The Borgo of Diamante

Diamante is a glorious combination of history, culture, and breathtaking natural beauty, the perfect recipe for an enchanting borgo known as one the most beautiful places in Calabria. Just add Diamante’s crystalline turquoise sea to the mix and your irresistible holiday destination is ready to be served, and enjoyed!

Diamante’s character is strong and sweet, like the flavors and aromas of this land, the spicy and decisive taste of chili peppers, and the delicious scent of citrus wafting from the citron or “cedro” trees along the coast.

As you enter the historical center, your soul will be enraptured by the magnificent murals around the town, all different and all remarkably beautiful: a visual symphony of figures and images recounting the history of Diamante and Calabria, embraced by the ever present sea, a perennial symbol of hope for the inhabitants and those who come from afar.

After exploring the borgo, you can leave Diamante behind and venture into the ancient lanes of nearby Cirella, graced by an exquisite little island off its shores and the ruins of an ancient Medieval borgo on its hilltop.

The glowing hour of sunset will find you tired but fulfilled, and what better way to conclude your day than by relaxing on Diamante’s historic promenade to enjoy a refreshing cedro “granite” as night falls, watching the glimmering lights of the fishing boats as they head out to sea.

Diamante, which means ‘diamond’ in Italian, is much like the precious stone it was named for, a rare gem of a thousand unique and captivating nuances, and above all, a borgo that has conquered the greatest challenge of all: learning to love and appreciate itself. And of course, everyone who comes to Diamante falls in love too!

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Riding the waves of the first trade routes, the ancient population of the Focesi set off from their home in Asia Minor and landed on the Italian coast in a quiet bay, suitable for safely docking their ships, at an advantageous point that facilitated trade with the Samnite population. Today, this little bay is known as Diamante, situated on the coast of what is now Calabria.

Further along in history, enter the Romans: after the Punic Wars and the territorial expansion that followed, the Romans began to take to the seas more and more often, and as they followed the established trade routes, they began to frequent this cove on the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they could easily trade mica chips with stones and diamond splinters. For this reason, the place was named “Fiume di diamante”, ‘River of Diamonds’. The name slowly began to extend to the surrounding territory, becoming the “Terra di diamante” ‘the Land of Diamonds’, which over time began to indicate only one specific urban center.

In the 1500’s, the ruling noble, Prince Sanseverino, ordered the construction of a defensive fortress in this location, to fulfill the daunting task of countering the ever more frequent and brutal attacks by Muslim Saracen invaders. The founding of the borgo of Diamante is historically linked to this first defensive construction.

In the following centuries, the fortification was enlarged, constructed around the original fortress, as commissioned by Don Tiberio Carafa, the Prince of  Belvedere Marittimo and Diamante.

As the constant threat from Turkish pirates lessened, the town center shifted from its inland location toward the coast, which favored the increase of trade and also a rise in the population, as many people chose to move to Diamante, enchanted by the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

 From this point onwards, peaceful years lay ahead for Diamante. The economy of the borgo was solidly based on the flourishing activities of agriculture and fishing, and also on the production and commercialization of “cedro liscio di Diamante” from the citron fruit, which began being exported to Israel and the United States, where it is highly requested by the Jewish community, who still use it today for the sacred celebration of Sukkot.

Near Diamante there is a tiny borgo called Cirella, which has a little island of the same name off its coast, and which from 1811 on was part of the territory of Majerà. In the 1900’s, the mayor of Diamante held a referendum to detach Cirella and its island from the town of Majerà and aggregate it territorially to the municipality of Diamante. The endeavor was successful, and Cirella became a hamlet of Diamante.

Today, Diamante is a small and relaxing village, graced by enchanting views of the crystalline sea and the bounty of the citron trees growing along the Riviera.   

Cirella

Cirella is a tiny annex of Diamante, facing out over golden beaches, a crystal clear sea and a little island that bears its name. Despite its small size, this little town has an extremely ancient history, with archeological findings dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, discovered on the rocky coast of San Giovanni.

Cirella was one of the first cities founded by the ancient Italic population of the Ausoni. In 203 B.C., the city was destroyed by the fury of Hannibal’s troops because of its loyalty to Rome, as described by various Latin and Greek historians, including Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo.

Despite the devastation to the borgo, the city was able resurrect itself during the years of the Roman Empire, building imposing temples and public buildings, and even though Cirella was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the course of the centuries, some of those monuments can still be admired today.

The little town of Cirella is a concentrated dose of history. Plagued by constant attacks by the Turks, the inhabitants moved to a nearby hill, where you can still visit the ruins of the ancient fortifications built to keep the wrath of the Saracen invaders at bay. In the early 1500’s, a large part of the population decided to leave the hill town of ‘Cirella Collinare’ to move closer to the coast, where the Ducal Palace was constructed. Much later, in 1806, part of the borgo on the hill was destroyed by the French. On the slopes of the mountain, there is an ancient necropolis and the famous mausoleum of Cirella, an imposing tomb from the Roman era, which has served various functions over the centuries.

Chiesa dell’Immacolata Concezione,  Church of the Immaculate Conception

In 1622, Don Tiberio Carafa became the Prince of Belvedere Marittimo and Diamante. A God-fearing man and a fervent devotee of the Virgin Mary, in virtue of his Catholic faith and his role as a benefactor, he decided to finance the construction of a church in Diamante, as the borgo needed a larger church with room for the ever increasing population.

On April 23, 1645, the first stone was laid. When construction was finished, the population was given their new church, dedicated to the “Immacolata Concezione”, conceived in Baroque style, built to include an already existing construction from a previous epoch, the Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory. The chapel also provided support for the bell tower, now known by all as ‘u campanaru’. Once completed, the church was decorated with wooden statues from the era, donated by the most important families in Diamante. The Prince himself gave the population and the church a very special gift, an imposing statue of the Immaculate Conception, a sculpture two meters high carved out of a single olive tree trunk.

Over the centuries the Church has undergone various reconstructions and modifications, particularly in the nineteenth century, when restoration work gradually changed the aspect of the entire building.

Chiesa di San Giuseppe

The Church of San Giuseppe is a small building in the heart of the historical center of Diamante. It was built as a family chapel and initially dedicated to San Nicola. For years it was left in a state of abandon and neglect, and only in the early 1900’s did restoration work begin, concluding in 1949, the year the statue to San Giuseppe was purchased, for whom the church was later named.

In the 1960’s, this little church was graced with two important paintings: “La Fuga in Egitto” decorating the ceiling and the “Il Beato Transito di San Giuseppe fra Gesù e Maria”, located inside the dome, both by the twentieth century Sicilian painter, Luigi Maniscalco.

The last restoration to this small church was completed in 1988, when the floor and the altar were redone in marble.

The Ruins of Cirella

The ancient village of Cirella stood at the top of the promontory of Monte Carpinoso, where you can still visit the ruins of the town. The borgo was built at the height of the eleventh century, as the inhabitants needed somewhere take refuge that was easier to defend during the Saracen raids. Regardless of their precautions, the little borgo was raided and sacked by seven Turkish galleons. Over the course of the centuries the hill town began to fall into ruin and in 1806 it was even bombed by the French Navy. After this tragic event, the remaining inhabitants decided to return to living along the coast and transformed the ancient city into a quarry, plundering it of all its most important artifacts.

Today, walking through the ruins of the ancient borgo is like going back in time. You can still see the ancient Norman tower, flanking the castle with a clearly defensive function. Along the stone lanes you can also see the Church of San Nicola Magno, dating back to the fourteenth/fifteenth century. There was once an entire series of frescos, which are now on exhibition in the new city, in the Church of Santa Maria de’ Flores. There was also a little church dedicated to the Annunciation, but the walls and the roof have fallen in, leaving only an altar and the parish church pews.

Diamante- The City of Murals

There are countless love stories between people and places, and if you truly fall in love with a place, even if you weren’t born there, or even speak the same language, there is a tangible, unbreakable bond between that place and your very soul.

Not surprisingly, one of these stories of eternal affection concerns the borgo of Diamante. In 1981, the Genoese artist Nanni Razzetti came to this little town in Calabria with an idea as original as it was risky, which he proposed to the mayor, who accepted the challenge. And so began “Progetto Murales”, one of the most beautiful challenges in the history of Italy: In June, 1981, eighty-three artists from all over the world arrived in Diamante, and with their paintbrushes and colors they transformed the walls of the houses and monuments of the town into works of art. Between 1986 and 1997 other murals were added to the project, and since then, every year, a new wall is transformed into an artist’s canvas.

Today, Diamante is a city where visitors gaze around them in wonderment, drinking in the beauty and creativity, but it is also a borgo that has taught its inhabitants to love and care for their home town with passion and unconditional dedication.

Having reached a quota of three hundred murals, Diamante has become, in all respects, the most painted town in Italy.

The eyes and the faces of the borgo’s inhabitants are featured in the paintings. The murals recount the stories of the South and of daily life, of men sitting on their doorsteps but also important events in Calabria’s past, which you can admire in the striking mosaic/murals on the external walls of the main church, created by the Sposito family. In the murals, the sea represents a symbol of hope, for the fishermen hoping to bring home an abundant catch and also for the migrants entrusting their destiny to the waves, in hope of a better life. Numerous social issues are explored in the brilliant colors of the murals, such as the travails of the migrants, but also the changing role of women in society, illustrated in an evolving historical context. The murals of Diamante are not only images however: in 2009, under the guidance of Professor Antonietta dell’Arte, the project ‘Rainbow Verses’ was launched, covering the walls of Piazza di Maio and Via Alferi with poetry. Ten poets set out on this adventure, with amazing results. Of all the poems, one in particular sums up this extraordinary endeavor, “ Beauty is the desire for happiness”.

L’Accademia del Peperoncino, the Academy of Hot Peppers

Everyone knows that Calabria is famous for its spicy food, but very few are aware that there is actually an ‘Accademia del Peperoncino’, established right here in Diamante.

Human beings are divided into two main catagories: those who adore hot peppers and those who avoid them like the plague, yet in the past, when this spice arrived from the Americas, it earned the knick-name, “the poor man’s drug”, because it was both inexpensive and irresistible.  

The Italian Academy of Peperoncino was founded in 1994 by Enzo Monaco, who after generating consensus, decided to found a non-profit organization with the aim of promoting and valorizing  Italy’s  beloved culinary fire bomb: the “peperoncino”.

Over the years, the Academy’s popularity has grown steadily, and now there are thousands of members in Italy and abroad, and recently, a new spin-off has been established, “ItaliaPic”, a network of companies, restaurants and shop-owners who love the fiery, versatile “peperoncino”.

The Academy not only holds unforgettable spicy dinners, cooking classes, and championships for die-hard peperoncino eaters, it is also carrying out an experimental project, realized with the foundation of the “Centro Calabria Capsum”. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, this center has launched a project to promote and classify Italian chili pepper varieties from the Mediterranean area, and also houses the largest collection of peperoncino varieties in Italy, which can be seen in the Academy’s many exhibitions and events.

The Academy also promotes the study and research of the use of peperoncino in the pharmaceutical and medical fields, as well as for gastronomic and cosmetic uses.

The Citron Riviera and the “Cedro liscio”of Diamante

Peri ‘etz adar, ‘the fruit of the most beautiful tree’, is what the Jewish community calls the Citron, the most important fruit in their religion. From Tortora to Cedraro, all along the Calabrian coast, we find the Riviera of Citrons, or “cedri”, where nearly the entire national production is cultivated, including the most prestigious variety: the “Cedro liscio di Diamante”, the smooth citron of Diamante.

It is said that the cultivation of citron was introduced in Calabria by the Jewish population, and that along this coast, citron trees have found the only microclimate that favors their subsistence. But the Calabrian people have certainly played their part: the citron, or “cedro” tree dislikes cold temperatures and adapts well to mild and pleasant climates, so for centuries the local farmers have tended to them with meticulous care, adopting special techniques and secrets which are handed down from generation to generation, to nurture and protect the integrity of each individual tree.

Every year, from April to June, the Riviera bursts into bloom, in an explosion of white flowers tinged with violet hues that fill the air with the delicate, yet pervasive scent of the citron blossom. This balanced and decisive mix has made the citron a sacred fruit for thousands of years, and above all, the symbol of a bridge between different cultures and religions. From June to August, Rabbis from all over the world meet here on the Riviera to choose the best citrons for celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish holiday of the Tabernacle. According to the scriptures, God himself chose this fruit for Moses to celebrate this sacred occasion, and still today, every year in October, Jewish practitioners leave their houses to stay in huts or sukkhas set up in gardens and on balconies, symbolic re-creations of the make-shift dwellings used by the Jewish people on their forty year exodus across the desert. For seven days, the four plants mentioned in the Bible must be held and waved: in the left hand a palm frond, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches, and in the right hand, a citron. According to the scriptures, the citrons must be perfect. The rind must not be damaged in any way and they must not come from grafted plants, and so to ensure this, rabbis flock to the Calabrian coast to assist the farmers with the harvest. The rabbis choose the best fruit, but it is the farmers who harvest them, as it is an extremely delicate process because the plants are full of thorns. This tradition attracts thousands of visitors and onlookers to the Riviera di Cedro every year.

Most of the citrons harvested are destined for the Jewish holidays, but a part is also used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. This fruit cannot be consumed fresh, so it is subjected to special processing to produce candied citrons, and also liqueurs, jams, creams, ice cream and sorbet. Citron is also an antioxidant, with powerful anti-aging properties that promote physical well-being, and for this reason it has been chosen by FAVO (the Italian Federation of Volunteer Oncology Associations), as the symbol for the annual day dedicated to cancer patients.

Nuccio Ordine

Nuccio Ordine was born in Diamante on July 18, 1958.

His is a Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Calabria, and has also taught at prestigious universities such as Yale, the Sorbonne, and the Paris Normal School.

An Italian scholar and academic, he collaborates with the national newspaper Corriere della Sera and is the author of numerous works, which have been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

 Nani Razetti

Nani Razetti was born in Genoa in 1924. He studied in Napoli, where he became passionate about the Sicilian school of painting used by Gattuso. His work focused particular attention on the search for “ a very personal figurative style on the cusp between mental images and reality.”

In 1981, with the auspices of the mayor of Diamante, Evasio Pascale, Nani Razetti launched the Mural Project, which brought eighty-three artists from around the globe to this Calabrian village.

The murals of Diamante have rendered this borgo unique in all the world, and still today, Nani Razetti is merited for bringing new light to the historical center.

Though he passed away in 2013, Nani Razetti will always be remembered with sincere affection by the citizens of Diamante and throughout Calabria.

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The cuisine of Diamante is a rich combination of intense flavors, with its main dishes based on three ingredients: fresh fish from its bountiful sea, peperoncino and citron.

 “Cernia alla diamantese”, Grouper alla Diamante

‘Cernia alla diamantese’ is a main course of fresh fish, and is Diamante’s most famous and most popular dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 one-and-a-half kilo grouper;
  • 100 gr of extra virgin olive oil;
  • 250 gr of dry white wine;
  • 100 gr of pitted black olives;
  • 50 gr of unsalted capers;
  • 200 gr of sliced tomatoes;
  • 2 bay leaves;
  • 2 cloves of garlic;
  • Chopped parsley;
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Procedure:

Clean, de-bone and gut the grouper, then let it drain for half an hour. Next, dry the grouper with a cloth, season with salt and pepper and place in a high-sided baking pan. Add the tomatoes, garlic and chopped olives, capers, bay leaves, olive oil and white wine and bake at 180° centigrade for about thirty minutes.

When the grouper is ready, transfer it to a serving plate, taking care to keep it in one piece. Then add the sauce from the saucepan onto the same plate and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Your “Cernia alla diamantese” is ready to be served!

Liquore al Cedro, Citron Liqueur

 “Liquore al cedro” is the most ancient traditional liqueur in Calabria, and also the most popular. It is very easy to make at home, but if you don’t have time to make it yourself and don’t want to miss out on this delicacy, you can purchase one of the excellent liqueurs sold in the little shops all along the Riviera di Cedro.

Ingredients:

-4 medium-sized whole citrons;

– 1 liter of  90° alcohol;

– 1 liter of water;

– 500 gr of sugar.

Procedure:

Peel the citrons and slice the rind into fine julienne strips, making sure to eliminate the white part of the rind, which is particularly sour. Fill a hermetic glass container of at least 2 liters with the alcohol and marinate the citron rind for a week, taking care to store it in a dry cool place, away from heat sources.

After a week, filter the citron rinds out of the alcohol and set aside. Add the sugar to a liter of water and heat it until it is lukewarm and the sugar dissolves. Add this syrup mixture to the container of alcohol, close, and shake vigorously, then let it stand for five days. When it is ready, pour the liqueur into a bottle and store in a cool place.

Ideal serving temperature is 4° centigrade but it can also be served iced.

Enjoy!

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