The Borgo of Tropea

Tropea is the essence of the Mediterranean, the pungent scents and delicate shades of the  Mediterranean foliage lacing the coastal bluff all the way down to golden sands embraced by the turquoise sea. The crystalline waters reflect the beauty of the borgo, and the ancient houses perched on the edge of the promontory almost seem ready to dive in themselves. The final detail in this idyllic scene is the little island attached to the borgo’s coast, graced by the church of Santa Maria dell’Isola.

The narrow streets of the old town are windows overlooking an endless expanse of blue, and the ochre-colored houses create a vibrant contrast with the vivacious colors of the artisans’ shops, the balconies overflowing with flowers and the deep, reddish purple of the local onions, “la cipolla di Tropea”, the much-prized culinary treasures of this land.

Tropea is a borgo with a delicate and romantic soul, inviting you for long walks, hand-in-hand, past the noble palaces and ancient churches of long ago.

Tropea is a place of endless surprises, to be explored, discovered and most of all, enjoyed.

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There is concrete evidence of human settlements in the area of Tropea since the Bronze Age, after which the boundaries between history and mythology become blurred and indistinguishable, which has made it difficult to establish the date of the city’s foundation or the populations who first lived here.

It is said that the first town was Portercole, constructed by decree of Hercules, who was passing through on his search for the Golden Fleece. Other versions say that Hercules came here intentionally, to liberate the area from giants, and that afterwards he built the city in honor of the goddess Juno, who nurtured him as a babe in arms. Another hypothesis attests the foundation of this borgo to Scipio Africanus, who arrived in Italy after defeating Carthage and ordered the foundation of a city named Trophea, (trophy), to honor the gods for supporting him during the Carthage campaign.

The only certainty we have is that the various place-names cited in the ancient written sources has only confused historical analysis further.

Set in a privileged position overlooking the sea, the geographic location of Tropea has been the joy and the bane of this little borgo’s existence. While it benefitted from all the advantages of being directly on the major trade routes, it was also more exposed to foreign conquests. In fact, after the fall of the Roman Empire, it became the object of contention between Byzantium and the Muslim Saracens, who actually transformed Tropea into an Arab Emirate not once, but two times.

In 1060, the Normans arrived in the South of Italy: Roberto “il Guiscardo” (the Astute) was given the territories of Puglia and Calabria by the Pope, and in thanks, the prince initiated a process of conversion in all the villages, building abbeys, convents and churches. From this point on, the borgo enjoyed a flourishing period of growth that lasted until the beginning of the eighteenth century.

During these centuries, Tropea grew both demographically and as a city. In the 1500’s, Tropea was governed by the social classes of the “Nobili”, elected from the nobility, and the “Onorati”, elected from the population of the town. During the Renaissance, a special Academy was founded, “l’Accademia degli Affaticati” an elite intellectual association, whose members were of the highest cultural and moral values. In the same period, new construction projects were launched in the public sector and for private homes.

During the Age of Enlightenment, Tropea was the stage for several political uprisings and was also struck by a violent earthquake, which damaged much of the city center. The period following the Unification of Italy accelerated Tropea’s decline, as many the population’s young people chose to emigrate to America and Northern Europe, but also because of the demolition of many of the borgo’s monuments, such as the castle, and the Church of San Giorgio, which was constructed during the Roman period as a temple to Mars, the God of War.

Today, although the borgo has suffered greatly from the destruction of its historical center, Tropea still glows with a particular charm, shining high on its cliff over golden beaches bathed by a transparent, turquoise sea.

 

La chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Isola, the Church of St. Mary of the Island

The church of “Madonna dell’Isola” is a place of mystical spiritual power, and is worth visiting at least once in your life, regardless of your faith.

The earthquake of 1783 caused a tidal wave that pushed a small island, previously off the coast,  right up against the beach. At the top of this small promontory stands a gracious church of pale stone. Little is known about its construction: in the beginning the island was probably inhabited by a group of hermit monks, and later, with the arrival of the Normans, the church was donated to the Abbey of Montecassino, to which it still belongs today.

The island, with its church, is the undisputed symbol of Tropea and Calabria and, as often happens, is linked to an ancient legend. It is said that in ancient times, a ship from the East was not able to leave the bay of Tropea until finally, it gave the city the statue of the Madonna it was carrying. The mayor and the bishop wanted to place the Madonna in a niche, but the statue was too large, so they called a carpenter to saw off her legs. As the man was about to perform the requested task, he suddenly became paralyzed, and the mayor and the bishop both dropped dead on the spot. The statue was transported to another place, and in the days that followed, it performed several miracles for the people of the town. Today, this Madonna has been lost track of, but until a few decades ago, it was  customary to make a pilgrimage to the cave where the Madonna was located to pray for her blessings and grace.

Because of the earthquakes of 1783 and 1905, the church has lost much of its original appearance. Today, a long staircase leads to an esplanade looking out over the beauty of Tropea. Inside the building you can admire the finely crafted pipe organ, just one of the fine pieces in this exceptionally unique church.

Duomo di Tropea, the Cathedral of Tropea

The Cathedral, or Duomo, of Tropea is located in the heart of the historical center, facing the Piazza dell’Duomo.

This place of worship was built during the Norman period, as a part of the Latinization project promoted and carried out by Roberto il Giuscardo.

The church was built on a Byzantine cemetery, constructed with ochre-colored slabs of tufa stone and lava stone. In the 1600’s it was modified to reflect the aesthetics of the Baroque style, in line with the dictates of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Apart from this, despite the extensive damage caused by earthquakes, during restoration every effort was made to reestablish its original appearance. The façade is distinguished by a tufa stone portal, and by a series of magnificent arches along the left side, also in tufa stone, further embellished with an effigy of the Madonna of Romania, the patron saint of Tropea.

Inside the Cathedral there are several extremely prestigious pieces of art, in primus, the original representation of the Madonna of Romania, located on the main altar, which was probably created in 1230 by one of the famous painter Giotto’s disciples.

Also of particular importance is a black crucifix, probably made in the 1600’s in France, a statue of the Madonna del Popolo, a pulpit from the 1700’s and a statue of the Madonna della Libertà carved in Carrara marble from the 1600’s.

La cipolla di Tropea, The onion of Tropea

The red onion of Tropea is not just any onion, it is: The Onion of Onions! Deliciously sweet, irresistibly crisp, it has conquered the whole world, and every year the certified IGP cultivation of this culinary treasure increases more and more.

The red onion was introduced in Calabria by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, and originally it was cultivated in the area of Capo Vaticano, in the municipality of Ricardi. The harvested onions were transported from the fields by ox-cart to the Tropea station, where they were sent to every corner of the continent. Cultivated in volcanic territory, the onion of Tropea is rich in potassium and is an important resource for the entire region of Calabria. In fact, the onion farmers have established the Consortium for the Protection of the Red Onion of Tropea, reporting profits of twenty-five million euro, employing six thousand people and utilizing one thousand hectares of farmland, and the numbers are destined to grow.

The Red Onion of Tropea is a popular souvenir for visitors to Calabria, and this land has been able to recognize its inestimable value. This particular onion is, in fact, known as an elixir of health, useful in curing kidney stones, as a blood purifier, as an antidioxant, as a cure for the common cold, and a host of other beneficial qualities. These beneficial properties have been studied and tested by researchers from the ‘University of Calabria and Magna Graecia’, who were awarded the Clinic Center Life Science Award with their start-up ‘Ry Goldzip’ and the invention of a cream that accelerates the healing period of diabetic ulcers, without using antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication.

The onion of Tropea is an essential ingredient in Italian cuisine, the undisputed queen of flavorful stir-fries and tasty summer salads. It can also be used to make a delicious savory jam, which we recommend serving with meat, or cheeses like ‘pecorino’ and ‘caciocavallo’.

More than anything else, the Red Onion of Tropea is a symbol of redemption for a land seeking to free itself from the chains of organized crime and illegal activities. Today, it is the emblem of a territory that is being reborn, and the numbers seem to be pushing the red bandwagon in the right direction: 2017 was a great year for the Red Onion of Tropea, and predictions for 2018 confirm this continued ascent.

Santa Domenica (di Tropea), St. Domenica of Tropea.

Santa Domenica was born in Tropea to a Greek noble family during the Roman Empire under   Diocleziano Augusto.

Her parents, Doroteo and Arsenia, were fervent Christians who ardently desired a child. After a long time, they were finally able to bring a little girl into the world, who they named Domenica, because she was born on Sunday (in Italian: ‘Domenica’).

Domenica was a quiet and timid child, obedient to her parents and faithful to God. So much so, that when she reached marrying age, instead of taking a husband like the other girls, she decided to consecrate her purity to the Lord.

For Domenica and her family, their faith in Christ grew stronger every day, and they were able to involve more and more friends and neighbors, until their house turned into a veritable temple.

Initially, the Diocletian Empire was distinguished by establishing a truce with the Christians, but after only two years of being in power, the situation changed dramatically, and Christians were subjected to intense persecution.

Domenica and her family were reported to the authorities as “enemies of the Gods”. They probably belonged to a particularly elevated social class, because their case came to the attention of the Emperor, who asked to see them personally.

The three of them were taken to Nola, in the region of Campania, to stand trial before the Emperor himself. When the judge asked Domenica to renounce Christ, the girl replied that she would never renounce her faith, and so the Emperor ordered that the family be whipped in the public square and then in all the busiest points of the city.

Diocleziano decided to lock Domenica’s parents in prison, and then sent them to Armenia, where the governor of Mitelene condemned them to death by decapitation.

The Emperor was then forced to travel East for questions of state, and left the governance of the Western Empire to Maximian, who found himself strongly attracted to Domenica’s undeniable charms. He tried to seduce her in every way possible, but to no avail.

Frustrated and beset with desire, Maximian locked Domenica in prison, and then, after a few days, released her and sent her to a prostitute, who had the task of dissuading her from her vow of chastity. But as even this attempt did not succeed, he gave up on seducing her and settled on orchestrating her death. He ordered that she be thrown to the ground and kicked to death, but she survived. He then sent her to Campania where she was subjected to horrible tortures of every kind, but she always survived, clinging to her faith like a life-boat on the ocean of his wrath.

For the Emperor, enough was enough, and he condemned her to decapitation, which she faced with serene courage, requesting one last prayer to God before she died.

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Frittata di Cipolla Rossa di Tropea, Omelette with Red Onion of Tropea

The red onion of Tropea is the undisputed queen of Calabrian cuisine. Whether you eat it raw or cooked, it is always delicious. One of the typical dishes of Tropea is the red onion omelette.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs;
  • 2 authentic Red Onions of Tropea;
  • Grated Pecorino cheese, to taste;
  • Extra virgin olive oil;
  • A sprig of parsley;
  • Salt;
  • Black pepper.

Preparation:

Remove the outer layers of the onions and finely chop the rest. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the onions, cover them with a lid, and let them stew at a low flame until they reach a cream-like consistency. Salt to taste.

In a bowl, mix the eggs with the pecorino cheese, add the pepper, and finally, the stewed onions.

In a non-stick frying pan, heat a little oil and then add the mixture, cook at a medium flame for ten minutes on one side, then turn it over and cook for five minutes on the other side.

The “frittata” can be served hot or at room temperature, either way, it is an absolute delicacy! Enjoy!

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