This post is also available in: Italian

Vibo Valentia is a medieval pearl of the Costa degli Dei within the Costa degli Dei Regional Marine Park in the tip of Calabria. An intriguing intertwining of charm and beauty, a landscape that goes from the Mountains of the Serre Calabresi to the port passing through vineyards, olive groves and the Mediterranean scrub. The profile dominated by the Norman castle.

The charm arises from a history of over 8,000 years that started in the Neolithic Age.

Brezzi, Locresi, Focesi, Fenici or Siculi: there are many hypotheses for the foundation of a city by the sea and an acropolis on the nearby hill.

In the seventh century BC the Greeks of Locri arrived who called it Hipponium and it is said built a sumptuous temple with 300 granite columns of Numidia with silver and alabaster furnishings dedicated to Proserpina, symbol of the city that has 8 months of summer and 4 of winter. Legend has it that Proserpina was forced to spend 4 months a year in the underworld with Pluto who had kidnapped her and 8 months on the warm and welcoming earth.

There are also many legends about the name Hipponium: from the one that ties it to the name of the horse and the one that binds it to the town at the centre of an inlet. But there are also stories that tie it to Hercules.

Hipponium was an autonomous city with considerable prestige, and in the sixth century it even defeated Crotone. During this same period it joined other Calabrian cities in the Italiota League against the tyrant of Syracuse. Syracuse won and Hipponium was sold to Locri and then conquered by the Carthaginians.

In 294 BC it was again conquered by Syracuse which fortified it and made it the reference point in the mainland. The Romans arrived shortly thereafter but were unable t to immediately  conquer it due to the Carthaginian influence and only in 192 BC. the Romans make it a colony and renamed it Valentia.

Also, for the Romans, the city became the main centre for the control of Calabria, thanks to the port and the Via Popilia which started from Capua and reached Reggio Calabria, and in 89 BC. they selected it to be a municipality and called it Vibo Valentia.

The port was also important for transporting the Calabrian timber with which the ships of the powerful Roman fleet were built. As evidence of its strategic role, Julius Caesar had his ships in the port during the civil war, Octavian Augustus lived there for a year while fighting Sesto Pompeo headquartered in Sicily, and the great Cicero passed through Vibo Valentia.

With the advent of Christianity, the church administered the territory through the bishops and Vibo Valentia became the seat of a diocese in the fifth century: its name became Vibona.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the population left the marine area and took refuge in the upper part of the town. For a time, this part of Calabria was under the influence of the Byzantines who brought the orthodox rite and the worship of some Eastern saints.

The Byzantines were weakened by numerous Saracen attacks and the Catholic Church favoured the arrival of the Normans who also had the task of repressing the Orthodox cult in favour of the Latin one.

The Normans called it Monteleone and once again Vibo Valentia became an important center of art and commerce. But Ruggero (Roger) the Norman is also the one who took the marbles from the ancient city and the temple of Proserpina to use them in Miletus and to start the new castle of Vibo on the ruins of the ancient acropolis.

During the struggle between temporal and spiritual power, this part of Calabria was also conquered by the great emperor Frederick II of Swabia, Stupor Mundi, who divided Calabria into two administrative areas (Ulterior and Citiore). The Swabians repopulated and embellished the city by strengthening the construction of the castle and Federico II renamed it with the name of Monteleone.

Once again the Catholic Church favoured the arrival of a foreign power, which had the task of protecting its interests, and so came Charles of Anjou from France who defeated all the Swabians and started the Angevin dominion.

The Angevins were responsible for the strengthening of the castle which, in 1289, took a shape similar to the current one. Vibo Valentia became the seat of the Vicario Reale and was given as a fiefdom to the Caracciolo family and then become a free municipality.

In the fifteenth century the castle of Bivona was built in the low marine part in defence of the port. The castle remained in operation until the seventeenth century when the swamping of the area made life in the lower partimpossible.

The Aragonese of Spain took over from the Angevins and, in 1501, Vibo Valentia was given as a fiefdom to the Pignatelli. Despite a popular uprising that opposed the new government of the city, the Pignatelli did many Renaissance-style embellishment works and thought about the industrial development of the island by introducing many enterprises requiring high-craftsmanship. They were the ones who transformed part of the castle into a noble residence.

The terrible earthquake of 1783 brought much damage to the city, and for safety reasons the second floor of the castle was demolished and the castle today houses the National Archaeological Museum. In the museum there is one of the most important finds from Calabria, a text engraved on a thin golden lanina from the third century BC. which illustrates how the soul of a deceased can reach the afterlife.

Napoleon’s arrival led to the end of feudalism and to an administrative organization in which Vibo Valentia became the capital of Calabria Ultra. With the new prestigious role, a theatre, a boarding school and many businesses were created.

When the Bourbons returned to the throne in Naples, the city lost its importance and, perhaps for this reason, when Garibaldi passed through Vibo he obtained support and financial aid.

With the unification of Italy, however, the real problems for Calabria were born and many left these lands in search of fortune in the Americas. Many Calabrians have also contributed to the industrial development of northern Italy with their skill and their capabilities.

During the fascist period, thanks to the minister Luigi Razza, born in Vibo Valentia, the centre of the city was enriched with rationalist-style buildings such as the Town Hall and the Prefecture. In 1927 the city once again took the ancient Roman name of Vibo Valentia.

In 1992, Vibo Valentia became the provincial capital.


Traveller's Guide to Italy