Cosenza, Calabria: Italy’s Undiscovered City

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.

Where is Cosenza?

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, EuropeMention to someone that you’re in Cosenza and typically, the response is “where?”

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?”

Why indeed.

Cosenza – as does Italy – crawls quietly under your skin and takes over your senses…

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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).

Piazza dei Bruzi, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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 hoard 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.

King Alaric I, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.


Transport

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.

Centro Storico

My absolute favourite spot in Cosenza is the Centro Storico (historic centre or old town), which is engulfed in medieval architecture and history.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Narrow cobbled-stone alleys create a labyrinth of time as you wander along Corso Telesio with picturesque lanes leading off to mysterious passageways…

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

…until you reach timeworn Piazza Duomo.

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.

Duomo, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

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.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

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!

Norman-Svevo Castle, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy

An expansive panorama of Cosenza’s ancient and modern towns stretching to Rende awaits…it’s worth the walk for the view.

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Whether you’re in the old or new areas of Cosenza, you’ll be treated to remarkable monuments and buildings with great historical significance.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Street scenes

Peer in one of the shop front windows with original artisans still weaving tapestry…

Textile shop, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

…crafting violins and guitars.

Violin maker, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Or, a cobbler making shoes just as his ancestors did centuries before him.

Cobbler, Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Meander along the river, back from the Centro Storico to new Cosenza for a contrasting experience.

Old Town, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Calatrava Bridge, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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’.

Calatrava Bridge, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Corso Mazzini

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.

St George Sculpture, Corso Mazzini, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

“The sculptures were donated to the city by the Italian-American entrepreneur and art collector, Carlo Bilotti. “

Sculpture, Corso Mazzini, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Piazza 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.

Sculpture, Corso Mazzini, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Art

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.

Art, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Cosenza ensures that everyone can satisfy their hunger for art. Street art graces shop front shutters in the Centro Storico.

Art, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Although, the open-air MAB Museum on pedestrianised Corso Mazzini also offers great sculptures and works of art.

Art, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Street art pops up around the city everywhere…

Art, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Roxy in the Box visited Cosenza as part of BoCs Art during a cultural drive in 2015 and used the aged walls of Centro Storico as her canvas.

Roxy in the Box, Art, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe


Festivals

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

Shops galore

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.

Import-Export

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”.

Lavanderia Sartoria

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.

Dolcuimi Liquori

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.


Food

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?

Garlic van, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Chillies, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Olives in bread, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Local delights

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.

Tagliere, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Pasta, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.


Day trips

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.

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Sila National Park, Calabria, Italy, Europe

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.

Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Europe

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Italy.

47 thoughts on “Cosenza, Calabria: Italy’s Undiscovered City

Add yours

  1. I’ve been living in Scalea for a year now and still haven’t managed to go to Cosenza. No real reason just haven’t. I will go. I have been told the bus journey from Scalea is a lovely scenic ride, so will soon. Thanks for the reminder.
    Michelle

    Liked by 2 people

  2. An enticing post and city. 4th century AD. I am always impressed at the history. People have been living here for 2400 years. Parents of their parents of their parents….
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Nilla.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Remember my first U2 vinyl – War – wonderful cover. Still have my vinyls in storage in Oz, but I digress. 😉
      In southern Italy for Christmas and have a wedding on the 28th here…will be loads of fun, food, and vino – you?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sounds like a good plan. I still have all or most of my LP’s, from the Beatles’ double White to Cream, to the Stones… And a turntable.
      We’re going to Tulum on Sunday with the the whole family. Rented a house on the beach for Xmas and New year. 🙂
      Enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! What a beautiful place! It is most unlikely for me to visit such a remote place, so I enjoyed learning about this city. 🙂 Thanks for sharing a wonderful article with beautiful photos & videos.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was born near Cosenza (Altilia). We would always catch the bus to go to the big town(Cosenza). I remember the old part, since I’ve been in USA since I was 3 years old and I am 68 year . Been back to Southern Italy 4 times since. Need to return again. Loved your pictures!! brings back memories. Thank -You! Buon Natale!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Lina, wow such lovely feedback! Many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about my post.

      I’m happy that my photos brought back lovely memories for you, I love Altilia and you may want to see more pics in this post from a couple of years ago.
      We always take guests to Altilia as the vista is gorgeous and they’re never disappointed!

      Hope you have a wonderful festive season and fantastic 2020. 🙂

      Like

    1. Indeed. I find the touristy destinations are tailored to tourists so even the food tastes different. Actually for restaurants, my rule of thumb is if I see a bunch of tourists in there I walk out and find a local haunt. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t speak the language, but if the food is good enough for a local then it’s good enough for me.

      Hope you do make it here one day as I’m sure you’d enjoy this city. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    2. We always gravitate to where locals eat no matter where we are travelling. A no brainer. We are the same in that we managed to stay in places for months housesitting where English wasn’t spoken very often. The fun moments communicating were hilarious. Yes, you never know what’s around the corner regarding more travel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    3. You say it’s a no-brainer but I’ve seen so many travellers take comfort in gravitating to where hoards of travellers are eating, so we’ll keep our little secret to ourselves.

      The housesitting gig sounds like a great experience and I’m still up for that, just need to get a few things organised first and yes, we never know what’s around the corner. 😉

      Like

    1. Hi Mohamaad, thank you for the great feedback and happy that I can take you on a brief tour of Cosenza.

      Not really hard as I’ve been here for the last few years and have loads to write about this great city. My father was from the mountains about an hour from here so exploring this whole region. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, what a great post. How fun that your are able to explore so much of Italy and see things like this! Love so many parts of this post, but the statue of the serpent and horse, and the night light pictures are my favorite. What a wonderful place, but then again all of Italy is incredible.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s hard to gauge what’s the best system as Google changes its requirements so often so it’s hard to keep abreast of the changes.
      I think if you post good content, it shouldn’t matter the length of the post but I’m thinking more of my audience and not SEO.

      Liked by 1 person

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