A Byzantine-Norman mosaic of influences
Santa Severina is an ancient Medieval “borgo” or hamlet located in the middle of the Province of Crotone; halfway between the Ionian Sea and the Sila plateau. It is surrounded by a wonderful hilly landscape, and the Neto river runs through it for 10 kilometres.
The town, which has been awarded the title of being one of the most beautiful ancient villages in Italy, rises on a sandstone (known locally as tuff or “tuffa”) spur overlooking the Neto river valley.
On certain days at dawn, when the mist envelops the valley beneath the rocky base which supports it, the town’s castle resembles a large stone ship. Quite close to the city of Crotone, Santa Severina’s historic town centre, in addition to boasting the newly restored Norman castle and timeless Byzantine churches, showcases the architectural transition from the Norman period to that of the Byzantine Empire. Santa Severina is without a doubt one of Calabria’s gems in terms of artistic heritage and is visited each year by many tourists and guided tours.
The great Mediterranean and European civilisations were involved in the history of Santa Severina and left traces, remains and monuments that can be still admired for their beauty by visitors today. It was a natural unconquerable fortress, and the military fortifications that surrounded the majestic and mighty castle, were enlarged and modified depending on the military engineering of the time, which acts as a complementary border to the majestic and imposing castle.
The Grecìa quarter is of Byzantine origins and remains almost intact from the urban point of view, where houses cling to one another over the rocky spur that offers breathtaking views of the Marchesato. Next to the Grecìa quarter lies the “rione della Iudea”, inhabited by the Jews until their expulsion in 1510.
Santa Severina Castle
The town’s undisputed symbol is the imposing Castello di Santa Severina (Santa Severina Castle), which overlooks the Neto river valley and houses inside an important archaeological museum. Also known as “Castello Carafa”, the castle dates back to the era of the Norman adventurer Roberto il Guiscardo (Robert Guiscard). It was subsequently extended with a series of underground labyrinths and stables. Inside the castle is still possible to admire the remains of medieval frescoes and halls decorated with stucco-work, with baroque paintings by Francesco Giordano.
One of the most complex and beautifully well-preserved military buildings in Calabria, the castle consists of a fifteenth century square watch tower, with four angular towers on four protruding buttresses. Surrounded by strong, crenellated walls with a moat on three sides, it contains intricate, underground labyrinths and stables with the remains of mediaeval frescoes. Magnificent stucco decorations and Baroque paintings by Francesco Giordano ornate the large living rooms of the fortress.
The belvedere, built in 1535 by Galeotto Carafa, overlooks the entire Marchesato as far as Crotone and the Ionian Sea. In 1905 the castle was purchased by the Municipality who recently restored it to its former glory.
The historical town centre
From the IX century up to the XI the town lived the moment of its maximum splendour. The baptistery, the old cathedral, the chiesa di Santa Filomena (church of St Philomena) and other ruins scattered in the area, are the most obvious vestiges of the Byzantine period.
The Cathedral to the north and the Norman castle to the south are the two important architectural structures of the “Campo”; the name used by the inhabitants of Santa Severina to refer to their square, due to ancient memories of its military use as a “piazza d’armi” (Armoury square).
The Cattedrale di Santa Anastasia, (Cathedral of St Anastasia), built between 1274 and 1295, still preserves the ancient portal with a lancet or pointed arch, the centre of which features the episcopal coat of arms, while the rest of the façade was completely redone in 1705. It boasts an impressive bell tower with a square base, on four levels. The interior houses frescoes of the pillars that support the naves and a beautiful crucifix of the XV century.
The cathedral, with a Latin cross floor-plan with three naves, has undergone various changes during the course of its history, so much so that only the portal remains of its original construction. An additional inscription dedicates the church to Saint Anastasia, the town’s patron saint.
The chiesa di Sant’Antonio (Church of St Anthony) is also from the seventeenth century. It has a beautiful portal made of sandstone (known locally as tuff or “tuffa”) and houses the small chapel of the Dukes of Sculco and two cycles of fresco paintings representing the life of St Francis of Assisi and Saint Anthony of Padua.
Santa Severina’s baptistery, circular shaped, with four apses, represents the only Byzantine example to reach present day still intact. The architecture of this gem derives from the buildings with a central floor-plan that refer to the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza in Rome.
The chiesa dell’Addolorata (church of the Addolorata) which dates back to pre-Norman times, stands on the remains of an ancient bishopric and retains many elements of the old cathedral, consecrated in 1036. The interior with three naves, built during the XVII century, preserves a beautiful baroque altar.
The chiesa di Santa Filomena (church of Saint Philomena), an interesting example of Byzantine-Norman architecture, is a construction of the XI century. It is formed by two superimposed chapels with a rectangular floor-plan, with a dome adorned with columns and two Norman ogival portals. What was once the chiesa del Pozzoleo (church of the Pozzoleo) was later restored, and today serves as the crypt of Santa Filomena. This church contained a beautiful holy water stoup of Parian marble, currently kept in the Diocesan Museum.
Museums and Archives
The Museo Diocesano di Arte sacra (Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art) has its headquarters in the palazzo arcivescovile (Archiepiscopal Palace). It is one of Calabria’s most interesting museums, as the items it contains allow to understand the significance of Santa Severina as a religious centre throughout various historical periods.
Not to be missed is the Cathedral treasury, composed of garments, sacred furnishings and ecclesiastical documents, the oldest of which is a papal bull of Pope Lucius III of 1184, as well as a valuable Byzantine-style painting of the VIII – IX century depicting the face of Christ.
The Diocesan Historical Archive and Library are always hosted in the palazzo arcivescovile (Archiepiscopal Palace) and custody an invaluable heritage in terms of history for Calabria as a whole. The Archive, a frequent destination of scholars, keeps hundreds of parchments and manuscripts that tell the story of the Byzantine Metropolitan See and of the individual parishes, while the Library collects mainly religious material.
The Archaeological Museum is housed in some of the rooms of the castle and comprises materials (coins, bronze items, pottery) that allow to reconstruct the events of the Norman town until the beginning of the last century.
A typical speciality of Santa Severina is the pasta “chjna”, i.e. oven-baked rigatoni stuffed with cheese, provola cheese and local sausage. Another typical local product is the aranciàru; the distinctive Santa Severina orange, whose secular history finds its origins in the soil type of the area, that confers organoleptic properties and makes it a key ingredient also in the kitchen, as well as one of Calabria’s most renowned products at fairs.
The church of Santa Filomena, an interesting example of Byzantine-Norman architecture, is an 11th century construction consisting of two overlapping rectangular chapels, with a small dome adorned with columns and two Norman ogival portals. What was once the restored church of Pozzoleo, today serves as the crypt of Santa Filomena. It contained a beautiful font of Parian marble, currently preserved in the Diocesan Museum.
Built in the Norman period (12th century), but due to its layout and oriental-toned dome it is considered “the last glimmer of Byzantine civilization in Calabria”.
Built in the 1980s, it features an ellipse with a compass rose in the center and a whole series of drawings: planets, alchemical symbols, the cycles of gold, metals, time and seasons.