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Small piazza in Vibo Valentia


The Duomo at Vibo Valentia


Vibo Marina, Vibo Valentia

Welcome to Vibo Valentia
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 34,836 (1991)
Official site:
Vibo Valentia (Provincial)
Wikipedia: Vibo Valentia
Map:
MapQuest

Until 1928 Vibo Valentia was known as Monteleone di Calabria.  Although it sits a little inland and at some height from the Gulf of Sant'Eufemia on the Tyrrhenian Sea, in pre-modern times, it was a strategic location, and thus the city had to pay the usual bloody price in wars and conflicts that date back thousands of years.  If that were not enough, the city has also suffered frequent devastation by earthquakes,  especially those of 1783 and 1905.

Below the old city, on a bay that has seen the coming and going of bristling warships for centuries, is the modern, resort town of Vibo Marina, used by local fisherman, but also by yachtsmen and other boaters who sail and motor on the blue, blue waters of the Mediterranean.  Summer holiday-makers from "up north" now arrive in their thousands and crowd the beaches, restaurants, cafes and hotels that have sprung-up along the shores of the bay, especially during the last 20 years or so.  It is a bit scruffy, but lively during the high season.

Like many of the towns in the extreme south of Calabria, old Vibo - or Hipponion as it was known - was colonized by Greeks.  The first settlers were sent from nearby Locri, as early as 700 BC.  Later conflict erupted between this "mother" city and Hipponion, embroiling both in long-lasting and ultimately catastrophic struggles.

Vibo was also much-contested by "foreign powers" after its founding: by Syracuse, by local Italic tribes like the  Brutti and the Lucans and others.  At some point, in its struggle with Locri, it came under the protection of Carthage, but after the Carthaginians were defeated by the Romans, in the second of the two Punic Wars, the city fell firmly within the embrace of the Roman Empire (about 192 BC), where it remained, mostly at peace, for a few hundred years.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city endured the continuous ravages of wars between competing empires, including those of the Aragonese, Normans and Saracens

During the reign of the Norman, or Swabian, Emperor, Frederick II, who rolled Calabria into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the city, which had been destroyed during the 9th century by the Saracen raiders, was rebuilt.  It was he who built the castle, on the site of the original Greek Acropolis, above the town, and it was he who  gave the city a new name, Monteleone, Mount of the Lion. 

Ultimately, Calabria was absorbed by the Kingdom of Naples, during which time it lost some of its lustre as a main center.  Vibo regained some of its former prestige when, during the Napoleonic conquest, it became the capital city of the administrative area the French referred to as Calabria ultra.  After Napoleon's defeat, the again found itself within the Kingdom of Naples, where it remained until the unification of Italy in 1860. Vibo Valentia got its current name in January 1928 by decree of the newly installed Fascist government in Rome.

There are many things to do and see in the old city.  We recommend starting with a climb to the top to the Belvedere Grande, were you will find staggering views ranging from the Sila Mountains in the Calabrian hinterlands behind, to Mount Aetna on the Island of Sicily

Close by is a small 300 meter long remnant of the original Greek walls, built of monolithic stone blocks, that some say stretched for 7 kilometers around the city.  There is also the ruin of a Doric temple worth investigating.  The Norman castle, interesting in its own right, houses the Archaeological Museum, containing a variety of artifacts from all eras and epochs from Greek to Napoleonic times.

In the old city that spreads down the hill from this "acropolis" you will discover the ruins of Roman houses and thermal baths, containing an interesting fragment of a mosaic wall (on via XXV Aprile), the usual coterie of public buildings and churches from the times of antiquity. The Duomo, for example, which is dedicated to Santa Leoluca, is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture.  Inside you will find wonderful statues carved by Antonello Gagini.

Look also for Chiesa Sant Michele built in the Renaissance style in 1519.  The campanile - bell tower - was added in 1671.  The Chiesa Santa Ruba, said to be haunted by the ghost, has a dome that looks like an open umbrella. 

One museum/gallery, the Scalabrini National Emigration Museum, housed in the Dominican convent next to the cathedral, has a very compelling display that memorializes the great Calabrian emigrations to the United States, Canada and other parts of the "new world".

The Casa Capialbi is a museum located on via Cesare Lombardi that is the home of a valuable Greek bronzes, some Roman glass­ware, ancient parchments, and a collection of 16th century books.

Lastly, you might want to visit the Museum of Sacred Art on Piazza San Leoluca by the Cathedral.  Included in the collection there is a variety of sacred objects from Vibo Valentia, but also the surrounding area.

The modern Vibo Valentia is a government center, and there is some light industrial activity, mostly from food production (wine, oil, dairy etc).  The port activity at Vibo Marina, on the water, and on the highway, is also essential to the local economy.  Tourism plays an increasingly important part in keeping the city active and alive.

Our recommendation is that you visit Vibo Valentia - preferably during the off season - and plan on spending at least one long day here getting to know the place.  When you stand above the town, on the Belvedere, cast your mind back a few thousand years.  The view hasn't changed.

by Vian Andrews December 12, 2005

Region of Calabria

 

Directions

By Car: South on the A3 from Naples, Cosenza and Lamezia. North on the A3 from Reggio Calabria.  Or take the coast road, S18, south from Praia A Mare, through Diamante, Cetraro, Amantea and Pizzo.
Train: Naples to Reggio Calabria.
Air: Lamezia Terme

Directory
 

 


Norman castle at Vibo Valentia
 

Every Saturday, the city enjoys a market day, so it's  a great day to visit the city.  It's lively, and you can see, taste, smell and hear all that is wonderful about Vibo Valentia.  On offer - handicrafts, foods, sacred art and more.