, besides being is one of the largest religious buildings of Calabria, is the emblem of a cultural and spiritual tradition whose name is linked to the figure of the Abbot Joachim of Fiore. Joachim of Fiore was a great and revolutionary prophet and a man of profound faith. He was born in Celico in the province of Cosenza between 1130 and 1135, in a rich bourgeois family which enabled him to study in the area's most famous monasteries.
Joachim chose this place to build its Abbey as he believed it to be a calm place, able of conveying spirituality. During these years the monk established the monastic Order of S. Giovanni in Fiore that was then acknowledged and approved by Pope Celestine III in 1196.
The church, built in the Romanesque style, conveys simplicity and power. The Gothic portal leads to an elongated nave in bare stone and without decorative elements, culminating with the quadrangular apse whose lower wall has a theme of tunnels in seven openings, referable according to some studies to Joachin’s theology of the Trinity, which creates an enthralling atmosphere arranged by an extraordinary effect of lights and shadows. The altar is in baroque style and has a wooden statue of St John the Baptist. To the right of the altar, a staircase leads to the crypt with the urn containing the mortal remains of Joachim of Fiore, while to the left, on an altar, a shrine preserves the Abbot's body. A small side chapel displays lithographs of the wonderful Liber Figurarum; a collection of the figural and symbolic theology of the Middle Ages, thought to be the work of Joachim of Fiore.
Originally the monastic complex, in addition to the Abbey, consisted of a series of buildings such as workshops, kitchens, carpentry, storage of equipment and other buildings where those who arrived could rest and recover.
Today, the spacious rooms of the abbey house the “Centro Internazionale di Studi Gioachimiti”, opened in 1982 that aims to produce research and publications on the Abbot Joachim of Fiore and his studies. The Center aims to develop the interest for studies and research of the Calabrian Abbot, who became, together with Dante Alighieri and Saint Francis of Assisi, the most studied author of Italian culture.
San Giovanni in Fiore offers the possibility of visiting Parco Nazionale della Sila (Sila National Park), which can be reached from the nearby town of Camigliatello Silano.
The park boasts a vast forestry heritage of great natural value, with thick forests of larch, silver fir and beech trees that make the Park the ideal environment for wolves, many species of birds of prey, deer, wild boar and wild cats; all of which are not easy to see. During trips to Sila’s woods, visitors wull quite likely see squirrels in action; in their dark version with a white belly, called “zaccarella” in local dialect due to their wit.
The Sila National Park is filled with exciting trails and natural itineraries suitably arranged, immersed in the unspoilt nature and sometimes unexplored, with picture-postcard landscapes that are well worth discovering. Valleys and mountains embellished by lush vegetation which renews and alternates between colours and shades of seasons that follow one another; an immense heritage of biodiversity to appreciate, contribute to and protect.
The chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie or chiesa matrice (main church), displays in its façade three sandstone portals; the central portal, which is the largest, is decorated with Renaissance motifs. The main altar made of marble, is of Baroque style, with the wooden choir hand-crafted and dating back to the 1700s. The church contains many sculptures and paintings, among which are wooden statue of the Madonna delle Grazie, the bust of the Ecce Homo, St Joseph, the Lamentation of Christ and the oil on canvas depicting the baptism of Abbot Joachim of Fiore.
The chiesa dell’Annunziata (church of the annunciation) was contiguous to the chiesa Matrice (main church), this is the reaso why it was called "Cappella dell'Annunziata” (Chapel of the annunciation). Boasting a beautiful bell-tower in granite, the work of master stonecutters from San Giovanni, the church has a wooden choir dating back to 1760 and the painting of the Annunciation and Visit of Elizabeth. The chiesa dei Padri Cappuccini (church of the Capuchin Friars) or church of S. Maria delle Grazie is made by two original aisles plus a building recently used as a convent. The architectural style is typical of churches of the The Capuchin Friars and boasts a façade with a granite round-arched portal of Renaissance inspiration. Inside the main nave is the main altar in baroque style, embellished by the canvas representing the Immaculate, work by Cristoforo Santanna. The vault's rosette displays a fresco depicting the Madonna and Child, while the side nave has a fresco painted in a rosette window of the vault and portraying St Anthony and another painting, oil on canvas, which portrays St Angelo of Acri.
The chiesa della Cona or chiesa di S. Maria della Sanità church, takes the name of the ancient district where it was built in 1678. The building has three naves and its round portal is in granite. Inside visitors can admire a painting of the Madonna della Sanità, an unknown work depicting the symbols of the Sacred Heart and the fresco on the ceiling by Cristoforo Santanna.
The Museum, which opened in 1984 on the premises of the Abbazia Florense (San Giovanni in Fiore Abbey), documents the history, traditions, economy and folklore of inhabitants of the Sila.
The sections include areas dedicated to working tools, economies, techniques and agricultural production, deeds and documents of social history, culture and landscape, architecture, ceremonial activities, magic and religions, oral culture and music, figurative and iconological culture.
The archives collects photos by Xavier Marra (local photographer), the documents and audiovidual archive. It is also possible to view a DVD with photos of Xavier Marra and watch a documentary produced by Rai, on the photographer from San Giovanni.
The typical cuisine of San Giovanni in Fiore is known and renowned throughout the region, especially due to the preparation of its typical sweet, “Pitta M'pigliata”, prepared both at Christmas and Easter but also for the honey “Turdilli”, “mostaccioli” and “muccellati”.