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.
Locri-Gerace is an important and well-equipped seaside resort, and, apart from 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.
A visit to Gerace, hovering on its 500 metre high cliff, will include several very noteworthy buildings: for example the Palace of Tocco, and, in Piazza Tribuna, the Norman Cathedral of Gerace (XI-XII century).
Your visit can start in the historic village, where the old gate called "Varvara" stood, and the workshops of the potters.
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della Repubblica the church of Santa Maria del Mastro is a huge church with a Greek cross form whose central dome was originally made of clay pots, a technique dating back to the Byzantine times; after its collapse, it was rebuilt in concrete.
Close to here is the ancient palace of the 'Balzo' that overlooks the plain below and where we 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 to the Borghetto (“small village”), where, through the gate on the left, is the Church of San Martino, which is very old but was rebuilt after the earthquake in the 18th century. Along the “Via Roma”, we come to the "Bombarde Belvedere" and the “Gate of Sun”, reaching the "Square of the ‘Tocco’", where the 'Grimaldi-Serra Palace' is now the City Hall for Gerace
In the "Piazza Tribuna" is the majestic Cathedral of Gerace consecrated in 1045, and then re-consecrated in the year 1222 in the presence of the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia.
Built in 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.
From the outside the cathedral looks like a fortress because of the compact wall of limestone from which two semi-circular apses protrude. The main entrance is located on the west facade.
The cathedral interior has a roof of wooden beams, columns and capitals which divide the three naves, divided by two rows of ten columns. An item of considerable value 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 we reach the crypt, which appears as a series of small stucco vaults from the 19th century, supported by columns of different sizes, colours and materials. In the crypt there is the 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".
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 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: 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 and are located where the original town developed.
According to some scholars it 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 we can re-descend into the old town, walking through the medieval and Baroque buildings with their mullioned windows (XIII century) before reaching the monastery of St. Anne and the churches of Carmine, San Siminio and San Nicola and a 16th century portico on the Via G. Bruno.
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, the 'rafioli', perhaps accompanied by a sip of 'Greek white wine' from Gerace.
Travel past Roccella and Locri to reach Cape Spartivento, set in shady woods, to acquire some local products such as oil from Calabria (reputedly one of the best oils), the home-made bread, the delicious local cheese or the sausages produced by very small farms.
Gerace was originally developed by inhabitants from Locri in the tenth century. 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.
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. Together they form a tourist destination of considerable historical and cultural importance.