Riace, Archeological star


Riace is certainly a fascinating village, as it bears all the legacy of the complex mix of languages and peoples that gave life to Calabria and Mediterranean Europe. According to some theories, in fact, the toponym could derive from Middle Eastern languages, brought to the extreme Italian peninsula during the third millennium before Christ. Like Reggio and Roghudi, Riace would have its root in the Amharic ruha (breath, wind) followed by a suffix indicative of locality ( -ake , -adi ). Riace could be read as “Ruha-ake“, the place of the wind. Strabo (Geography VI, 7) explained the denomination of nearby localities (the promontory Zefirio, Capo Spartivento, and the ancient attribute of Locri, Epizefiria) with the frequent westerly wind (zephyr) which characterizes these localities, very relevant for a people of sailors.

The village


Riacese culture is closely linked to the Greek and Aegean basin, both because it was founded by Greek colonists and because it was for a long time linked to the inheritance of the Basilian monks. Today, the feast of the Greek Orthodox saints, the two doctors Cosma and Damiano, celebrated on 25, 26 and 27 September, bears witness to this. Devotees who come from neighboring countries (and beyond) have the custom of reaching the sanctuary on foot, as a sign of their fidelity, and they thank the saints each time with gifts, songs and dances. The arm of San Cosma is also celebrated on the second Sunday of May.

Hill sight

Riace is also a completely modern symbol of endless migrations, which in our times see the peoples of the entire Mediterranean basin fleeing poverty, wars, terrorism and barbarism to crowd into very risky journeys towards the Calabrian coasts. Precisely for this reason, from 2004 to 2018 the Calabrian town also gained international fame thanks to its reception program for refugees and migrants, promoted in particular by Domenico Lucano, an activist elected mayor of Riace three times.

Lucano, former major of Riace

The reception system in force in the municipality during these fifteen years, journalistically defined as the Riace model, was divided into various actions, before being the object of criticism, controversy and finally, unfortunately, legal disputes: 1) obtaining regional funds or mortgages aimed at restructuring abandoned houses, 2) offering hospitality to migrants and asylum seekers and 3) employing them in artisan workshops of weaving, glass processing and jam.

Vernacular architecture

Also noteworthy is the creation of the “Riace euro”, a local currency in denominations of 1, 2, 10, 20, 50 and 100 euros which can also be used by tourists.

In 2017 there were 550 migrants hosted in Riace, but it has been estimated that at least 6,000 passed through the town.

Archeologica star


However, Riace is universally known for the discovery in the marine waters in front of two bronze masterpieces of ancient Greek art: the two sculptures of the so-called Riace Bronzes.

The definitive interpretation of the role of the Riace Bronzes in Greek art is a mystery that still endures, but since 1972, the year of the discovery, to date the two bronze statues have written a chapter of world art.


The two bronze statues were found in Porto Forticchio di Riace Marina in Calabria. The recovery of the two statues did not influence the importance of the historical find, and was in fact carried out with inappropriate means. And yet, despite all the limitations of the initial recovery, the Riace bronzes constitute the most important archaeological find of the twentieth century.

The first statue, called statue A, is a 1.98-meter-high sculpture representing a strong young man in a stable position.

Magnificent artwork

The statue has a natural, non-rigid pose; the head is slightly bent to the right side. The entire muscular system is toned and taut, represented in the moment of contraction. The head and the face were made with many details. Statue B, on the other hand, is 1 cm lower than the first. The structure and position of the body follow in all respects that of statue A. But the head has some differences: the skull cap is smooth, not modeled, and the mouth is closed (the teeth cannot be seen).

The Riace bronzes are the representation of two hoplites, two heavy infantry warriors of ancient Greece.

A-Statue profile

However, they are not just any soldier, because the representation of nudity in ancient Greece has always been reserved for divinities, which is why it is possible that they are two heroes. Both statues were made with the bronze sculpting technique, one of the most complex. Bronze offers the artist the possibility of modeling, thus creating ever more subtle details.

All scholars agree in placing the Riace bronzes in the late style, i.e., the phase of Greek sculpture that can be placed in the period from 400 to 450 BC, which presented a more mature anatomical knowledge compared to the archaic style.

B-Statue, details of beard

Today there is also agreement that the two bronzes were produced by two different workshops, a belief reinforced by the difference in the type of copper used in the details. As far as the authors are concerned, it is not yet known who actually created the Riace bronzes, but there are various hypotheses: one of these is that they were created by Pythagoras of Reggio, an important bronzesmith active in those years. There are also doubts that they were made by the same author and, to date, it is not possible to have certain names about him.


Nothing is known about why they were in that precise archaeological site, nor about the journey they took to get there. Initially, in fact, it was thought that the two Riace bronzes were part of the same monument, even if it is difficult to establish exactly where they were. One of the most discussed hypotheses is that it was a monument dedicated to the enterprise of the Seven against Thebes, which was located in the Agora of Argos, and of which the remains have actually been identified.

A-Statue, details of the face

Although the research has been important, there are still too many open questions to provide a univocal and exhaustive reading of the Riace bronzes. One of the most urgent questions seems to be the actual number of existing bronzes, which is supported by some hypotheses. The other question concerns the journey of the bronzes, so we don’t know if they were transported as war booty or were destined for a collectors’ market, therefore for commercial reasons.

Bergamot, an extraordinary fruit


Identikit for an extraordinary fruit?

The SCIENTIFIC NAME is Citrus Bergamia Risso, from the Rutaceae FAMILY. It has been cultivated in CALABRIA since the mid-eighteenth century. The PLANT is a very strange fruit tree; in fact, it produces hesperides that are too bitter to be able to constitute a regular food, raw or cooked, and its economic importance derives almost exclusively from the essence.

ANSWER: It’s the bergamot!


The origin is unknown and the botanical collocation controversial (one of the many citrus hybrids according to some, a mutation of the melangolo or lime according to others… but in the meantime it has reached the status of species); Italy, through Calabria, has almost the world monopoly. In fact, more than 80% of the production of bergamots comes from the lower Ionian of Reggio: a coastal arc that goes from Scilla to Monasterace, passing through places such as, among others, Villa San Giovanni, Melito di Porto Salvo, Bova, Branca Leone, Piati , Gerace, Siderno, Gioiosa and Roccella Ionica, Riace.

It seems that here, at the extreme tip of the boot (Melito is the southernmost municipality of peninsular Italy), the plant was already known in the sixteenth century, but the first specialized plant of which documentation exists dates back to 1750 on the coast of Reggio Calabria. The name, probably from the Turkish begarmundi (“pear of the lord”), would suggest a provenance from Asia Minor; the legends on the subject are more numerous than usual, including the imaginative hypothesis of a Bergamo origin. But it is not excluded that it is an ecotype that developed on site.

It is a tree three to four meters tall, with branches in which rudimentary thorns are sometimes found in the axils of the leaves, shiny and leathery. The numerous hermaphroditic flowers, mostly grouped in racemes, are white and very fragrant. The fruit, slightly larger than an orange, ranging in color from green to yellow depending on the degree of ripeness, has a peel with a floral, fresh and penetrating scent, very rich in essential oils. The pulp, divided into a number of segments ranging from 12 to 15, with few seeds, provides a very acidic and bitter juice.


Sun for 300 days a year, hot summers without rain, mild winters, very rainy early spring and late autumn: this is the climate of southern Calabria overlooking the Ionian, evidently ideal for cultivation. Bergamot tolerates heat well, not excessive or scarce rainfall and sudden changes in temperature: below 10 °C, development stops and, if young, the plant dies. As for soils, it prefers medium-textured, deep, fertile and well-drained ones, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.

The deep green


The plant to be cultivated is obtained by grafting onto bitter orange (melangolo) or trifoliate (poncirus). It has an average productive life of 25 years: it begins to bear fruit at 3, reaches its maximum at 8. It needs water, as well as in the first years of growth, in spring and autumn: but on the Ionian coast the seasonal rains are enough, so that the Irrigation is only necessary in very dry summers. As and more than ever, water stagnation must be avoided, otherwise the root system will rot.


On the Calabrian coast, bergamots are harvested between November and January.


In commercial plants, bergamots spend the first year of their life in pots (where they must remain if cultivated at an amateur level in the internal Apennine regions or in the North), then they are buried in the most sunny and bright position possible, at 4-5 meters away from each other. To shelter them from the strong winds that blow from the Strait all year round, dense and tall rows of pine are planted in the Reggio area on the side towards the sea.


Like all citrus fruits, the fruit contains high quantities of vitamins (C, A, B), mineral salts, polyphenols and other antioxidant elements. If you manage to drink it, the juice is refreshing, invigorating, eupeptic. In popular medicine, the peel was used to combat respiratory diseases and for its analgesic, healing, antiseptic, bactericidal and vermifuge properties. Further, according to recent studies, the extract would be able to keep the “bad” cholesterol at bay and increase the “good” one.

The fruit on the tree


The rules are practically superfluous, since fresh bergamot is a rarity: if “it comes into your possession, it is advisable not to keep it in the refrigerator but in a cool place (ideal temperature 8-10 °C). dry and dark.


Bergamot almost never arrives on the table, also because it can be purchased sporadically in retail, only from producers who keep some for self-consumption, selling the bulk of the harvest to the industry for transformation into essence.

The curious can experiment with it in juices, in wedges in salads, as a condiment for meat and fish – instead of lemon -, as a corrective for drinks (some well-known black tea blends are flavored with bergamot), zest with which to decorate cocktails. Attempts to encourage fresh consumption appear to have had some success in the “Italian ice cream parlors” of various countries around the world.

The main use concerns the essences extracted from the peel, but also from the flowers, leaves and younger branches. Obtained by mechanical pressing, with peeling machines defined for centuries as “Calabrian”, bergamot essential oil is a precious product: two quintals of fruit are needed to obtain one kilo. The one worked on the Ionian coast of Reggio, to which the DOP (protected designation of origin) has been recognised, is exported all over the world. The main, and oldest, destination is the perfume industry, as a component of cologne and toilet waters, to which it gives, by fixing the aromatic bouquet , a fresh and citrus note sometimes considered essential, they also obtain drugs and phytotherapeutic remedies . Complementary essential oil products they are neroli (distillate of flowers, for soaps and moisturizing creams) and petit-grain (distillate of twigs and leaves, for perfumes and bath foams). Vaguely gastronomic applications have the aromas extracted from the rind, used in liqueurs and confectionery, sometimes also to “season” drinks, baked sweets, pastes, olive oils.


In world production, Calabria is followed at a great distance by some southwestern American states (California, Arizona, Nevada) and by Brazil, Argentina, Israel. But in Calabria bergamots are different from those grown in those territories, because in this region they have been growing for centuries along about eighty kilometers of the Ionian coast. From the peel of foreign fruits, which has a certainly lower oil content, a less valuable essence is obtained – reinforced” in poor-quality perfumes with further synthetic substances. The lobbies of the European chemical industry have attempted to multiply their business, proposing to reduce the concentration of essential oils by law from 12 to 0.1%, which would have favored foreign fruits and meant the end of the DOP product of Reggio Calabria.Fortunately, the great perfume houses – Chanel, Dior, Guerlain – agreed they sided with the Calabrian consortium: once the attack was thwarted, the story confirmed in some respects that the “real” bergamot is only an Italian citrus fruit, indeed an exclusive Calabrian one.

The white flower of Bergamot


The Reggio coast bathed by the Ionian Sea is often called the Riviera dei Gelsomini, a term that includes the geographical denomination of Locride. Further, the territory hands down the memory of a thriving production such as that of bergamot. In fact, throughout the province of Reggio Calabria, especially along the coastal strip between Punta Stilo (municipality of Monasterace) and Capo Spartivento (municipality of Palizzi), from the 1920s to the middle of the last century, both bergamots and jasmines grow, the latter beautiful climbing plants of Caucasian origin, whose flowers were mainly destined for the perfume industry (evidently the “smelling” vocation of the area is not limited to bergamot!). At the harvesting, manual, almost only women and girls (the jasmine groves) were employed, the product was worked on site and the essence, together with that of the bergamot, was exported halfway around the world, above all to France, constituting an important source of income for residents. An activity that has practically disappeared, even if in some towns in the area there are still some laboratories where oil is still extracted from jasmine petals.



CHARACTERISTICS: it is the most cultivated variety on the 1500 hectares of the Calabrian coastal area planted with Bergamot, covering 75% of the production. It is a medium-large, pear-shaped fruit, very rich in essential oils.

RIPENING : November-January


FEATURES: Slender, fast-growing tree, more productive than others but not very long-lived, with relatively high thermal and water requirements. Medium-small spherical fruit with smooth skin

RIPENING November-January


FEATURES: Very vigorous and long-lived variety, resistant to wind, characterized by a strong alternation of production. Large and wrinkled fruit

RIPENING November-January