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Arena is a medieval township along the Petriano creek near the tip of Calabria in a mountain area with areas over 1150 meters and is part of the Alto Mesima mountain community. It is equidistant from the two seas: the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas and from the Tyrrhenian side, the view is dominated by the valley of the Marepotamo river.

The village centre was formed around a mighty medieval Norman castle built on a cliff in a position of strategic domination. A castle that was a true engineering work and with an aqueduct that came from the mountain and which then served all the fountains.

The history of the castle began right after the 11th century when the pope allied himself with the Normans to affirm the Catholic church over the Byzantine Greek-Orthodox church. This area was in fact one of the places where communities of Basilian monks from Byzantium had settled and their rite was not appreciated by the expansionist objectives of the Popes of Rome.

Traces of the Basilians remain in the ancient names of the disappeared churches of San Teodoro and Santa Caterina who were saints particularly loved by the Eastern communities.

The story starts with Bruno of Cologne, adviser to Pope Urban II, who founded the Charterhouse of Santo Stefano del Bosco.

Roger I the Norman, Grand Count of Calabria and Sicily, who built the current castle on the foundations of an ancient Byzantine fortress and in 1085 named the Concublets, a family originally from England and Bavaria, lords of the fiefdom. Ruggero ‘bastardus’ Concublet was the illegitimate son of Ruggero.

For many years the castle was the largest in southern Calabria and a social and military landmark.

This northern European family established an exemplary relationship with the territory which grew economically thanks to innovative agricultural crops, especially those of citrus fruits. The lordship of the Conclublets represented almost that of a state and lasted until 1678. This was apart from short periods managed directly by the Angevin court at the end of the thirteenth century and another which had as its leader the town’s population and the agricultural university that lasted for a thirty-year period starting from 1466.

A historical figure who animated the life of the castle was the Dominican philosopher and friar Tommaso Campanella who in this town in 1599 planned his anti-Spanish revolution and the ideals of social justice. The revolution ended tragically and triggered a rivalry between the towns of Arena and Stilo that continued over centuries of armed and legal conflicts at the king’s court.

The closeness to the people and the struggle with the sovereigns of Spain who ruled in an authoritarian way, made the Conclublets loved until 1678 when the family died out. After a passage with the family of the Dukes of Atri who were forced to sell to the Caracciolo di Gioiosa, in 1699 the king of Spain Carlo II appointed Girolamo Caracciolo marquis of Arena.

A turbulent period began with disputes among the population due to taxes, but also the town was financially flourishing with the revival of the economy and the cultivation of silk.

The decline began with the disastrous earthquake of 1783 which ruined the castle, of which today remains a only part of the corner towers and part of the perimeter walls. The flood in 1855 exacerbated the decline.

With the arrival of the French, Arena became the administrative centre of a large area.

A visit is warranted to admire the 18th century Mother Church of Santa Maria de Latinis with the two 18th century wooden statues of the “Risen Christ” and “San Michele” attributed to Gennaro Franzese.

The Church of Grace has a stone portal with baroque decorations and inside there are some eighteenth-century sculptures including an image of the Madonna delle Grazie.

The inhabited centre of Arena is distributed in the hamlets of Berrina, Bivieri, Castellina, Castellina Managò, Croce, Croce di Bovo, Fossa, Tomacelli, Umbro and Cerasara.

Arena is famous for its agricultural excellence and the quality of its extra virgin olive oil and in its territory you can walk in a biogenetic forest protected by the European Economic Community.

After the unification of Italy and after both world wars, Arena saw the departure of many of its citizens, especially firstly towards the United States of America and then Australia.



Traveller's Guide to Italy