Calabria developed a certain reputation in the 1970s when the Calabrian mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, carried out some high profile kidnappings. This may have influenced tourists to not consider travel in Calabria over the past decades, but I found it beautiful and relaxed with super welcoming people.
My recent vacation on the Calabrian coast with my Colombian cousins was fantastic. One day we drove from Tropea down to Reggio to see the famous Bronzes of Riace. We took the A3 highway that runs from Salerno to Reggio, and that was finally declared “complete” less than a year ago, in December of 2016.
This highway was begin in the 1960s in order to end Calabria’s isolation. The mafia infiltrated the construction of it and received kickbacks and the project dragged on for 50 years and became a billion dollar bungle. Italy was ordered to pay back $594 million of the grant money it had received from the European Union for the highway’s construction after the corruption was uncovered.
Many articles have called the highway perilous with badly built bridges, unlit tunnels, constant detours and backed up traffic. We found it to be fine.
With me driving, we cruised down it for about 65 miles to its terminus in the city of Reggio and ran into no detours and no broken bridges and no traffic issues.
I pulled off in Scilla on the way– I mean when you remember from Greek Mythology that Scilla (Scylla) was a sea-monster who lived there, guarding the Straights of Messina, you’ve got to stop and see the town.
Scylla had six heads at the end of very long necks. These necks would reach out to passing ships, and the heads with their sharp teeth would snatch sailors and devour them. In The Odyssey, Odysseus loses six men to Scylla in one of the worst setbacks on his voyage.
Calabria is the land of most wonderful myths of western civilization. I was thrilled to be there.
In Reggio we circled the area where the National Museum is, trying to find parking (I’d be too American to expect the museum to have its own parking) and that was OK because it gave us an overview of the pretty lungomare (seaside promenade) with all the big Banyan trees where we sauntered after seeing the museum.
We found paid parking in a street but where to pay? I left my cousins standing by the car and went to ask in a bar. I was told to go to the Feramenta (hardware store) which I did, and was told they were out of tickets. I went on down the street to a tabaccheria. There I was able to purchase two tickets for an hour each.
“Do I just put them on my windshield?” I asked.
“No you have to scrape them.”
“Uh… can you show me?”
The man proceeded to carefully scrape off the date, and the start time on one ticket, and then the date and an hour later on the next ticket. Back in Tuscany I mentioned my parking in Reggio experience to my neighbor and he said, “Dio mio! We’ve not had that in Toscana for 30 years!”
A block before the museum we decided to stop in a bar for sustenance. My cousin Tiggy thought it was hilarious that the enclosed outdoor area of the bar took up half the street while my other cousin Johann enthusiastically exclaimed that he loved the chaos of Reggio.
Finally we arrived at the museum, to see the one of Italy’s most significant and exciting archeological finds of the past 100 years.
The two bronze statues were discovered by a scuba diver in 1972 off the coast of Riace Marina.
They underwent ten years of restoration in Florence before being set up in proudly in Reggio’s museum.
These gorgeous bronzes are from the classical period of fifth century BC in Greece– when the Greeks achieved mastery in sculpture.
God what a thrill to stand before them!
Look at the curls of the hair and the teeth and the eyes! Amazing!
They were made 2000 years before the Renaissance and yet I can say that perhaps only Michelangelo’s David can match them in terms of execution and skill.
They showed me how the Greeks pushed the boundaries of anatomy, exaggerating realism in human form to create something super human. This too, is the case with Michelangelo’s David.
The museum also holds extensive artifacts from, and information about, the colonies of Magna Grecia that flourished in Calabria. (The Greeks colonized the coast of what’s now Calabria in the 8th and 7th centuries BC . The Romans later referred to this as Magna Grecia, “Greater Greece.”)
The Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia is open daily from 9:00am to 8:00pm, except for being closed on Monday.
If you travel in Calabria, don’t miss the Bronzes of Riace!
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