And elegance is the first thing that the visitor to the village notes. Gerace is slowly revealed to visitors, every corner hides chapters of culture and history. The Byzantine shapes of Gerace haven’t disappeared with the passage of time and other influences. The east has had to be hidden here as in other places but it’s been assimilated, digested and displayed with lightness.
Everything in Gerace talks about civilisation, culture exchanges and a profound religiosity - the town once called Holy City with 128 churches now only has 17. The formidable artistic concentrate of churches and palaces doesn’t tell all about the charm of Gerace, which continues intact through the narrow streets, in the squares, arches, underpasses, rich doorways, the surviving domed wood-burning ovens for baking bread and the walls full of history, keeping in reserve wonderful surprises, as dazzling as precious stones. The Moorish mullioned windows of the so-called ‘Casa Catalana’, the studios of the potters dug from the rock, and the cathedral, one of the most important, and wonderful, works of art in southern Italy.
Gerace is rightly included among the most beautiful villages of Italy and claims a series of attractions that leave the visitor truly satisfied, starting with its architectural asset of national interest - the cathedral, the largest in Calabria.
The best way to visit Gerace is to walk through its four different nuclei - Borgo Maggiore, Piana, Borghetto and the old centre. There are about 30 churches, including the cathedral, consecrated in 1045 and certainly one of the most important in southern Italy, with the associated Diocesan Museum, the monastery church of San Francesco d’Assisi, the Greek Orthodox church of San Giovannello and the church of Santa Maria del Mastro, in the traditional narrow streets.
Only the well and part of the cloister remain of the monastery church of San Francesco d’Assisi. The church of San Giovannello, a small mediaeval building with a single nave that evokes a more subdued, austere spirituality than that of the magnificence of the cathedral, still emanates the oriental light of Byzantium. Byzantium is also in the evanescent frescoes, the architecture with a single nave, the mixed burials in the tombs of Annunziatella church, contemporary with San Giovannello, which was already crumbling at the beginning of the 16th century.
The church of Santa Maria del Mastro, a superb building with a Byzantine layout even though it was constructed after the consolidation of Norman power, tells of a ‘Greekness’ still alive in Gerace.
Lastly, the castle, now in ruins, is reached by climbing past the church of San Francesco or the side streets of the cathedral, and crossing the open space called ‘Baglio’. It was built by the Byzantines on pre-existing structures and had fortifications that surrounded the whole cliff. It was devastated by the earthquake of 1783.
Gerace cathedral has been declared a national Byzantine-Romanesque-Norman monument.
It’s the largest in Calabria and is the most imposing evidence of the Norman occupation of the region. Dedicated to Maria Assunta, the cathedral was built in the Norman period between 1085 and 1120 on an existing building dating to the 8th century. Its imposing structure makes it look more like a fortress than a religious building but its majesty also makes it the most representative monument of Byzantine-Romanesque-Norman architecture in Calabria.
Two of the three semi-circular apses protrude from the large limestone wall. Inside, there are three naves hosting 20 granite and marble columns surmounted by late Imperial capitals, interrupted in the centre by two T-pillars. Its primitive style, between Romanesque and Norman, is pure and essential. There’s a bas-relief portraying St. Thomas’s disbelief along the left nave while the apse holds the altar of the Sacred Heart of Mary, created in 1771.
The long apsed choir, of the same size as the underlying crypt, opens in correspondence with the main nave while the large 15th century chapel opens on the side squares of the transept, covered by a cross vault and decorated by ribs with a complex section hanging down onto elegant corner columns.
Il Borgo Incantato (the Enchanted Village) is one of the local people’s favourite events and is an international exhibition of street art in Calabria that tourists flock to.
The aim of the Festival is to bring out both the local tradition and foreign cultures in a unique atmosphere where Gerace is the meeting point of cultures, arts and suggestions, in a marvellous setting where the taste of tradition, in the real meaning of the word, can be rediscovered.
The music, lights and feelings of street art, but also the sublime scents of the local cuisine - all this contributes to making the event unique. The hospitality of the townspeople enables the true local tradition to be tasted and the cellars open their doors for the tasting of local wine and products. Il Borgo Incantato is a unique time of universal communion through feelings whose nuances turn the nights of Gerace into times of great enchantment.
The food in Gerace starts with wine. The best-known product in the area is the legendary Greco di Gerace, a fortified wine (17 degrees) obtained from Greco grapes and produced in a limited quantity. It’s said that the Greeks offered it as a mark of hospitality, with honey.
The wine and food delicacies, all linked to the peasant tradition, include hand-formed pasta with melanzane mbuttunate (stuffed aubergines), seasoned with oil from large olives, typical of Gerace. Cooking based on frying is still in daily use and the following are typical dishes - alatucia (pork rinds) with eggs, and curcudia, a sort of polenta from Aspromonte. The production of ricotta and cheese using the oldest systems is well-known. Cured meats include coppa and soppressata (Italian salami) eaten with homemade bread. The dried figs prepared with almonds, mulberries and costee (dried pears) are tasty.