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Calabria

History

Traces of Neanderthal, Palaeolithic and Neolithic life have been found in Calabria, but the region only became internationally important with the arrival of the Greeks in the 8th century BC. They founded a colony at what is now Reggio di Calabria. Remnants of this colonisation, which spread along the Ionian coast with Sibari and Crotone as the star settlements, are still visible. However, the fun didn’t last for the Greeks, and in 202 BC the cities of Magna Graecia all came under Roman control. Destroying the countryside’s handsome forests, the Romans did irrepar-able geological damage. Navigable rivers became fearsome fiumare (torrents) dwindling to wide, dry, drought-stricken riverbeds in high summer.

Calabria’s fortified hilltop communities weathered successive invasions by the Normans, Swabians, Aragonese and Bourbons, and remained largely undeveloped. Earthquakes were another hazard; the biggest, in 1783, killed 50,000 people.

Although the 18th-century Napoleonic incursion and the arrival of Garibaldi and Italian unification inspired hope for change, Calabria remained a disappointed, feudal region and, like the rest of the south, was wracked by malaria.

A byproduct of this tragic history was the growth of banditry and organised crime. Calabria’s Mafia, known as the ’ndrangheta (from the Greek for heroism/virtue), inspires fear in the local community, but tourists are rarely the target of its aggression. For many, the only answer has been to get out and, for at least a century, Calabria has seen its young people emigrate in search of work.