Ever heard of Cosenza, Italy’s alluring and undiscovered city in Calabria?
Perhaps not. And, this is the reason that I’m sharing with you a little information on captivating Cosenza.
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.
Where is Cosenza?
My reply is always the same: “southern Italy, near the toe of the boot”. A glazed look creeps over and immediately I know that they’re lost…
The next question most certainly is: “why?”
Cosenza – as does Italy – crawls quietly under your skin and takes over your senses…
Talk to any traveller about Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Sicily, or a major tourist region in Italy and watch eyes light up as they long to visit these well-traversed destinations.
A dream come true for many. But, mention Cosenza and watch the reaction.
And yes, whilst I agree that many of these gorgeous Italian destinations are fabulous and a must-see, I challenge the savvy traveller to explore a little further. Why not travel the 520-kilometres south of Rome to seek out a genuine Italian adventure? Venture outside of Italy’s tourist milk-run, you may enjoy it…
A little background
Emerging 238-metres above sea level, wedged in a valley between the Catena Costiera coastal mountain range and the Sila plateau – enveloped by seven hills – Cosenza is known as the ‘Città dei Bruzi’ (the City of the Bruttians).
Modern Cosenza lies to the north of the Busento River whilst old Cosenza (Centro Storico) lies to the south – Cosenza lies at the confluence of the Busento and Crati Rivers.
Enjoy cold winters with hot summers in this microclimatic city, which offers everything.
A little history
One of Calabria’s most ancient cities, the Bretti founded Cosenza around the 4th-century BC.
Following many centuries of various nations occupying Cosenza, the legacies of time still remain today. Not just in the architecture but are woven into the very fabric of Cosenza, its Cosentino dialect, food, culture, and the people.
In 1222, Cosenza’s location was chosen by Emperor Frederick II for its seven hills, which he likened to the Seven Hills of Rome. Cosenza’s seven hills are situated to the left and right of the River Crati: Triglio, Mussano, Venneri, Gramazio, Guarassano, Torrevetere, and Pancrazio.
King of the Visigoths, King Alaric I – seen by some as the symbol of Rome’s demise – died from Malaria in Cosenza.
Legend has it that he and his mountain of treasure are buried somewhere in the confluence of the two rivers. After ordering a horde of slaves to stop the flow of the rivers, once buried and rivers re-flooded, Alaric’s troops killed the slaves to ensure the treasure’s secrecy.
A modern-day statue marks the spot although no one really knows whether this is truth or myth.
Not unlike the rest of Calabria, Cosenza also endured many earthquakes over the centuries, which resulted in destroying the control of the many conquerors from 589AD to 1734AD: Lombards, Saracens, Byzantines, Normans, Suevi, Spanish, Aragonese, and Bourbons.
A preamble to Cosenza by Invidiosrl.
Cosenza offers a transit hub for buses and also a couple of train stations with travel to most places in Calabria – also national and international destinations.
Lamezia Termine International Airport is only a fifty-minute (€5) bus fare away. You must time the buses as they’re not frequent and if all goes to plan, you can travel cheaply to the airport without splashing out on an exorbitant taxi fare.
Although traffic and parking are chaotic in Cosenza, this is quite typical for many Italian cities. Drive here between 12:30-16:00 Hrs and you can fire a cannon through the roads as everyone is at home enjoying a leisurely pranzo (lunch) or a sleep.
What to do
I’ve written several posts on Cosenza’s fun and frivolity around the city, and including a few more in this post as this city never seems to sleep. Or if Cosenza sleeps, then it’s only for a few hours during the day when many shops are closed.
Sometimes it’s hard to find out what’s on in Cosenza. The best way I’ve found is to wander down Corso Mazzini as something is always happening.
Whether it’s cultural, historical, just for fun, or involves a theme on food – almost always on food – typically, the event is free.
My absolute favourite spot in Cosenza is the Centro Storico (historic centre or old town), which is engulfed in medieval architecture and history.
Why not take a half-day or a day to do an educational Historic Walk whilst in Cosenza? Learn about the city’s infamous Fascist period but also its intriguing historic centre.
Narrow cobbled-stone alleys create a labyrinth of time as you wander along Corso Telesio with picturesque lanes leading off to mysterious passageways…
…until you reach timeworn Piazza Duomo.
Oozing a surreal atmosphere, especially in the middle of the day when everything is closed, the imposing cathedral in Piazza Duomo was constructed following the 1184 earthquake.
Also named Piazza degli Speziali or degli Aromatari (Apothecary Square) because the area was flowing with apothecaries, pharmacists, and grocers.
Heading deeper into the old town, you eventually arrive at the Piazza Prefettura.
Encircled by the fabulous Rendano Theatre established in1909 and the Palazzo del Governo in Piazza Prefettura, why not wait-a-while by the Villa Vecchia public park, which is marked by century-old trees.
Should you wish to continue even further up the very steep hill, you eventually arrive at Pancrazio Hill, which is dominated by the restored Saracens-constructed Norman-Swabian Castle.
Many exhibitions and events are held in the exclusive Norman-Swabian Castle. And, the Festival delle Candele is one to catch, when the castle is lit by 5,000 magical candles illuminating the castle – stunning!
An expansive panorama of Cosenza’s ancient and modern towns stretching to Rende awaits…it’s worth the walk for the view.
Whether you’re in the old or new areas of Cosenza, you’ll be treated to remarkable monuments and buildings with great historical significance.
Peer in one of the shop front windows with original artisans still weaving tapestry…
…crafting violins and guitars.
Or, a cobbler making shoes just as his ancestors did centuries before him.
Meander along the river, back from the Centro Storico to new Cosenza for a contrasting experience.
Ponte di Calatrava
A relatively new urban project and inaugurated in 2018, the highest cable-stayed bridge in Europe, the Calatrava bridge spans over the River Crati connecting the two parts of the city.
Designed by the Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the bridge’s shape resembles a giant harp…‘a symbol of harmony and of the interactional nature of the city’.
I’m lucky that my apartment is only a few minutes walk from Corso Mazzini.
The open-air MAB Museum (Museo all’Aperto Bilotti) occupies almost two kilometres of the pedestrianised Corso Mazzini, with sculptures and artworks by Salvador Dalì, Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio De Chirico to name but a few. Immerse yourself in this beauty and culture whilst enjoying a Spritz or espresso.
“The sculptures were donated to the city by the Italian-American entrepreneur and art collector, Carlo Bilotti. “
At the northern end of Corso Mazzini, you’ll hit Piazza Bilotti, which until recently, this expansive area was a slightly seedy car parking area. These days it’s transformation to a piazza housing more intriguing artwork creating a family public space surrounded by shops and bars.
Children love to ride bicycles and skateboards or just kick a ball around for some fun in this piazza, which also holds large concerts and events throughout the year.
Museums and cultural buildings
With more than twenty cultural buildings and museums in Cosenza, many of which are centuries old, a few of the ones not to be missed include the Accademia Cosentina founded in 1501 by Aulo Giano Parrasio, the Rendano Theatre, and the National Gallery.
In 2008, the Region of Calabria recognised Cosenza as a “city of art” and with the plethora of art exhibitions and showcases each year, the city has earned this title.
Cosenza ensures that everyone can satisfy their hunger for art. Street art graces shop front shutters in the Centro Storico.
Although, the open-air MAB Museum on pedestrianised Corso Mazzini also offers great sculptures and works of art.
Street art pops up around the city everywhere…
Each year Cosenza hosts a plethora of festivals, which depends on whether it’s a Saint’s Day, public holiday, celebrating seasonal crops – and there are many – or any excuse really for a party.
So many festivals, that a separate post is warranted as this city really does hold loads, but for now, these are the must-experience main festivals:
- Fiera di S.Giuseppe – March
- Festival delle Invasioni – July
- Festa del Cioccolato (Chocolate Festival) – end of October
- La Sagra dell’uva e del vino (Wine Festival) in Donnici – October
If you’re a shopaholic – I’m not – then Cosenza is the place for you.
Corso Mazzini is the main shopping precinct and both sides of this pedestrian street are bursting with boutique galleries, luxury and everyday clothes shops, restaurants, Bars, pizza holes in the wall, and more.
I’ve already mentioned shops in Cosenza in a couple of my other posts, so only touching on a few unusual shops in this post.
Tutto per la Scarpa
On Via Molinella 5/A, exactly as the shop’s name suggests – everything for the shoe – this shop sells everything to repair shoes from leather bits, buckles, shoe polish, DIY heels and soles, and more.
Along Via Macalle’ N 20, this cosy shop sells a selection of Asian groceries at good prices as the main supermarkets are very expensive for everything Asian. You can buy Japanese, Thai, Philippines, Russian, and Polish groceries in this shop, which I’ve nicknamed “the Russian shop”.
If you’re in dire need of dry-cleaning or an excellent seamstress to repair clothing, then take a stroll on via Vittorio Veneto 60 for cheap and excellent repairs.
Stumbled on this quaint shop on via Trento 51/53, which sells hard-to-find global liquor and wines, but also higher-end wines and spirits.
This shop is bursting with scrumptious local chocolates and sweets. Staff also create fancy high-end hampers for Christmas and Easter gifts.
The aroma of chocolates when entering Dolcuimi Liquori is sublime.
If you’re a foodaholic then Cosenza is for you – food is everywhere.
A blog about Italy would not be complete with at least one mention of food. Let’s face it, the passion for food in Italy is an obsession, especially in Calabria.
Have I mentioned how wonderful the food is in Cosenza?
Not only is food simple, fresh, and deliciously mouth-watering throughout the region of Calabria, Cosenza boasts a plethora of restaurants, bars, pubs, a few Italian fast food spots, and sadly, a McDonald’s opened its doors last year.
Something is almost always open in this city. Even the local supermarket displays scrumptious delicacies such as freshly-baked crusty bread stuffed with juicy black olives.
Cosenza’s gastronomic heritage includes dishes with sausages, Soppressata (local salami) or Capocollo (pork cold cut) starters, and deliciously baked Sila potatoes with peppers. Also, a deluge of seasonal vegetables preserved in extra virgin olive oil to dip freshly made crusty artisan bread. The type of food I was brought up on in Australia.
Local home-made pasta delicacies are served with delicate sauces and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garlic. One of the local dishes you must try is one of my favourite, Lagane e Ceci – eggless pasta and chickpeas – so delicious.
Local sweets and pastries include pitta ‘nchiusa (cake stuffed with raisins and walnuts), dried-fig or chestnut morsels, Scalille, and loads of divine specialty pastries.
Together with other towns in the Province, Cosenza joined the National Wine Cities Association, the agency that protects and promotes wine production and territory – yes, local wine is excellent.
With a couple of train stations and a major bus station in the city centre, you can enjoy many day trips from Cosenza. Be warned though, you need to get timetables right, which sometimes is challenging and elusive as reading Braille.
After several years in Cosenza, I’ve published many posts on day trips that you can enjoy from Cosenza, including Roseto Capo Spulico, Castrovilliari, Pizzo Calabro, Catanzaro, Diamante, one of my favourite places Scilla, and many more.
A little on Calabria
The region of Calabria is underrated and not well-known to tourists. Although locals are fully aware of what Calabria has to offer and also what Cosenza offers.
To put it into perspective and as with many towns, cities, or countries, every place has its great and not-so-great points. Cosenza is not any different.
Although for me, the good points far outweigh the bad points and the reason why I’m still here…
The city centre – around 70,000 inhabitants – is large enough to offer everything you could possibly need and close enough to easily reach the sea or mountains.
Although small enough so that you don’t feel stifled with suffocating crammed buildings, or oceans of people coming at you from every imaginable direction. Cosenza’s urban area is around 250,000 inhabitants.
Calabria, what else?
I’ve only scratched the surface with a little insight into the wonderful underrated city of Cosenza and the delights on offer, but what else does Calabria offer a traveller?
A quick taste of How travel’s Top 10 things to see in Calabria…
…and another by Magellan to entice you to travel to southern Italy’s region of Calabria.