Featured Getaway – Tropea, Italy
Located on a majestic cliff, the small town of Tropea draws its roots from classical mythology: it was founded by Hercules, the demigod, son of the father of the gods, Zeus, and Alcmena, a mortal woman. Setting sail from Greece to accompany the Argonauts in the conquest of the Golden Fleece, he ended up on the ship ‘Argo’ on the coast of Calabria, attracted by the breathtaking beauty of the place. The adventures he faced up to then had tired him – and it is also said the the Argonauts annoyed, amongst other things, faced up to that time had cost him a lot of trouble – it is also said that the Argonauts were annoyed by his presence onboard due, amongst other things, to the excessive weight of his muscles, which was slowing down the course of their navigation. So, Hercules decided to spend a few days in a land reminded him of his distant homeland, and that allowed him to rest in the tranquility, and perform rites and prayers to the gods. The region was inhabited then by other mythical populations, led by Italo, the king who would then give his name to the whole of Italy. Hercules laid the first stone for the foundation of the city, which he dedicated to Hera, naming it Tropaia, nutrice o trionfante. Still today, the founding is remembered in the name of a town south of the city: Formicoli, from the the Latin ‘Forum Herculis’, the Piazza/Square of Hercules
The natives of the area continued the work begun by the hero and expanded the boundaries of a town that was to become a landmark throughout the Mediterranean, so important as to host even the great Roman Emperor Ottaviano Augusto. The Emperor, taken by the stunning beauty of the cliffs of Tropea, erected ‘trophei’ in honor of the roman gods, to ensure the safe return of his great fleet to Rome.
Myth and history come together in the origins of the city, which were Byzantine, Norman and Arab. Tropea withstood the Swabian, Angevin, Aragonese and French Dynasties, but it has always maintained that proud and noble bearing still preserved today and reflected in the ancient patrician palaces that form a labyrinth of alleys and ‘piazzette’ (small squares), where every visitor is taken by wonder and delight.
The miracle of Our Lady of Romania
The march of history takes us next to July 24th, 1943, a particularly hot and muggy day. The torrid summer of war, made even more oppressive by the continuous passage of noisy aircraft overhead, seems without end. The allied forces are on the tails of the Germans, while the fearful citizens watch the spectacle, gathered in prayer. At four o’clock in the afternoon, a huge planes separates from the aerial formation and files over Tropea at low altitude. It drops six bombs in the center of town, in a small garden where children are playing, unaware of what is happening. The hiss of the bombs falling cuts through the air, reaching the ears of the little ones, who do not have time to take shelter and watch paralyzed as the bombs land. The bombs do not explode; they are there on the ground, but no damage has been caused. The children are incredulous, the adults immediately cry out that it is a miracle, and the Virgin of Romania
is invoked, the protector of the city. The bishop is called, and the clergy and the whole population turns out en masse to see the miracle granted once again by the benevolence of the Madonna. But the war does not stop for the celebration. More planes fly over, and more nights pass marked by fear in the hearts of the tropeani. Until September 8, Armistice Day, the night before the traditional procession dedicated to Our Lady of Romania. The day after. the icon is carried aloft in the parade, followed by an American officer who had been taken prisoner a few days before by the Germans and was released after the armistice. The festivities are twofold: for the end of the conflict and for the infinite devotion to the painting, a connection so strong that even today the population preserves the miraculously unexplored bombs inside the Norman Cathedral, in memory of the terrible moment in which the presence of the patron saint made herself felt stronger than ever.
What to see…
Tropea enjoys breathtaking panoramic views, from which you can enjoys the city and the sea in all their glory. Two of them overlook the symbol of the entire region: Santa Maria dell’Isola. The rock on which the church stands was once surrounded by the sea, which is why it is called ‘isola’ (island). The small church has ancient origins: it is thought to have been erected in the Byzantine era to serve the Basilian monks living in hermitage in the caves in the rock. Over the centuries it has undergone several restorations, especially following the numerous earthquakes that have affected the region. Every year on August 15th, the statue preserved in the church is carried in a procession on a boat along the coast, creating an evocative sight that remains imprinted in the memories of the fascinated tourists who get to see it. Entering the historic center, once entirely fortified and equipped with a drawbridge, you are enchanted by the majesty of the noble palaces, ancient houses from the 1600s, where the original structure has been preserved allowing the visitor a journey through time few places can provide. Piazzette, balconies, alleyways, everything that you come across is a dive into the past and into ‘la dolce vita italiana’. Sipping a Negroni while enjoying the gorgeous sunset over the Aeolian Islands is an experience that stays with you forever.
In addition to the thousands of year of history, the key features of the area are the white sand beaches and crystal clear water which, combined with a tropical climate, allow visitors to bathe in the beautiful sea six months out of the year. It is impossible to visit Tropea without going a little further south to Capo Vaticano, where high cliffs and little beaches provide natural spectacles unique in this world. From the city’s port, you can also sail to the Aeolian Islands, the archipelago in which Roberto Rossellini immortalized Ingrid Bergman in the 1949 film ‘Stromboli Terra di Dio’, and a few years later featured Michelangelo Antognoni’s “L’avventura”. Today, Tropea is one of the most popular and appreciated destinations on the international tourism scene. For years now, important personalities from film, entertainment, fashion, and world finance have chosen it as their holiday destination, attracted by the combination of sea and history that makes it one of the most evocative cities on the Italian peninsula.
I was born and raised in Tropea. Original text in Italian by Alessandro Stella.
Piero Lorenzo, California Broker CIPS