This ancient town rises on a rock and is split into two parts by the steep Fiumarella valley. The two sections are connected by a huge concrete steel bridge (the Viadotto Morandi), that is one of the highest in Europe, built in 1960 by architect Riccardo Morandi. This beach town has a large boardwalk, and a harbor for small fishing and pleasure boats. It is often referred to as the city of the 3 V’s from Vitaliano (the patron saint), velvets (it was a textile center since Norman times) and “venti” (winds) for the breeze from the Sila mountains and the sea.
Catanzaro is a windy city due to its altitude and position between two seas. In fact, there are only 18 miles separating the Ionian Sea from the Tyrrhenian Sea and Catanzaro is wide open to the constant strong breezes from the Ionian Sea and the Silas.
The old town was built over three hills (St. Trifone/ St. Rocco Hill; Episcopate’s Hill; St. Giovanni Hill) during Byzantine times. There are differences on the origin of the name, some say it was derived from two Byzantine generals, Kata and Zaro, while another theory is that Zaro was the original name of the river, so that Kata Zaro would mean beyond the river.
In the 11th. century Catanzaro was the first area in Italy to introduce the silkworm. The peasants of the countryside around the city produced the raw silk, which was then woven in the silk workshops of Catanzaro. A large part of the population was involved in this business, and the silk from Catanzaro supplied almost all of Europe. The silk was sold in a large market fair in the port of Reggio Calabria, to Spanish, Venetians, Genovese and Dutch merchants.
A devastating earthquake in 1783 wiped away churches, palaces and a large part of the population. And a second in 1832 completed the destruction of most ancient historical buildings.
Notable landmarks are the remains of the Norman Castle and the 16th. century cathedral which was built over the top of the original Norman cathedral. Due to the two earthquakes and World War II many of the original buildings were destroyed but there are still plenty of landmarks to be seen. As in all Italian cities there are many beautiful churches, including the Basilica dell’Immacolata, one of the most important religious landmarks in the region. It is an intimidating structure and is built in the Baroque style, supported by huge marble columns.
The main center of the town is Piazza Grimaldi, named after the famous House of Grimaldi. On all four sides of the square are historic buildings interspersed with narrow streets and alleyways leading to old shops and crumbling houses. The piazza is the main meeting area of the city and there is a constant flow of people making it a pleasant and interesting place to sit, drink coffee and watch the world go by.
The Food of Catanzaro
The basic ingredients of Catanzaro’s cuisine are simple, such as, olive oil, hot pepper and bread. The local specialities are a pasta filled with provola cheese, boiled eggs, soppressata and covered with meat sauce and grated cheese; and a vegetarian pasta made with fried eggs and pecorino cheese. The most famous dish among the second courses is a tripe dish cooked in a spicy sauce and served in a round shaped focaccia bread (pitta).
Other dishes include kid, veal or pork cooked with tomatoes, vegetables and chili peppers, as well as sausages, soppressata and cheeses, such as, a caciocavallo with butter inside.
Typical pastries are crocette, which are, dried figs filled with nuts, cinnamon and candied cedar and baked. The pastries are served with the local Malvasia wine.
Make Some Catanzaro Inspired Recipes At Home
- 6 long zucchini
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 8 ounces day-old Italian bread crust removed and crumbled
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
- 1 egg
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Minced parsley (a small bunch)
- Olive Oil
- Black pepper and salt to taste (keep in mind that Pecorino Romano is salty)
- Lemon quarters
Wash the zucchini, split them lengthwise, and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. Chop the pulp. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and use it to fill the zucchini shells. Put the stuffed zucchini in a lightly oiled baking dish, drizzle them lightly with oil, and bake in a 375 degree F. oven for 45 minutes. Garnish with lemon.
Stuffed Chicken Catanzaro Style
- 1 chicken, weighing about 3-4 pounds
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup Italian bread cubes
- 8 salted anchovy fillets, minced
- Juice of a half a lemon
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
- Marsala wine for basting
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
Cream the butter and add the anchovy fillets, lemon juice and pinch of nutmeg. Mix with the bread cubes. Fill the cavity with the mixture, tie the opening closed. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken. Place the chicken on a roasting pan.
Roast in a 400 degree F. oven (Italians roast at fairly high temperatures) for about an hour, or until the juices run clear if you slip a skewer into the meaty area under the wing joint.
Baste the chicken occasionally with Marsala wine and the drippings that collect in the pan.
- 1 1/4 pounds fresh ripe figs
- 1/2 pound shelled blanched walnuts or almonds
- 1 ounce cocoa
- 2 ounces candied citrus peel (e.g. oranges and citrons), diced
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
Chop the walnuts or almonds, and combine them in a bowl with the candied citrus peel and cocoa powder. Mix well. Slice the figs lengthwise, so as to open them like one might a book, and fill the center with the chopped nut mixture, closing them back up and layering them in a bowl or jar.
Combine the sugar, water and cinnamon in a saucepan and stir gently while heating the syrup; when it comes to a boil let it boil for 6 minutes, and then pour it over the figs. Cover the figs with a saucer or bowl to weigh them down and to keep them submerged in the syrup. They’ll be ready to serve when the syrup has cooled.
Yield: 6 servings