Calabria: A Rough Diamond Still To Be Refined

Last summer I decided to organise a journey with a couple of friends to my second hometown, Taverna sulla Sila, a small village up in the mountains in the middle of one of Italy’s southernmost regions, Calabria. We planned the whole journey in such a way to be able to see as much as possible of this remote and forgotten region. We travelled from north to south, from one coast to the other, crossing twice the famous motorway, the Salerno-Reggio Calabria, which with its 443km of length splits the region in two sides and almost connects the Italian peninsula with its largest island Sicily.

Most of the people from outside just know Calabria for it being the tip of the boot, others may have taken the ferry to reach Sicily from Reggio, but unfortunately Calabria is mostly known for being one of the least developed regions in Europe, for the corruption of its political leaders and for the never ending construction of its main road, the Salerno-Reggio Calabria.

This was not my first time in the region, but for my friends it was. Travelling with them gave me the opportunity to see everything from a different perspective. Since I was a child I was used to spend two weeks of my summer there, staying at my Granma’s house, catching up with my friends from childhood, but I have never been able to observe how the realty around me was changing slowly throughout the years. I was becoming one of those people who get quickly used to what surrounds them.

The motorway we crossed several times last summer is almost finished after fifty years of construction works. The project started in the Sixties, aiming to develop the region. At that time, traveling by car was the easiest solution to get to Sicily and the only way for many migrants to return to their hometowns. Nowadays it is easier to take an airplane and to fly to the South of Italy directly: it’s quicker and it’s cheaper. Therefore Calabria will finally have its motorway, but I am afraid nobody is going to use it. At the contrary, the trains system is still not really working. The high speed train only gets you until Salerno, and from there on you have to take one of the regional trains which take an infinite amount of time. Most of the touristic infrastructure, especially on the Ionic coast, is there since the Seventies, and nothing seems to be changed since then. Unfortunately, many big projects and much budget spent to developing the south of Italy seems to have failed to reach the desired objectives in this region, which has in the past often been abandoned to its own faith.

Despite all of this, we also saw a region that was trying to restart even if nobody was betting on its future. The little village where my mother comes from is a good example of economic self-reliance. With just over 1,000 inhabitants, and placed in the middle of nowhere, Taverna sulla Sila seems to be one of the best kept towns we have seen in our entire journey. This small village is the hometown of Mattia Preti, a pretty famous baroque painter of the school of Caravaggio, and some of his paintings are still conserved in the main church of the village. Taverna was able to take this opportunity and to enhance its income by becoming a cultural destination for art passionates. In 2014 Taverna hosted a Mattia Preti exhibition which attracted a high number of tourists from all over Italy. The event was organised as the last stage of one year of celebrations in honour of the artist’s anniversary that took place in three different towns: Turin, La Valletta and Taverna. Also the famous Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi was involved in the coordination of the celebrations.

The experience of Taverna is important for a region where development has arrived too late, and only in a few spots of its territory. What we couldn’t stop asking ourselves was why this region has been for such a long time forgotten by everyone? Why is the image of Calabria that is presented in Italy and elsewhere not made by those good examples instead of always talking about the negative side? Along the Mediterranean coast we have seen beautiful places and shining tourist destinations like Tropea and Scilla which have nothing to envy to their neighbours Amalfi coast and Sicily. We have walked on Reggio’s seafront, the so called “most beautiful kilometre of Italy”, where you can admire the sun slowly blowing out into the frame of Sicily right in front of you. We have enjoyed the crazy nightlife in Soverato, on the Ionic coast, and we have watched the sun setting on a wild beach and drinking a Birra Moretti in Giovino.

This is the image of Calabria that I want to present to Italy and elsewhere around Europe. The image of a region where change can happen as long as you decide to invest properly in it.

Francesca Monteverdi (24) is studying International Relations at the University of Turin

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