Want to come on a historic walk in one of Italy’s captivating southern cities: Cosenza, Calabria?
An impromptu invitation to go on a historic walk today around Cosenza, proved to be both educational and loads of fun…
It’s especially cool when joining a friend that’s been living in Cosenza for an age, Luigina from Calabrisella Mia Blog, on the walk. Please check out Lulu’s blog for an ex-pat’s honest insight on Calabria.
Today is the 25th April, so it’s Liberation Day in Italy, which celebrates the end of Nazi Occupation in Italy and the Italian Civil War, during World War II. And what better way to spend a public holiday than by exploring the Fascist buildings around Cosenza, followed by a search for the illusive La Ficuzza (fig tree) along the way?
Because of Cosenza’s rich artistic and historical heritage, the city is known as the “Athens of Italy”. As an example, founded in 1511–12, the Accademia Cosentina, which promotes scientists, artists, and culture, is said to be one of the oldest in Europe.
There is so much to see in Cosenza that you won’t see everything in just one day.
New and old Cosenza are divided by the the two rivers: Crati and Buseto, with an easy walk or drive between the two, via small bridges.
Ancient Cosenza Old Town (also known as Cosenza Vecchia, Centro Storico), dates back to the 4th Century BC when founded by the local people, the Bruzi.
Perched high on the hill with an expansive vista over the old and new Cosenza, is the majestic Norman castle built about 1,000 years’ ago: Castello Svevo. Today, we’re not walking up to the castle, but exploring the historical areas around new and old Cosenza, with the first stop at Piazza Dei Bruzi in the new part of Cosenza.
Piazza Dei Bruzi
The first thing you notice about this ample Piazza is the large sculpture of a helmet perched over one end of a long water feature and also the Palazzo dei Bruzi (City Hall), inaugurated in 1959. Not a particularly distinct-looking building, it’s cubic-shaped modernity is not too dissimilar to architecture of the Italian fascist era.
The oversized bronze helmet by Mimmo Paladino represents a helmet from the Bruzi, which also sits on a long fountain. The water represents the Busento River – synonymous with the controversial King Alaric I, which to some, is the symbol of Rome’s downfall.
The legend of Alaric’s treasure trove buried between the confluence of the two rivers makes for an unpleasant story. The river, of which is symbolised in this fountain.
Lined with great Bars and Gelato shops, there is always time to stop off for an Espresso, although it’s early in the walk.
Piazza Francesco Crispi
Just before you cross the Ponte Mario Martire to enter the Old Town, turn right on to Piazza Francesso Crispi for your next stop. After a quick stroll, you’ll bump into the impressive La Fontana del Balilla (fountain of the little boy), built early in the Fascist period.
The white marble fountain includes the beautiful sculpture of the Genoese boy Giovan Battista Perasso (nicknamed Balilla). Many believe that in 1746, Balilla started the revolution against the Hasburg forces by hurling a stone at an Austrian official.
Walking south-west along Piazza Francesco Crispi, which eventually turns into Lungobusento Tripoli, cast your gaze at the buildings across the Busento River and you’ll spot the “DUCE” (Duke) stencilled building.
If you’re up with your history in Fascism, you’ll know that Mussolini carried this title, which denotes leader or commander. Until time and weather removes these stencils into oblivion, no one can paint or render over these pieces of protected history.
Before setting off for the Old Town, a little back-track along Via Rodi, to keep with the Fascist theme in Cosenza as we haven’t finished exploring yet.
A building that you should see is Cinema Italia (CineTeatro Aroldo Tieri), which is still in use for special events. This building’s past has much to tell, as it was used as the Youth Movement of the National Fascist Party: G.I.L (Gioventù Italiana del Littorio). Synonymous with the Art Deco period, this smoothly curved piece of architecture was built in 1930.
Scalata dei Leoni and INCIS building
Walk west along the busy Via Isonzo to explore the next two pieces of Fascist history.
A cooling pond beneath an Araucaria Araucana tree with two lions and staircases, known as the Scalata dei Leoni on either sides is the next stop. Imported from Africa, the tree is a symbol of the Fascist establishment.
Up the stairs and to the right, a brightly yellow painted building still proudly sports the letters INCIS (Istituto Nazionale per le Case degli Impiegati Statali) or National Institute for State Employees’ Homes.
Set up in 1924, INCIS was a public body that at subsidised rates, built houses and manage the allocation for public employees, especially civilian and military employees, which also gave priority to lower salaried workers.
Piazza Paolo Cappello
At the top of Via Isonzo, turn right on to Via Vittorio Veneto and keep walking until you cross Viale Parisio. Then, turn left on to the little laneway until you reach Piazza Paolo Cappello.
The buildings around this square once belonged to INCIS housing and are beautifully restored and maintained.
Inaugurated in February 1934, the once Fascist Party Local Offices, Casa Littoria stands in the centre of the piazza. This piazza was originally named after the Calabrese First Secretary of the Fascist National Party, Michele Bianchi.
The building is famous as when Mussolini arrived in Cosenza back in March 30th, 1939, he stood at the building’s balcony to deliver his speech to the thousands of awaiting people in the piazza.
Paolo Cappello was a young Cosentino Socialist murdered by a group of Fascists on his way home from a meeting. The square was renamed to its current name after the fall of the Fascists and in honour of Cappello.
A historical video of the occasion, if anyone is interested…
Piazza XXV Luglio
Sadly, although graced with much graffiti, the surrounding plaques around the fountain are in honour of those that lost their lives during the fight for their homeland during the Fascist regime.
Previously named Piazza Scanderbeg, the square was renamed to XXV Luglio as this is the date in which the vote of no confidence was passed against Mussolini, resulting in the fall from power of the Fascist party.
Piazza Dei Valdesi
Finally, a stroll towards the Old Town and across the Ponte Mario Martire. Stop for a moment on this bridge, which commemorates the Cosentino pilot Martire, captured by the SS in 1944. Thought to have been a spy, Martire was sent to Mauthausen (Austrian concentration camp) and died in the camp a year later.
Come off the bridge and you’re now in Piazza Dei Valdesi with the Mary Jane Pubhouse slightly to the right.
Mussolini’s famous quote: “Chi si ferma è perduto” (The one who hesitates is lost), is stencilled but barely visible on the same building of the Mary Jane Pubhouse. Stop in for a bight to eat, great Hamburgers are served or stop for an amazing Gelato at Zorro’s.
Corso Bernardino Telesio
Named after the Italian Philosopher and Natural Scientist, Bernardino Telesio, this once main road for Cosenza Vecchia is lined with ancient artisanal shopfronts. Make sure you visit during opening hours, otherwise all you will see is rows of shutters.
If you keep walking up Corso Bernardino Telesio, you’ll eventually find yourself in the heart of the historic centre – Piazza Duomo, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo), built in the middle of the 11th century.
Take a peek inside, if it’s open, as it’s grand.
On to searching for the fig tree…
Seeking the Fig Tree (Ficuzza)
Piazza Duomo is where we start the hunt for the illusive fig tree.
Although the tree is on Google maps, it’s actually a little tricky to find as the tree is well-hidden in the cobbled alleyways of the Old Town.
Why is the search for this fig tree so important?
Until Lulu mentioned the Ficuzza to me, I had never heard of it and so, blissfully ignorant of it’s importance. Although apparently, this tree started its life from a crack in a wall many years ago, and today, the tree is at its full grown size.
Whilst in Piazza Duomo, turn and look back to see an unusually-shaped building flanked by roads on either side. You need to take the road on the left and walk up the hill.
Via Abate Francesco Saverio Saffi
Whilst walking up the hill, you walk through a couple of ancient archways.
At the corner of one arch the street sign for Via Abate Salfi graces a wall. Continue to follow this street until you see the large painting of The army of Roger II, on your right-side.
Continue to follow this street until you see the next large painting: The court of Roger II.
These paintings are part of a historic walk in the Old Town, involving the Normans: Museo Storico all’Aperto (outdoor historic museum), which is mapped out with more signs, paintings, and information plaques.
Just past this painting and around the corner lives the illusive fig tree.
The fun was searching for this famous tree for about an hour in the Old Town, going up and down all the wrong tiny laneways, even though we had Google maps.
When we finally did find La Ficuzza, a pile of rubbish was strewn beneath the ancient tree, which took away from the experience and ambience.
Although hidden and dispersed throughout the city, when you really start to look around, much of Cosenza’s street art starts to pop out at you.
Especially in certain areas of the Old Town where Roxy in the Box Pop Art makes a colourful transition from uniqueness, on to ancient paint-peeled stone walls, in dire need of a pigment splash.
Studying in Naples and Bologna, Roxy in the Box visited Cosenza and left her creative mark on the city as part of BoCs Art, a cultural drive in 2015.
Other street artists have left their clever artistic impression throughout the Old Town, which you will come across on the search for the fig street or just a stroll through this gorgeous part of ancient Cosenza.
Sadly, not many artists leave their signature or time has eroded their mark, so I can’t give any credit in this post.