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, proves to be both educational and loads of fun.
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and GooglePlay. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
The city of Cosenza is in beautiful southern Italy’s Calabria region and only a 25-minute train ride to the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea.
The expansive Sila National Park is an hour’s drive from this relatively undiscovered city.
Today is the 25th April – 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?
It’s especially cool when joining a friend Luigina from Calabrisella Mia Blog, on the walk.
Because of Cosenza’s rich artistic and historical heritage, the city is known as the “Athens of Italy”. 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 need more than one day to see everything.
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 or 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 both 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.
The first stop is 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, its 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. 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’s always time to stop off for an espresso although it’s still 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.
Following a quick stroll, you 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 Habsburg 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. Mussolini carried this title, which denotes leader or commander.
Until time and weather fades these stencils into oblivion, no one can paint over or cover in any way these pieces of protected history.
Before setting off for the Old Town, take 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 building was built in 1930.
Scalata dei Leoni and INCIS building
Walk west along busy Via Isonzo to explore the next two pieces of Fascist history.
Two lions stand watch over a cooling pond beneath an Araucaria Araucana tree and flanked by staircases, known as the Scalata dei Leoni.
Imported from Africa, the tree is a symbol of the Fascist establishment.
Take 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.
Established in 1924, INCIS was a public body that at subsidised rates, built houses and managed 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 Via Vittorio Veneto and continue walking until you cross Viale Parisio. Turn left on 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.
This famous building hosted Mussolini in March 30th 1939 – he stood at its balcony to deliver his speech to thousands of awaiting people in the piazza.
A historical video of the occasion, if anyone is interested…
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.
Piazza XXV Luglio
The plaques at the fountain are in honour of those that lost their lives in 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
Take 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.
Once across the bridge and you’re now in Piazza Dei Valdesi with the Mary Jane Pub House 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.
Stop in for a bight to eat as great hamburgers are served at Mary Jane’s or a couple of doors down, 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 see is rows of shutters.
Keep wandering up Corso Bernardino Telesio to eventually find yourself in the heart of the historic centre – Piazza Duomo. The impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo) was built in the middle of the 11th century.
Take a peek inside if it’s open as it’s grand.
In search of the fig tree…
Seeking the Fig Tree (Ficuzza)
Piazza Duomo is where we start the hunt for the illusive fig tree.
Although this famous tree is on Google maps, it’s actually a little tricky to find as the tree is well-hidden in the cobbled alleyways.
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 its importance. 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 – 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). This separate walk 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 is searching for this famous tree for about an hour in the Old Town, going up and down all the wrong tiny cobbled laneways even though we have Google maps.
Finally finding La Ficuzza, a pile of rubbish is strewn beneath the ancient tree, which takes 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 during a cultural drive in 2015.
Other street artists have left clever artistic impressions throughout the Old Town, which you come across when searching for the fig street or just strolling through this gorgeous part of ancient Cosenza.
Sadly, not many artists leave their signature or time eroded their mark, so I can’t give any credit in this post.