Home » Where Calabria meets Sicily – Laura Melissari

Where Calabria meets Sicily – Laura Melissari

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Where Calabria meets Sicily – Laura Melissari

The beach and the village of Scilla. Reggio Calabria, 15 August 2020.

(Francesco Vaninetti Photo, Getty)

It separates Calabria from Sicily, the island from the mainland, the Ionian Sea from the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the Strait of Messina, the small arm of the sea whose narrowest point, between Ganzirri on the Sicilian side and Punta Pezzo on the Calabrian one, measures only 3.15 kilometers. The shallowest point is 64 meters, on the so-called “saddle”, the crest of an underwater relief with very steep slopes.

But if the water that covers the strait dried up, an immense canyon would also emerge from the bottom of the sea: the deep “Messina valley”. ‘The Strictin the center of the mare nostrum, the Mediterranean for the Romans, was a difficult place to cross due to the irregular currents and strong winds.

Hence the many legends, such as that of the two monsters that terrified the navigators of antiquity: in the twelfth canto of the Odyssey they are described as Scylla “who terribly cackles” and “the horrible Charybdis”, who “then swallowed the brackish waves of the sea”.

For decades, the idea of ​​building a bridge to connect the two coasts has entered and exited the political agenda of governments, but it has always remained just a project. The two main cities that overlook the strait, Messina, the ancient Zancle, and Reggio Calabria, Reghion, one of the most flourishing centers of Magna Graecia, were destroyed by the earthquake and the consequent tsunami of 1908.

Victim of neglect and stuck in the grip of organized crime for decades, the Strait of Messina is a land in which the need for conscious care of the territory is more urgent than ever, in order not to waste a historical, mythological and naturalistic heritage of enormous value .

3 pm: a platonic view.
Leaving the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway at Bagnara Calabra, follow the signs for Mount Sant’Elia, whose viewpoint of the three crosses offers an unmissable view of the entrance to the strait. You can also see the Costa Viola below, the high Tyrrhenian coast overlooking the sea that from Palmi reaches Villa San Giovanni, and which owes its name to the description of the philosopher Plato: “Everything is tinged with the different shades of purple, giving life every evening, with its spectacular reflections, to an ever new vision “. If the day is clear, all seven of the Aeolian islands can be seen from here. Continuing south along the state road, also this panoramic one, the landscape is characterized by terraces planted with vineyards and the ridges of the Aspromonte that plunge into the sea.

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5 pm: in the fishing village.
Before arriving on the strait, it is worth stopping in Scilla. Leaving the car on the seafront, we continue with a visit to the Ruffo castle, an ancient fortification on the rock overlooking the town, and then descend towards the small port, which leads to the ancient fishing village of Chianalea. With its narrow streets and houses narrow against each other, it is considered the little Venice of the south. At sunset, the aperitif is at Civico 5, a place on the sea where to eat the sandwich with swordfisha sandwich with a slice of grilled swordfish seasoned with sarmurigghiu, a sauce made with oil, lemon, oregano, salt and garlic.

8 pm: dinner on the stilts.
To end the first day in the best possible way, the advice is to have dinner in one of the fish restaurants in Chianalea that set up tables on stilts. The fish comes fresh from the many fishermen’s boats or from the feluccas (also called spadare), the boats that from May to September are used for swordfish fishing. In this season of the year dozens of them can be seen along the coast: they can be recognized by the antenna for the sighting of swordfish, between 30 and 35 meters high, and by the long walkway at the bow.

9 am: industrial archeology.
After waking up, preferably with a sea view, the journey continues south, on the winding Tyrrhenian road that runs along the sea. Leaving Scilla there is an incredible view of the strait: opposite is Punta Faro, on which stands the imposing Pylon, one of the two high voltage pylons built in the 1950s to bring electricity to Sicily. For about thirty years the island has been connected by submarine cables, but this has not always been the case: from 1957 to 1992 electricity came through an overhead power line “suspended” on the strait between two pylons over 200 meters high. Today those two pylons in white and red iron, one on the Sicilian tip and the other on the Calabrian promontory between Scilla and Villa San Giovanni, now disused but never dismantled, represent an example of industrial archeology. Before arriving at Villa San Giovanni, it is a must to make a small detour to Santa Trada, the town at two hundred meters above sea level on which the Calabrian pillar stands, for a view of the strait of incomparable beauty.

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12 noon: stop at Villa San Giovanni.
After a stop in the small fishing village of Cannitello, we arrive at Villa San Giovanni, a town of 12 thousand inhabitants which, with its spinning mills, was once an important center for silkworm breeding and silk spinning. From here the connections to Messina depart. The two navigation services, one by Ferrovie dello Stato and the other by Caronte & Tourist, allow you to cross the strait in twenty minutes, with or without a car. Before embarking on ‘the ferryboat, the old dialect name of the ferry, you can have a quick lunch at the Km Zero restaurant, where you can eat traditional Calabrian specialties. Among these is the struncatura, a dark colored pasta similar in shape to linguine. It was once made from the waste from the grinding of wheat, but was then banned for hygienic reasons and only became available as contraband. Today many pasta factories around Reggio Calabria have returned to produce an improved version adapted to hygienic standards. It is excellent with toasted breadcrumbs, dried tomatoes, black olives and capers.

From here the Calabrian shore seems so close that you can grasp it with your hands

2 pm: in nature.
Crossing the strait by ship is a suggestive experience. Leaving Messina, the advice is to continue towards the lakes of Ganzirri and Capo Peloro (also called Punta Faro), in the extreme north-east of Sicily and the meeting point between the Ionian and the Tyrrhenian, whose border line is visible to the eye. naked: due to the difference in temperature, in fact, the waters of the two seas do not mix. The lagoon of Capo Peloro is a naturalistic site of international importance – since 1972 it has been part of the Unesco Water project – but unfortunately it is in critical environmental conditions due to neglect and pollution. From here, the Calabrian shore, which, unlike the low and sandy Sicilian shore, is high and rocky, seems so close that you can grasp it with your hands.

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6 pm: cool off with a granita.
After a busy day, it’s time for the typical granita brioche with tuppu, to be enjoyed in one of the many bars in the area, including for example the Eden bar in Torre Faro. From coffee to almond, through figs or mulberries, granita is one of the typical Sicilian sweets, excellent at any time of the day. Between one teaspoon and the next, you can look towards the sea and try to see Colapesce. According to the legend – of which there are many versions – the young Nicola, known as Cola, was the son of a fisherman who knew how to swim like a fish. One day, realizing that one of the three columns that supported Sicily under Messina was damaged, he decided to replace it so as not to sink his land. From that moment on he never re-emerged and it is said that if the earth trembles every now and then it is only Colapesce who changes the shoulder on which the island rests. In the evening, a dinner in one of the bars on the beach is a must and, afterwards, a walk along the seafront will be an opportunity to admire the strait at night.

10 am: contemporary art.
After a breakfast with a sea view, you can take a boat ride along the coast: there are various boat rental services, but otherwise you can arrange with one of the fishermen along the pier. The last hours of the journey can then be dedicated to visiting the Horcynus Orca literary park, which owes its name to the 1975 novel of the same name by the writer Stefano D’Arrigo. The park is located in the fortified structure of the Torre degli Inglesi complex in Capo Peloro, built in the nineteenth century. Inside it is possible to visit the Macho, the Horcynus Orca contemporary art museum, and its collection of paintings, sculptures, installations and videos by artists from all over the Mediterranean and the garden of the Sands. And with the weekend drawing to a close, it’s time to get back to sea and return to the continent.

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