SAN MARCO D'ALUNZIO
Probably inhabited since the Pre-Hellenistic age, San Marco lies at some 550m of altitude, only 9km from the coast. All the civilizations that settled in Sicily throughout the centuries have left here their indelible traces: the Greek, the Roman, under which it became Municipium Aluntinorum, the Norman, who baptized it San Marco dei Normanni, after the name of the first city they took in Calabria. Robert Guiscard had a castle built on the area, whose ruins still dominate the city from the highest point in town. King Martin of Aragon bestowed it upon the Filangeris for their services.
On a secluded position, before entering the village, left of the road, stands the Chiesa di San Marco, erected on the temple of Heracles, dating from the 4th century, of which only a few blocks of tufa stone have remained. The church, entirely open to the sky, retains its stone walls and a re-erected doorway.
S. Teodoro (or Badia Piccola) – Built in the 16th century on the site of a Byzantine chapel, it is built on a Greek-cross with each square arm enclosed by a little dome. The interior is ornamented with magnificent Serpotta-style stuccoes depicting Judith and Holofernes and the Manna falling from Heaven in the Desert (at the sides of the Altar), scenes from the parable of the prodigal son; saints and the four theological Virtues grace the pilasters that rise up to the vault.
Monastero delle Monache Benedettine – Built in 1545, it was recently restored to soon accomodate a museum dedicated to Byzantine-Roman art. Two of three apses on the ground floor, that once formed part of the Cappella dei Quattro Dottori (11th century) were brought to light. They are decorated with splendid and well-preserved Byzantine frescoes . Those in the right-hand apse are very well-preserved: the Madonna in the vault has beautifully delicate hands (unfortunately her face is obscured), in the tier below (separated by a clear boundary symbolising the separation of heaven and earth), the four Doctors of the Orthodox Church – St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great and St. Athanasius – are shown against a bright blue background.
San Giuseppe – The church of St. Joseph houses the Museo Parrocchiale, whose collections comprise sacred furnishings, wooden reliquaries, a wooden polychrome Madonna Odigitria, a charming wooden figure representing Mary Magdalene (17th century) and a painting of the Deposition (18th century).
Historic Centre – The main streets, Via Aluntina, runs through the centre of the town past the Chiesa Madre dedicated to St. Nicholas which has an austere façade only partly relieved by three portals in red Alunzio Marble, largely used inside, too. Further along, in Piazza Sant’Agostino, stands the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, preserving the Filangeri funerary monument by Domenico Gagini, dated 1481, and a fine statue exuding gentle serenity.
The road then continues to the 1700’s Chiesa di San Basilio, with its arcade of pointed arches, and on to the 1600’s Chiesa dell’Ara Coeli, with an elegant doorway made of Alunzio marble, ornamented with volutes and floral elements. Inside, contained within the Cappella del Santissimo Crocefisso, encrusted with fine stuccowork by Serpotta depicting saints, lively cherubs, angels and festoons of fruit, is an expressive 1600’s Spanish wooden Crucifix.
San Salvatore – Also known as the Badia Grande, since it used to adjoin an important Benedictine convent. Now alone, it stands in ruins not far from the football pitch. Its elegant doorway made of Alunzio marble, is ornamented with columns, angels and cherubs. Inside, visitors are greeted by a band of serenading angels playing trumpets, various allegorical figures, playful cherubs bearing heavy drapes, scrolls and garlands of flowers; the exuberant stucco decoration culminates in sumptuous drapery hanging from the wooden canopy over the tabernacle.
Recommended treat – The restaurant La Fornace at 115 Via Cappuccini, is renowned for its maccheroni al ragù, cooked in a terracotta bowl, and for its char-grilled meat.