Microhistory of Norman cuisine in Calabria


The Sila Greca represents the northern part of the Calabrian plateau of the Sila.

Inside, in a picturesque valley crossed by the Trionto, stands Longobucco, a small town in the province of Cosenza which keeps alive the memory of its Norman foundation. The village is located between the peaks and woods of the Sila National Park.

Longobucco has known ups and downs: in the 1950s the craft activities of working with fabrics, metals, wood and jewelery thrived here. Prosperity then declined and in the 1970s the main part of its inhabitants and businesses partly disappeared. A trace of the Norman food and wine past still remains in a local meat-based delicacy, which will be discussed below.

Valley of Trionto


The sacchetto (little bag) of Longobucco is a tasty pig’s trotter. Longobucco, a typical Norman village, is known for this delicious roulade made from the meat of the front leg of the pig. The pork is minced and stuffed into its own rind.

The name sacchetto (a little bag), in fact, derives from the shape of the rind, which stitches a package of black pig from Calabria, a rustic, lean meat that comes from a skilful grazing of black piglets in suitable pastures.

The Sacchetto of Longobucco

The black pig was, until the 1920s, extremely widespread in various areas of Calabria, then a slow decline in local zootechnics, increasingly linked to the choice of more productive breeds, brought the Longobucco black pig almost to extinction. In 2007 alone there were less than 500 specimens and today various projects have been implemented to try to protect this pig.

From a gastronomic point of view, the sacchetto of Longobucco is traditionally eaten in slices, accompanied by the typical side dishes of the Greek Sila, such as mushrooms in oil, steamed vegetables or legumes. The cured meat has a compact body, has more or less lively colors and is delicately scented with spices, aromatic herbs and other smells.

To prepare the little bag of pig’s trotter, the front leg of the pig is used, in the part between the foot and the thigh, and all the muscle is extracted, leaving the rind intact. The meat is cut into small pieces, sprinkled with salt and black peppercorns, put back in the outer crust and sewn with kitchen twine.

Due to the leathery consistency of the rind, a cobbler’s awl is actually used to sew the bag. The bag is then cooked in the same pot used to cook pork frittole (local name given to the so-called pork cracklings). After about three hours of cooking, the cured meat is drained and placed while still hot in an earthenware pan, into which the fat obtained from cooking the frittole is poured; thus prepared, the sack can rest for a month in a dry and cool environment.

The sacchetto of Longobucco is an artisanal preparation and the product is not currently for sale, because it is made in the family or in selected restaurants.



Even with lights and shadows, the Normans brought Catholicism to Calabria as early as the 11th century, wresting this land from both the Muslim Arabs and the orthodox Byzantines. The not entirely positive judgment is linked to the fact that the Normans were fierce warriors, with a past of mercenaries and marauders and to the fact that, while bringing aid to the Roman pontiff throughout Southern Italy, in the 11th century, sacked Rome (destroying some important churches of Latin Christianity).

The first architects of the Norman conquest in Calabria were the two brothers Robert of Hauteville, called the Guiscard,  and Roger of Hauteville, followed by Roger II of Sicily. The first two leaders were particularly attached to the French Benedictine monks and, therefore, brought several abbots and monks from Normandy (northern Atlantic part of present-day France), as well as playing an authentic religious role themselves in the conversion of the subject peoples.

From that moment on, the Normans were also able to have a profound impact on the social and economic level, thanks to their fiefdom of Calabria and Sicily which saw the rise of all the arts in these lands. Under the Norman dominators, among other things, the recovery of the now lost Greek-Latin world began, through the substantial cultural legacies of Greek texts (of art, science and philosophy) that the Normans received from the Byzantines and the Arabs (still present in a substantial number in the invaded lands).

Norman Basilic in Roccella


Robert of Hauteville, named the Guiscard, arrived in Calabria approximately in 1047 initially living in the Scribla area, in the current territory of Spezzano Albanese; subsequently, he managed to occupy the city of San Marco.

The Norman Warriors

In 1048, after having repressed a revolt in the Valley of Crati which had broken out against the Lombard prince Guaimario IV, Robert the Guiscard conquered and placed under his control the centers of Bisignano, Cosenza, Martirano, Montalto, Rossano and the Plateau di Sant’Eufemia. A few years later his younger brother Roger joined him; and together they carried out, since 1056, a systematic plan of conquest of Calabria, coordinating everything right from the city of San Marco.

Castle of Gerace

In 1057, upon the death of the Norman duke Umfredo, Roberto took possession of his Apulian territories, also increasing his prestige within the Norman cavalry. In the same year, the Altavilla brothers besieged various Lombard and Byzantine castles in the current Cosenza area, conquering them all, one by one; subsequently they conquered Catanzaro and put the surroundings of the current Reggio area to fire and sword, but without being able to conquer Reggio. The Normans conquered Reggio only in 1059, where Roberto was acclaimed duke by his army.

San Marco Norman Tower

Subsequently, it was the turn of the conquest of Squillace, the last Byzantine enclave to fall into Norman hands. With the fall of Squillace, Robert Guiscard was officially proclaimed Duke of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily by Pope Leo IX in Melfi.

Finally, the Altavilla brothers divided up the territories of Calabria in the castle of Scalea, where they signed the famous “Pact of Scalea“. The northern part of the region, up to Mount Intefoli near Squillace, fell to Roberto, the southern part to Roger. In 1085, upon Robert’s death, Roger obtained total control over southern Calabria, by concession of his nephew Bohemond, after this had been helped by Roger himself in the succession struggle against his brother Roger Borsa. The region remained under the Norman descendants until the advent of the Swabians, who inherited the territories with Federico II, son of Costance of Hauteville.

The Normans left the administrative management of the Calabrian settlements to the local populations, in exchange for hostages and submission. And to control the territory, they erected various strongholds and castles throughout the region, often adapting pre-existing Byzantine fortresses. This happened in Aiello, Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Gerace, Maida, Martirano, Miletus, Nicastro, Reggio, San Marco, Santa Severina, Scalea, Scilla and Stilo. In particular, due to its central position in the region,  Miletus was chosen by Roger as the capital of the Norman state in Calabria, as well as as a center of spiritual irradiation of religious conversion, implemented through the Benedictines. Roger II, the Norman king of Sicily, was also born in Miletus (December 22, 1095).

From Miletus and Calabria the Normans then continued their legendary liberation of Sicily from the Arabs. In fact, in 1064, starting from here, with the help of local contingents, Roger undertook the conquest of the island.

Trinità of Miletus


The abbey of Sant’Eufemia Vetere was commissioned by Robert the Guiscard in 1062 as a mausoleum for the souls of his loved ones, while the Trinità di Miletus was commissioned (between 1063 and 1066) by his brother Roger of Hauteville, later Count of Calabria and Sicily, as a tomb for himself and for his wife Eremburga (the latter’s sarcophagus is now on display in the Miletus museum).

The abbey of Sant’Eufemia was built by a Norman monk, Robert de Grandmesnil. In fact, it is believed that it was the Benedictine religious themselves who designed the churches in which they were appointed abbots or bishops. It was a rule in the Benedictine order that architecture should also be studied among the various branches of the art and the abbots had the obligation to trace the plan of the churches and secondary buildings that they were called to direct.

Robert de Grandsmenil, who arrived in Calabria from Normandy in 1062 with 11 monks, was the first abbot of Sant’Eufemia and under his control were the abbeys of Venosa and Miletus, governed by two French priors. It seems that Abbot Grandsmenil was forced to flee from Normandy to Calabria due to his political intrigues against Duke William; called “the conqueror” after the 1066 Battle of Hastings, in which he subdued England.

Castle of Stilo

Calabria: Byzantine soul


The Calabrian soul has something of Byzantine meticulousness, attention to detail, the ability to see the universe in detail and to represent it.

Just as the famous Byzantine mosaics arise from the extraordinary overall vision that emerges from minute tesserae with no apparent value or shape – so the church and the communities of its origins in Calabria were, for the Orthodox, the mystical body of Christ emerging from multiple lives without apparent value, whose patient and hidden work erected the modern world we live in, as well as the extraordinary charity and solidarity of the Calabrians, almost an appearance of the Christian face (merciful and humble at the same time).

The minute and centuries-old work of the Basilian monks, that is, the Greek religious who fled to Calabria from the lands of Syria and Cappadocia invaded by the Arabs, towards the 7th and 8th centuries, saw many unknown souls devote themselves to cultivating land, to instructing in the Greek language crowds of peasants of the time with the technical and scientific discoveries of the Hellenistic age, copying the Gospels in minute, preciously illuminated manuscripts, assisting the poor, founding the first hospitals, introducing the most capable laymen to the medical profession, bringing the ancient traditions herbal medicines of Alexandria in Egypt, the ancient texts of the Greek philosophers now forgotten in the West, starting the first handicraft industries, treating and beautifying the first city centres.

The universe in a detail (Byzantine mosaic)

The culture of Constantinople, an empire lasting for a thousand years still after the fall of the western empire, created a second bank in the west in the regions of southern Italy. From the “New Rome“, destined to become Istanbul in 1453, after the Ottoman conquest, a formidable civilization arrived, accustomed to tireless work, to fine theological disputes, to continuous disputes for the distribution and conquest of power.

Overview (Christ the Pantocrator, Monreale, Palermo)

And together with the monks came the proto-democratic culture of working together, of the meticulous efforts through which Hellenistic science had flourished. A triumph of community life which left traces, not only in the architecture devoted to ecclesial meetings, in the beautiful mosaics, in the plans of the Greek cross churches or in sweets and clothing, – but also in the sense of beauty, which, natural and innate, belongs to the ” filoxenia ” of the Calabrians (literally to their “love for the foreigner”, which is expressed in immediate friendship towards the “foreigner”, the guest, the poor, the disadvantaged).


Towards the end of the 19th century Paolo Orsi, the archaeologist of Rovereto, appointed by the Kingdom of Italy as superintendent of the archaeological heritage of Sicily and Calabria, left many memories in his volume ” The Basilian Churches of Calabria ” on the beauty of Byzantine culture In Calabria.

Virtual Reconstruction of Constantinople

The points of irradiation of Byzantine beauty in Calabria are Reggio Calabria, Stilo and Caulonia.

The famous Byzantine church of Stilo, la Cattolica, is the best example.

Discovering Byzantine Calabria is an itinerary through history, art and nature, a journey to discover the many Greek Orthodox heritages in Calabria, from north to south of the region, a mystical and sensorial path at the same time through one of the three souls of the Mediterranean world (the first is the Greek-Byzantine one, the other two are the Arab and the Latin one, of course).

The history of Byzantine Calabria is that of the civil and cultural sites that carried out the so-called “second Greek colonization“, with significant effects from an architectural, artistic, linguistic, landscape and ethnic point of view in the broadest sense. In fact, the fascinating mixture of Bruzi, Greek, Roman, Arab and Jewish genes takes place in the Calabrian people, as well as the genesis of a unique legacy of magically intertwined traditions, rituals, dialects and customs.

Paolo Orsi

There are three unmissable stops to discover some of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in Calabria and the best preserved monasteries.

The first is Rossano (in the district of Cosenza), with the Abbey of Santa Maria del Patire. Between the greenery of the Sila National Park and the blue of the Ionian Sea, from the 6th to the 11th century Rossano was one of the most strategic Byzantine sites in Calabria for the Greek Orthodox empire.

Abbey of Santa Maria del Patire (Rossano)

The monk Bartolomeo di Simeri founded it in 1095, then the abbey was among the most important Byzantine monasteries in Calabria.

Mosaic carpet of the abbey

The current church is still enriched by the ancient mosaic carpet on the floor, which depicts real and mythological animals, by the 17th century wooden crucifix and by the effigy of the Madonna del Patire.

The codex with some vividly colored thumbnails

Also in Rossano, one of the most precious Byzantine legacies in Calabria is kept in the Diocesan Museum of a famous Codex: the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis , or the illuminated Greek evangeliary dating back to the 6th century which collects, in 188 sheets of very fine purple parchment, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The codex is embellished with 14 miniatures with a particular and rare purple colour, a prerogative of the Byzantine emperors, accompanied by descriptive scrolls that illustrate the most significant moments in the life and preaching of Jesus.

A second important site is in Santa Severina (a pictoresque medieval village, taking part to the small club of “The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy”), in the Crotone area, with its 8th century Baptistery (the only example of a Greek cross Baptistery in Italy). Another Byzantine monument here is the Church of Santa Filomena, also called del Pozzoleo.

Baptistery of Santa Severina

The third stage is a dyad of cities: Stilo and Bivongi. In Stilo there is the beautiful church known as “la Cattolica”, while in Bivongi there is San Giovanni Théristis , a monastery.

The two villages in the Reggio Calabria area host, along the course of the Stilaro river, at the foot of Monte Consolino, on one side the wonders of the Monastery of San Giovanni Théristis (whose style is evident on the outside of the basilica, built in tanning stone and terracotta, and in the interior frescoes), on the other to Stilo, the ideal city of the philosopher Tommaso Campanella, the jewel symbol of Byzantine art and architecture of Calabria which is the Cattolica.

The church la Cattolica of Stilo

Which presents the typical Greek cross plan directly derived from the archetype of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

San Giovanni Théristis, the monastery

The church dates back to the 10th century and is surmounted by five cylindrical domes, which house frescoes and inscriptions.

Representation of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles (Vatican museums)


Vehicles of this new seed of Aegean culture were humble characters, guided by an intense spirituality, who had chosen the path of isolation and penance to feel close to the only God they venerated: they were the Basilian monks.

A view of Cappadocia

For these mystics (coming from Cappadocia and fleeing under the pression of Islam), who were looking for solitary places far from human temptations, the green dotted deserts of Calabria were the best they could expect after the long wanderings from one coast to the other of the Mediterranean.

The major migrations occurred around the seventh century A.D. In five centuries the region was populated by anchorites and monks in every remote corner of its territory. Hermitages, monasteries, cenobies, but also tiny “Laure” ( Λαύρα in Greek, Ла ́вра in Cyrillic , is a small monastic settlement) arise among steep cliffs and tangled trees. Also the Stilaro Valleys and Allaro the area between the rivers Assi, Stilaro, Allaro, did not remain out of this migration. It was dotted with hermitages and monasteries making up the monastic complex of Stilo.

A Basilian Monk (Father Vladimir)

The valleys are located in the province of Reggio Calabria, 15 km from the sea and 15 km from Serre Calabre. It is not only the cradle of Byzantine culture and oriental asceticism, but it is also the inexhaustible wealth of pristine and primitive nature. It is also the cradle of the first southern industrialization (for modern industrial archeology).

Stilaro Valley


In 410 BC Calabria was crossed by the Visigoths whose king Alaric, according to tradition, died near Cosenza and was buried in a tomb dug in the bed of the Busento . Only after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), Calabria, together with Southern Italy, fell under Byzantine domination, nominal and in certain periods effective. In fact, after Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, imposed his sovereignty in Calabria, upon his death (526), the Byzantines wrested Calabria and therefore all of Italy from his successors (Gothic War, 535/553). The Longobards conquered the northern part of the Region by setting up a Gastald (Lombard political unit) based in Cosenza, within the Duchy of Benevento and then the Principality of Salerno (847). The Arabs, who had already settled in Sicily in the 9th century, however, with their incursions caused considerable damage to Calabria, also reaching the interior and managed to establish an emirate in Amantea (784/884).

The Byzantines, in 885, drove out the Lombards and Arabs, restoring the administrative unity to the region which, in this period, took the name of Calabria (with which the Salento peninsula had been called in the classical age); a strategist was proposed to the <<thema>> (territorial subdivision of a political type) of Calabria. The Byzantine reconquest again impressed Calabria with the signs of Hellenism, thanks also to the religious action of the Basilian monks who, expelled from Sicily by the Arab invaders, managed to convert the derelict local populations and the demoralized Greek refugees from the island into an orderly community by recreating , after about ten centuries, a Greek-type society in southern Italy.

San Nilo di Rossano and his companions emulated the ancient Greek pioneers in spreading their culture in the western Mediterranean, even giving a model to Italian monasticism in the Monastery of Grottaferrata (1004).

However, due to excessive taxation, the Byzantine rule did not represent a happy period for Calabria; agriculture declined and large estates spread; it should be added that malaria, eradicated only in 945, and the continuous incursions of Saracen pirates further distanced the inhabitants from the coast towards the safer localities of the interior.

The rule of the Byzantines lasted over half a millennium, from the Gothic War (535-553) until the advent of the Normans in the 11th century.


The other towns that contain the art, history, culture and nature of our “Byzantine Calabria” are Monasterace, Caulonia, Stilo, Pazzano, Riace, Guardavalle, Santa Caterina dello Jonio, Badolato.

Art of Byzantine Icons (Guardian Angel)

First of all, Caulonia, the ancient Kaulon , a city of Magna Graecia (of Achaean origins actually), which is now part of the present Monasterace.

Reggio Calabria should also be mentioned, which is the oldest city in Greek Calabria. Due to its strategic position in control of the Strait it was an important economic and cultural center under the Byzantine Empire (VI-X century). The Church of the Ottimati in Reggio is a small square-plan structure with three apses and three naves dating back to the 10th century, it was rebuilt in the Arab-Norman style with references to the Byzantine matrix and architectural similarities with the Cattolica of Stilo.

The church on the mountain in Badolato

The ancient Byzantine-style floor mosaic was recomposed in the church, an opus tessellatum , which is a floor ornamentation technique which consists in the assembly of small multicolored fragments, made up of marble, stone, glass paste, ceramic or other hard materials.

Also in Reggio, the Castle of Santo Niceto (with a spectacular view of Sicily) is the only example of a Byzantine fortress in southern Italy that has been preserved in good condition. Two square towers are visible near the entrance and at the foot of the short climb that leads to the castle portal there is a small church, equipped with a frescoed dome with a painting of Christ Pantocrator, a typical subject of Byzantine art.

Castle of Santo Niceto (Sicily in the background)

In Paola, mainly known for being the birthplace of San Francesco di Paola, we note the Church of Sotterra, which is an underground church of Byzantine origins built between the 9th and 10th centuries. The most important part of the church is made up of the frescoes of the seventh century. AD, of direct derivation from the Byzantine styles.

On the other hand, San Demetrio Corone, on the eastern slope of the Sila Greca, from which one has a view of the Pollino massif, is among the most important cultural centers of the Albanian communities in Italy and preserves the Albanian language and the Byzantine rite. It presents an Abbey of Sant’Adriano, with a marvelous 12th century floor, formed by zoomorphic motifs and made partly in opus sectile (one of the most refined marble ornamentation techniques) and partly in mosaic. Composed of marble tesserae and local stones, it has an extraordinary polychromatic effect which makes it similar to an oriental carpet.