The remains of ancient Sybaris are situated in the Calabria region to the north of Rossano - hence at the top of the 'toe' of Italy. The locations of the excavations are easily accessible by car along the main road 106 - Ionica, which connects Reggio Calabria to Taranto.
The archaeological site of Sybaris is part of the town of 'Cassano Ionico', which itself has an interesting medieval atmosphere and natural and cultural attractions as worthy of attention as the ruins of Sybaris.
An overview of structures and artifacts of ancient Sybaris is possible thanks to excavations undertaken in the mid-20th century. The archaeological finds are quite exceptional and of great cultural interest.
The region of historic interest at Sybaris is divided into three key areas. First you will see some Roman ruins - in fact, the most ancient artefacts on the site have been destroyed by these buildings from the Roman period, which include a theatre, some shops and an important home of the first half of the 1st century A.D.
The ruins of the large Roman theatre and baths that date from the age of Trajan (53-117 A.D.) and which contain some well preserved floor mosaics are very beautiful and interesting.
The 'Parco del Cavallo' is the key site to visit at Sybaris because it is here that the layers of the ancient cities have been identified.
The oldest neighbourhoods of the city, founded in the 8th century B.C., were probably situated in the zone of Stombi. Several buildings have been brought to light here that are not at all luxurious and are made from materials taken from sources nearby such as river pebbles, bricks and wooden beams.
The more recent areas of Sybaris from when it was later rebuilt as Thurii (see history of Sybaris), which is closer to the sea, are found in the ruins of the Casa Bianca ('white house'). Diodorus Syculus tells us that the street names of ancient Thurii included Eraclea, Aphrodisias, Dionisia and Olympics.
Enthusiasts of this cultural area should note that many objects found in the excavations can now be seen in the Archaeological Museum. Of particular interest was the discovery of sacred furnishings from the Temple of Athena - as seen on the reverse of the coins, wearing a helmet.
The figure of the goddess Athena was very important in Sybaris but the patron saint of the city was actually Hera, whose cult was widespread in the Dorians communities - you can see an exceptional temple of Hera in Posidonia (Paestum), one time colony of Sybaris.
(Coin picture courtesy CNG coins)
A visit to Sybaris allows a pleasant exploration of Cassano Ionico, the medieval centre of which has artifacts of historical interest, such as the Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum, in which the collection of artifacts includes paintings and antique books.
Also not far away and easily visited are the Church and the convent of the Capuchin Friars and the Ducal castle.
Terranova da Sibari
The modern heir of the ancient towns of Sybaris, Thurii and Copia is the small town called “Terranova di Sibari". Terranova is of early Medieval origin with regard to the original core of the village, and as such it really developed in modern times, in the 15th century.
The core of the village is of early-Medieval origin, and it originally appeared as a castle on a hill. The castle was built by the Normans, and has the typical structure of the Norman castles, with a donjon. In fact, throughout the 11th century the Normans carried out an extensive program of fortification, starting a new defensive military architecture in the zone of the South of Italy, the so-called donjon. The castle existed as such until the mid-15th century, when the village of Terranova was built.
The imposing medieval castle of Norman origin is a true gem among the castles in Calabria. It was restored several times over the centuries, under the Swabians, the Angevins and the Aragonese, and it belonged to distinguished members of the local feudal system, such as the Sanseverino in the fifteenth century and the Spinelli Princes until 1806. The remains of the repeated renovations are still visible in the ruins of the central tower (donjon), in the ramparts and turrets.
The historical and artistic heritage of Terranova da Sibari continues with the church of St. Anthony of Padua, founded in 1542, with a single nave. In the interior it holds works of art of great prestige, where the Baroque splendour bursts forth in all its glory.
The church boasts some valuable works dating back to the 17th century, such as the altarpiece depicting the miracles of the saint, wooden sculptures and paintings dating back to the seventeenth century. In particular, we point out in the sacristy the "Madonna del Carmine", signed and dated work of the Riccio and their “Bottega”. The Riccio were local painters who expressed a prominent personality like Saverio Riccio, active between 1720 and 1740.
The Church of “Santa Maria delle Grazie” is also very important for its cultural and artistic value. The church, which houses a large series of frescoes with stories of the Virgin, was founded, according to the historical documentation of the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome, in 1612 at the behest of the noble family of the Berlingieri, closely linked to the cultural circles of the Friars Minor.
The depictions of the Virgin are linked with a strong sacred symbolism of traditional character, such as in the vault, which depicts Chastity , accompanied by some verses such as "ostendit nobis tuam integritatem" [You show us your integrity], sometimes symbolized by a palm tree with the verse " “cuius cacumen caelum tangebat” [whose top reached heaven], Prudence, "hortus conclusus" [=enclosed garden], etc..
Terranova da Sibari boasts other very old churches such as the church of San Francesco di Paola (1701) built by Prince Spinelli and linked to their religious and artistic patronage. The interior also features a painting of the "5 SS, Franceschi," by Salvatore Ferrari , belonging to the so-called “Solimenesca School”, characterized by a strong brilliance, which grew up in Naples and had clear links with the great Venetian painting of the eighteenth century.
We can not leave Terranova da Sibari without a mention of the natural landscapes in its hills, rich in citrus, along the river Crathis, on whose shores live animal species and plants of great beauty and that make Terranova da Sibari an attractive tourist destination for culture, art and nature lovers.
Why Terranova da Sibari is now an important site in cultural and historical terms?
Aside from the magnificent landscapes that surround it, and the ancient traditions that have continued through the centuries, Terranova da Sibari contains the National Sybaritic Archaeological Museum, in the place called “Casa Bianca.” Of great historical and archaeological interest, the Museum contains the remains of some of the most old important cities of Calabria, such as Sybaris, Thurii and Copia, as well as various prehistoric remains, which testify to the antiquity of these settlements.
The exhibits of the Museum of Terranova da Sibari tell us about the mysterious and elusive Sybaris, Thurii and Copia, which help us to better understand the importance of these ancient cities of Magna Graecia.
To visit near Sybaris and Cassano Ionico
Just outside Cassano Ionico, one interesting visit is to the so-called 'Caves of San Angelo', which was a refuge for men of the Neolithic period.
In the pleasant countryside around Sybaris it is possible to taste some wines from region. With the wines of Calabria, we are stepping back in history - the Romans claimed the wine of Cosenza in 'tribute' and Pliny the Elder, in addition to the wine of Cosenza, greatly admired the so-called Cirò wine. Also to enjoy are the famous Pollino, the red and white wines of Calabria and the Stragolia red.
Selected places to visit near Sybaris, Italy
See the Calabria guide for more travel ideas...