This small Byzantine town is located a few kilometers from the Ionian coast in the province of Reggio Calabria. Sitting at an altitude of around 700 m, Stilo overlooks an impressive landscape of olive and vine-draped hills down to the Ionian Sea. Homeland to the legendary Italian philosopher, Tommaso Campanella, as well at the oldest Byzantine churches in Italy, visitors are likely to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views as well as the town’s historical significance.
The origins of the town date back to Ancient Greece, where the town takes its name – ‘stylos’ meaning ‘column’. In the 5th Century, Stilo became part of the Byzantine Empire, as can be witnessed by the town’s ancient architecture, including the infamous 9th Century church – La Cattolica. Throughout its history, Stilo was privately owned by feudal families, as well as sold to Spanish aristocrats in the 14th Century. The town hero, Tommaso Campanella (whose house can be easily recognized by a memorial sign) organized a protest against the Spanish in the 16th Century. Although an earthquake in 1783 destroyed many original structures, most have been rebuilt and restored into the architectural marvel it is today.
What to see in Stilo
Undoubtedly, the town’s main attraction is La Cattolica, the Byzantine church located on top of the hill overlooking Stilo’s tile roofs and the countryside beyond. La Cattolica consists of five domes decorated in Byzantine designs and interior frescos. Around the church are the remains of a Medieval Monastery of Poor Clares (3 EUR entrance and audio guide), and on your way back to town is the Renaissance Style Church and Monastery of San Francisco (1450), which opens out to the small central piazza.
For architectural enthusiasts, there are several other churches worth seeing, including Chiesa di san Domenico, Chiesa di San Nicola da Tolentino and il Duomo – a Gothic church built between 12th – 14th Centuries. Most churches in Stilo were built in the Middle Ages, and are preserved in a good functioning condition.
The castle, unfortunately, did not survive the earthquakes. However, if you can manage the steep walk uphill, the picturesque remains overlooking the Ionian coast are definitely worth the effort!
In and around Stilo
Visiting Stilo is like stepping back in time. The town’s streets are an intriguing maze of tangled lanes with staircases and archways winding among the palazzi, while the monastery bells echo throughout the ancient walls summoning streetwalkers to its doors. Visitors can enjoy local produce like cheeses, wines, olives and traditional pasta dishes, while taking in the slow village life under the Calabrian sun.
Stilo is only a 30 min drive to the white sands and blue waves of the Ionian coast. The beach infrastructure may not be luxury, but bars, restaurants and shops are easy to find in the nearest village on the coast – Monasterace Marina.