An hour’s drive north, inland from Cosenza and You’ry surrounded by the sweeping scenic Pollino and Dolcedorme mountains, until arriving in the sleepy town of Castrovillari.
Bordering Basilicata and based at the foot of the mountains within the Pollino National Park – Italy’s largest national park – you can’t but help feel as if you’re in an amphitheatre of soaring mountains and stunning gorges.
A fleeting glimpse from within the bus…
Castrovilliari is Pollino’s main town and lies in a natural hollow: Conca del Re, around 360 metres above sea level, whilst enveloped within the Calabrian Apennines.
Each street and lane you traverse in Castrovillari seems as if you are confronted with a steep craggy mountain in the distance – very picturesque.
The paved tree-lined and clean streets are a pleasure to wander through whilst passing the town’s Palazzo di Città (town hall) built in 1933.
Quaint streets with vistas to the mountains awaits a traveller…
…whilst glimpsing into everyday local life.
The clean modern minimalistic lines of the Church of Sacred Hearts opposes Castrovillari’s more aged a distinguished architecture.
Continue your roam around Castrovillari’s antiquated lanes and streets for more picturesque vantage points.
The chapel’s age is not confirmed.
Occasionally, a very odd-looking manikin confronts your walk. I’m perplexed at this one’s significance, which is positioned outside of a jewellery store.
Of course, any town is not complete without the three-wheeler ‘Ape’, which is synonymous with Italy.
Segments of the town are perched high above a medieval wall.
Ponte della Catena’s timeworn stone arches create natural charming frames and a cool spot for a rest – but also joins the new and old towns together.
Dramatic clouds encircle buildings to paint an artist’s canvas.
Monumento ai Caduti
Situated in Piazza Indipendenza is the unique monument to the fallen, which combines unusual bronze sculptures and built in 1932 to commemorate WW1.
Three sides of the monument are inscribed with names of the fallen, whilst on the other side of this bronze angelic figure is a large ominous eagle.
Castello Aragonese di Castrovillari
Completed around 1490 after almost 30 years in construction, Ferdinand I of Aragon built this impressive castle to curb a rebellious population against foreign rule.
Originally surrounded by a deep moat, sadly today only a dried up gouge of the mote exists.
Although this castle was used as a prison until 1995, it’s now open to the public.
I can’t see where to buy an entrance ticket so walk in and through the impressive gorgeous halls – I’m free to venture around the castle as I wish.
Hailed as one of the best preserved Aragonese castles in the region, its four cylindrical towers are imposing as they are high.
One tower (left in the above photo) is named the “infamous tower” due to the abhorrent punishment, which prisoners typically Brigands, endured whilst locked up in the tower’s deep dungeon. Without air, light, hope, or comfort and with the stench of rotting corpses at prisoners’ feet, the survivors described life in the tower as a “living cemetery”.
Contrasting the tower’s macabre history and high above the castle’s entrance, is a pair of juvenile figures carved in stone standing proudly…
Impromptu castle encounter
Hearing a trail of live folk accordion music in the distance, which is a little like the Calabrese Tarantella, I follow the alluring sounds around the castle’s ancient stone walls.
Stumbling upon two ragazzi (guys) and a Maestro, I don’t see any sheet music but just one accordion. Not wanting to disturb the absorbing lesson, I sit at the stairs close by watching and listening intently.
The Maestro plays his traditional music almost in a mesmerised trance, which pours effortlessly out of his head. Occasionally, an error is made and he blames this on age, before continuing to pick up from where he stumbled.
Handing the accordion over to the ragazzo, it’s his turn…and so this goes on for a while until he is able to copy the notes to the song.
Finally noticed, I’m kindly invited to sit closer and join the intimate circle of three, before the lesson continues.
Then, of course, the music stops to inquire about where I’m from and the usual ensuing questions. The teacher (Paolo Martine) has travelled up from Reggio Calabria to transfer his musical knowledge of southern Italy’s traditional ballads and to ensure that these folk songs are not lost in time forever.
A labour of love. Paolo explains what each song’s meaning is to his students whilst reciting the lyrics.
This is ‘Adelina’, which is about a man that committed murder and was sentenced to 30 years’ jail. Separated from his partner and longing for her he wrote this ballad. As the story is recited, tears well up in Paolo’s eyes. I also learn that Paolo took around 20 years to gather the exact lyrics of this song together.
A long time you say? Versus and the music were lost in time and snippets spread out over different regions, so bringing everything back into a complete ballad was very difficult.
After spending a good half-hour listening and absorbing this Calabrese music, I leave to explore more of the castle, but also so that the music lessons can continue undisturbed.
How lucky to have stumbled on such a precious moment in time.
I remember several of today’s ballads whilst growing up as my father used to play his Calabrese tapes quite often, which usually competed with my blaring Jimi Hendrix records.
The Ferrovie di Calabria bus line travels to Castrovillari but takes longer as it stops everywhere.
The bus from Cosenza takes you along Rende and the university first for around 25 minutes, until heading onto the highway and finally up the winding road to the Castrovillari Autostationze.
An easy stroll from the bus station and you find yourself on Castrovillari’s broad tree-lined and paved Corso – very pleasant. You may come across the town’s coat of arms embedded in the pavement.
Bar La Creperia on Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi 111, is a great stop to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. Enjoy an Aperol spritz whilst devouring a sweet or savoury crepe, delicious Panini, hamburger, or Gelato with friendly service.
As everything shuts from around 12:00-1 pm until 4 pm, decide to take the 3 pm bus back to Cosenza, but not before having a long chat to the ticket seller at the bus station.
Locals are super friendly in this town and warmly welcome foreigners.
Don’t be put off by the stares you may encounter, as it’s just intrigue. I always stick out as a tourist, especially when wearing my big stripy hat. One of an only photo I have of this hat from a few years ago…