The town of Gerace is situated at the southern end of Italy a few kilometres inland from the ancient Greek settlement of Locri on the Ionian coast - the two are usually explored as part of the same visit.
Explore Gerace: tourism and travel
We should start by saying that Gerace is an exceptionally picturesque village and well worth a visit when you are in this region. As well as historic interest there are also lovely views from the town, both across the Ionian sea and the mountains.
Your visit to Gerace, hovering on its 500 metre high cliff, will also include several very noteworthy buildings: for example the Palace of Tocco, and the Norman Cathedral of Gerace (11th-12th century) in Piazza Tribuna. Start your visit in the historic village, where the old gate called "Varvara" and the workshops of the potters were situated.
In Piazza della Repubblica the church of Santa Maria del Mastro is a huge church with a Greek cross form whose central dome was originally made of clay pots, a technique dating back to the Byzantine times. After its collapse the dome was unfortunately rebuilt in concrete.
Close to here is the ancient palace of the 'Balzo' that overlooks the plain below and where you can visit two monasteries: one built by the Capuchins in Baroque style and dating from the first half of the 16th century; and another from the 17th century, whose church is dedicated to “Santa Francesca Romana”, now the chapel of the cemetery.
Also nearby is the Church of Santa Maria di Monserrato, of Byzantine origin.
To the left of the Borgo Maggiore continue on to the Borghetto (“small village”) where, through the gate on the left, you can see the Church of San Martino. This church has very ancient origins but was rebuilt after an earthquake in the 18th century. Along the “Via Roma”, you now reach the "Bombarde Belvedere" and the “Gate of the Sun” before reaching the "Square of the Tocco", where the 'Grimaldi-Serra Palace' is now the City Hall for Gerace.
In the Piazza Tribuna you can see one of the highlights in the town, the majestic Cathedral of Gerace. This cathedral, the largest in Calabria, was first consecrated in 1045, and then re-consecrated in the year 1222 in the presence of the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia.
You will notice from the outside that the cathedral looks like a fortress because of the compact wall of limestone from which the two semi-circular apses protrude. The main entrance is located on the west facade.
Built in the Byzantine-Norman style, the cathedral has a basilica form with three naves and a Latin cross plan, with a high apse and a wide transept.
The cathedral interior has a roof of wooden beams, columns and capitals which divide the three naves, divided by two rows of ten columns. A particularly important artwork here is the Baroque style main altar, built in polychrome marble by Amato da Messina in the 18th century.
From the apse on the left you can reach the crypt, which is a series of small stucco vaults from the 19th century supported by columns of different sizes, colours and materials. In the crypt there is a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Itria, covered by a vaulted ceiling decorated with rosettes of stucco; the walls are lined with polychrome marble and the floor is made of glass tiles. On the altar stands the marble statue of the “Madonna della Stella".
Other Gerace religious monuments
Leaving the Cathedral, head along the street called Caduti del Lavoro to reach the Sacred Heart Church, with a Latin cross form and a dome of roof tiles (similar to that of the church of Monserrato) with a baroque style façade.
In the Piazza delle Tre Chiese you can visit the Church-Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, in Gothic style and dating from the 13th century, in which there is a baroque altar richly inlaid with marble depicting polychrome images by an anonymous Franciscan friar, and the graves of several local nobles.
The Church of San Giovannello is very characteristic of those in the region: from the 11th century and of Orthodox worship, with a single apse, it was made of stone, and looks like a country church. From here we can climb to the castle via the huge square called "Baglio".
The remains of the Norman castle in Gerace date from the 11th century. The original town developed around this castle.
According to some scholars the earliest castle here was built during the 7th century, and it certainly existed as early as the 10th century, the period in which the Byzantine arrived and devastated the city. Renovated and expanded by the Normans around 1050 it was destroyed several times (mainly by earthquakes) and rebuilt.
The castle was once surrounded by mighty defensive walls although of these only a few remnants remain. It also had ingenious systems for channelling rainwater, a large pit, a small Byzantine chapel embellished by decoration with an apse, a drawbridge that opened on the side east of the fort, a vast armoury, an inner courtyard and several other rooms used for different functions.
Of particular interest are the remains of the imposing central tower, cylindrical-shaped with long monolithic footings and walls built with megalithic blocks.
In the area in front of Gerace castle there is a large square called 'Baglio', probably named after a magistrate who issued the rulings in the square that was once reserved for trade and military activities.
From the castle you can re-descend into Gerace old town, walking between the medieval and Baroque buildings with their mullioned windows (13th century) before reaching the monastery of Saint Anne and the churches of Carmine, San Siminio and San Nicola and a 16th century portico on the Via G. Bruno.
Tradition and cuisine in Locri-Gerace
Locri - Gerace has held firmly to its ancient and manufacturing traditions (especially the weaving and artistic working of iron), and also to their culinary traditions. When visiting Gerace be sure to try the local cake, called the 'rafioli', perhaps accompanied by a sip of 'Greek white wine' from Gerace.
If you travel past Roccella and Locri to reach Cape Spartivento, set in shady woods, you can acquire some local products such as oil from Calabria (reputedly one of the best oils available in Italy), home-made bread, delicious local cheese or the sausages produced by very small farms.
Gerace was originally developed by inhabitants from Locri in the 9th-10th century when they were defeated by the Saracens. Over the following centuries it fell under the control of many different groups such as the Byzantines, the Normans (including Robert Guiscard in the 11th century) and the Angevin. For a more detailed account see Gerace history and etymology.
Places to visit near Gerace
A visit to Gerace will be combined with a visit to Locri and provides an opportunity to see two different histories close together - Gerace is the medieval settlement, while Locri is much more ancient - and now a popular seaside resort. Together they form a tourist destination of considerable historical and cultural importance.
Locri is an important and well-equipped seaside resort, and as well as a beautiful beach it is also a destination that is enjoyable in the summer months, quiet and attractive for the tourist who loves being surrounded by nature and a little removed from mass tourism. You can also visit Locri Epizephiri which is the site of the ancient town and with the remains of various temples and other ancient monuments.
Where is Gerace
You will find Gerace right at the southern end of Italy in the so-called 'toe' of the country. It is in the Calabria region, about 50 kilometres east of Messina which is the crossing point between mainland Italy and Sicily.
Selected places to visit near Gerace, Italy
See the Calabria guide for more travel ideas...