Mediterranean life style: Calabria


Calabria is a land whose even daily culture owes a lot to the Mediterranean lifestyle of the Greeks who constituted wonderful colonies here more than two and a half millennia ago.

To maintain control of navigation on the Strait and the predominance of the circulation of goods, the Chalcidians soon occupied the site of Zancle (now Messina), in Sicily, and then that of Reggio, in Calabria. The other possible route to reach the Tyrrhenian traffic from the south involved the circumnavigation of Sicily, crossing the Strait of Sicily, which was very dangerous due to the shallows (shallow waters). Syracuse’s Greeks, therefore, to guard this route too, founded Camarina, which overlooked the canal.

Kamarina Ruins

From these dark beginnings, almost 2500 years ago, the real start of one of the most splendid cultures of the Mediterranean basin, Magna Graecia, with its perennial conquests for Western and world culture: philosophy, mathematics, science, art and style of Mediterranean life …


Today as then, talking about the Mediterranean and Calabria is talking about a great civilization that has not yet exhausted its impulse toward a magnific and perennial lifestyle, even in our hectic and polluted metropolises.

A style that is attentive to the dignity of people, of everyone, old and poor, rich and children … Everyone is loved, cared for and preferred for their personal characteristics, not for the public offices they hold, but for their ability to live and to love life.

The poors share in the beauty of common living, in the grace and kindness of this poor but kind and hospitable land. If someone is part of a family he is honored as a relative and friend and if he can benefit the city, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.

Everyone deals with everyone in public affairs as well as in daily activities, perhaps drawing criticism of being a bit patronizing and accommodating, but … never getting too angry with one’s neighbor, … paying obedience to power and laws, but still considering the injustice as a shame of all.

Grace of Calabrian Style

However, where the grace and kindness of the Calabrian people shines is in the attention and style in enjoying the food, the wine, the excellent fruits of the earth. In this way the Calabrians, like the ancient Greeks, procure many opportunities for recreation from fatigue, for their spirit, since festivals and ritual and religious festivals are celebrated all year round.

The houses, however poor they may be, always have some nice corner and a simple and elegant furniture, whose daily enjoyment removes discouragement from the inevitable evils of life.

The earth is kissed by the sun almost all year round and this explains why all kinds of products from the fields arrive in the city, which local craftsmanship then knows how to use in a refined and varied gastronomy.

Elegance and sobriety

Now consider how much the description of this lifestyle is quite similar to that exposed by Pericles, in his famous epitaph to the fallen in war, about the Athenians and the Greeks in general …

[From: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book II]

…yet in conferring of dignities one man is preferred before another to public charge, and that according to the reputation, not of his house, but of his virtue; and is not put back through poverty for the obscurity of his person, as long as he can do good service to the commonwealth. And we live not only free in the administration of the state, but also one with another void of jealousy touching each other’s daily course of life; not offended at any man for following his own humour, nor casting on any man censorious looks, which though they be no punishment, yet they grieve. So that conversing one with another for the private without offence, we stand chiefly in fear to transgress against the public; and are obedient always to those that govern and to the laws, and principally to such laws as are written for protection against injury, and such unwritten, as bring undeniable shame to the transgressors. (Book II, 37)

We have also found out many ways to give our minds recreation from labour, by public institution of games and sacrifices for all the days of the year, with a decent pomp and furniture of the same by private men; by the daily delight whereof we expel sadness. We have this farther by the greatness of our city, that all things from all parts of the earth are imported hither; whereby we no less familiarly enjoy the commodities of all other nations, than our own. (Book II, 38).


The unparalleled importance of the Mediterranean lifestyle introduced by the Greeks in Calabria, Italy and the world, begins with the Greek colonization in this land, but also in Apulia, Sicily and Campania.

For Apulia, it all began with the search for a shelter for the routes, which the Greeks found in the other large gulf of Southern Italy, the gulf of Taranto, whose name derives from the colony of the same name founded on the Apulian coasts by the Spartans. Metaponto also arose at a distance of a few kilometers from Taranto, overlooking the gulf. In any case, despite being a territory rich in resources, not far from the motherland and suitable for cultivation, Puglia was not a happy destination for colonial expeditions, with the exception of Taranto, because it was populated by the fierce Làpigi, already well known to Mycenaean merchants.

Ruins in Sybaris

The search for fertile lands in a strategic position, on the southern coast of the peninsula, led the Greeks, therefore, to look for some safe bases in the river valleys, such as those of Calabria, in Sybaris, still considered today the oldest of the Achaean colonies . Sybaris was founded in an uninhabited area between the mouths of two rivers, in a plain suitable for agriculture but devoid of indigenous settlements due to frequent floods.

Another example is the foundation of Acragante, in Sicily, between two rivers and four kilometers from the sea: the ancients said that it had all the advantages of a maritime city.

Even more important for Greek colonization is Ischia, the first outpost in Campania for Greek merchants looking for iron and eager to sell their terracotta pots.


The millenary history of Reggio Calabria, on the other hand, is very important for the birth of an authentically Greek lifestyle in the West and begins with its foundation as a Greek colony in the eighth century BC. The history of Reggio Calabria is even at the origins of the name Italy and its culture, the cradle of world civilization.

In fact, the locality of Reggio was called Pallantion and was inhabited by the “Itali“, a nucleus of the Sicilian people who had not crossed the Strait and had settled permanently in the territory corresponding to the current province of Reggio. They were therefore called Itali in honor of their great King Italo, son of Enotrio, as Dionysius of Halicarnassus writes; and the territory in which they were settled had assumed the geographical name of “Italy”, as confirmed by Thucydides and Virgil.

The name of Italy then included the whole of Calabria, and in Roman times it was extended to all the colonized peoples of the current Italian peninsula, who were called “Gentes Italicae“.

Riace bronzes (Reggio Calabria museum)

The date of the foundation of Reggio was set for July 14 in the year 730 BC. according to the studies carried out by the historians Prof. Pasquale Amato and Mons.Nunnari, confirmed by the French historian Georges Vallet, on numerous ancient historical texts, including Thucydides, it clearly emerges that around this date the Chalcidians founded the colony of Rhegion, this is also reliable considering that the boats of the era could sail in complete safety only in the spring-summer period.

The Greek historians Thucydides and Diodorus Siculus (XIII, 23) narrate how the oracle of Delphi had indicated to the colonists where to found the new city.

Following the oracle, when the settlers stopped near the promontory of Punta Calamizzi at the mouth of the Apsìas river (the current Calopinace river), having glimpsed a vine clinging to a wild fig in the locality called Pallantion (the current “fortino a mare “or” temple “), they decided to settle in that place, founding, perhaps (as mentioned), the first Greek (polis) in Calabria.

The oldest coin minted by the city testifies to the sacredness of the river, depicting a bull with a human face, which in classical iconography represents the personification of rivers.

The new city took the name of Rhegion. The term is referred in ancient sources to the verb “regnumi”, which means to break, in memory of the geological split of Sicily from Calabria. Instead, it has been argued that it derives from the proto-Italian Indo-European root “reg”, with the meaning of “chief, king”, referring to the promontory that dominated the panorama from the peninsula and which in ancient times constituted the natural harbor.

The ancient mouth of the Calopinace with the promontory of Punta Calamizzi that extended towards Sicily inspired Thucydides with words of great praise. The acroteri were the top decorations of the prestigious temples of Reggio, which in the pediment, at the three vertices, exhibited statues or images of powerful divinities, owners of the sanctuary.

The Athenian historian, Thucydides, wanted to immortalize in one sentence the beauty, grace and magnificence of the city of the strait, saying that Reggio stands as a final decoration of entire Greek Italy, overlooking its sea like a suggestive and dominant temple, as if it were the ” temple of Italy “.

Later in its history Reggio was a thriving city of Magna Graecia and subsequently an ally of Rome. Then it was one of the great metropolises of the Byzantine Empire and was under the Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins and the Aragonese. It was hit by a serious earthquake in 1783. It became part of the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and then passed to the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1908 it suffered the destruction of another terrible earthquake, then it was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau period but then partially damaged by the bombings of the Second World War. It grew considerably during the twentieth century but in the early 70s it was the protagonist of great regional upheavals, the consequences of which led to a dark twenty years from which, however, thanks to a series of successful administrations in recent decades, the city has notably recovered, going back to being, according to demographic, economic and tourist data, a protagonist in the Mediterranean panorama.

Bergamot citrus

Even today, the splendid Mediterranean and Greek lifestyle and its suggestive food and wine continue to spread their scent in Italy and abroad. Reggio is still famous for its legendary stylists, the Versace family, which is from here, with its constant references to Greek modus vivendi.

Reggio also emanates the intense scent of its rich gastronomy throughout the world through the centuries-old cultivation, production and sale of Bergamot, a mysterious and very fragrant citrus fruit, a fruit that grows only near Reggio and embodies all the mysterious essence of the Greek world and its incomparable and splendid spread throughout the world withi its soft and very strong perfume.

Italy, a nation born in Calabria (near Catanzaro)?


Italy according to the ancient Greeks corresponded to the current Calabria!

It has been hypothesized that the name derives from the word “Italói“, a term used by the Greeks to refer to the Vituli (or Viteli), a population that lived in the extreme tip of the Italian peninsula, the region south of today’s Catanzaro, and which worshiped the simulacrum of a calf (vitulus, in Latin).


The name “Italy” would therefore mean “inhabitants of the land of calves“. In fact, what is usually considered certain is that the name initially indicated only the part located in the extreme south of the Peninsula, Calabria.

Italy, starting from Catanzaro

At first it was limited to that extreme part of Calabria that lies south of the gulfs of Sant’Eufèmia and Squillace, or, according to another possible interpretation of the sources, roughly in Cilento, between the Sele and Lao rivers (the latter is in Calabria).

The region, which is now called Italy, anciently was inhabited by the Enotri; in that time their king was Italo, then they changed their name to Itali; succeeding Italo Morgete, they were called Morgeti; then came a Siculo, who divided the people, who were then Morgeti and Siculi; while Itali were those who were called Enotri

(Antiochus of Syracuse, in Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1, 12 vg).

A map of population, according to Antiochus

There are various legends about the character of Italo, king of the Enotri who, according to the myth, would have lived 16 generations before the Trojan War: the name Italia (Italy) would derive from him.

The name Italy was given first to the region corresponding to his kingdom, namely to almost all of Calabria except the northern zone, the name Italy subsequently extended to the whole peninsula (up to the current regions of Tuscany and Marche) as reported by Thucydides, Aristotle, Antiochus of Syracuse and Strabo.

King Italo converted the Enotri from a nomadic to a sedentary people, establishing them in the extreme offshoot of the European coasts, in the present isthmus of Catanzaro between the Gulf of Squillace to the east and the Gulf of Sant’Eufemia to the west.

The capital of his kingdom, according to Strabo, was Pandosia Bruzia, today probably corresponding to the city of Acri.

According to what Strabo tells us, Antiochus of Syracuse (V century BC) already spoke of the borders of Italy in his work “On Italy“, which identified the country with the ancient Enotria.

At that time, Italy extended from the Strait of Sicily to the Gulf of Taranto (east) and the Gulf of Posidonia (west).  Later, with the Roman conquest of the following centuries, the term Italy extended to the Alps, including Liguria up to the Varo River and Istria up to Pula. Conclusively, all its inhabitants were considered Italic and Roman.

Enotri, a woman and her jewelry


Among the proposals that motivate the name Italy beyond a real linguistic analysis can be remembered that of Domenico Romanelli, who, basing himself on the ancient but never fully accepted hypothesis that it was in relation with the bulls, explained it with the fact that who came from the west sea saw taurine shapes in the Bruzia peninsula (corresponding to actual Calabria).

This idea suits the tradition in ancient times that the lands of present-day Calabria were known as Italy. The Greeks, indeed, indicated the origin of the name in “Ouitoulía” from the word “Italòi” (plural of Italós), a term by which the Achaean settlers who arrived in the lands of present-day Calabria ambiguously designated both the Vituli and a population that inhabited the lands to the south of the isthmus of Catanzaro, whose ethnology was etymologically related to the word indicating the bull, sacred animal to the Vituli and deified by them, namely the bulls themselves: the Greek  word “italós” in fact is of Oscan derivation, from “uitlu“, nameyl “bull” (see also  the Latin “uitellus“, a form with a diminutive suffix meaning calf).

Thus, “Ouitoulía” came to mean “land of the Vituli” or “land of the bulls“. To support this hypothesis, it is recalled that in the southern part of the Calabrian peninsula there are place names of Magna Graecia origin (some translated in Latin by the Normans) probably referring to the most ancient etymology of the bulls’ land (of cattle):

Bova (from the latin “bos-bovis”, calf),

Bovalino (from “bos-bovis”),

Taurianova (from the latin “taurus”, bull),

Gioia Tauro (from “taurus”), etc.

Conclusively, also the Greeks would have applied little by little the name “Italy” to an ever-wider region, until the time of the Roman conquest, when it was extended to the entire peninsula.


For some linguists who have supported this thesis, the name would be based on a non-attested Greek form (therefore hypothetical) like  Aιθαλία (Aithalìa) which in its initial part Aith- (typical of fire-related words) would contain a reference to the volcanic dimension of the peninsula lands. This meaning would resist for example in the name of Etna, in ancient Greek “Aitna“.

King Italo

This proposal had already been advanced by Gabriele Rosa, according to whom the first Greeks arrived in the peninsula would have called it precisely Aιθαλια (Italy) because the territory was volcanic, flaming and sooty, for the same reason they said Aιθαλια the islands of Elba (Ilva), of Lemnos and Chios, full of iron forges (SOURCE: Gabriele Rosa, The origins of civilization in Europe, Milan 1862-1863).

In all cases, whether Italy is the land of volcanoes or of King Italo or calves, Calabria is at the center of the origin of the name Italy. Something that few know!