Borgo di Amendolea
Amendolea (Amiddalia in Calabrian Greek meaning almond grove) is one of the hamlets belonging to the municipality of Condofuri situated in the very heart of the Graecanic Area.
At about 5 kilometres from the coast, it stands in what is known as La Vallata dell’Amendolea [The Valley of the Amandolea] through which the majestic river by the same name flows.
The river springs amid the gorges and ravines of the Aspromonte mountain range, and swells as it rushes down the mountain slopes. It leaps over the steepest rocks and produces an extraordinary choreographic series of waterfalls of which the most impressive is the Maesano, as well as tarns, here called “gurnali“, of which the Olinda, in the neighbourhood of Santa Triada di Roccaforte del Greco, is the most outstanding. Halfway along its descending course it is joined by its tributary, the Colella, and it is at this point that it is at its widest, in places measuring as much as 500 metres.
Having flowed through Roccaforte del Greco, Roghudi and Condofuri, it joins the sea at Condofuri Marina. Besides the Colella, it is also joined en route by the Menta –its principal tributary, on which an important dam has been built – the Furria and the Condofuri rivers.
Amendolea derives from the Greek Amigdala (almond).
Situated “halfway between heaven and earth”, Amendolea, a hamlet belonging to the municipality of Condofuri, is one of the entire region’s most fascinating sites. The hamlet stands at the top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the river by the same name, at the point where the river meets the Condofuri stream to form the Rocca del Lupo [wolf’s fortress] peninsula.
The first known documentary reference to the hamlet features a dispute that broke out in 1099 over the separation of the fiefdoms of Amendolea and Bova, both of which had been conquered thirty years earlier by two brothers, Framundo and Riccardo di Losdo, companions of Roberto and Ruggero d’Altavilla. Following the death of Framundo, Riccardo became the administrator of his brother’s property, but when the time came, he was unwilling to return the Bova fiefdom to his nephew Gugliemo, who, to claim his inheritance, appealed successfully to the Sovereign. Therefore, Amendolea remained the property of Riccardo, who was obliged to content himself with a smaller estate. At this time, the keep on the north side of the rocky outcrop was built; the tower received light from two large archer-slit windows, one of which was walled up in the mid twelfth century during the building of the new donjon. The tower on the opposite side and the large palacium castri date from the twelfth and mid-thirteenth centuries. We know that during the twelfth century Agnese di Couternay, a member of one of the most influential Norman families of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, lived here. Her grandson, Guglielmo Amendolea, who clashed with Frederick II, had his property confiscated. It was restored to the family by Charles of Anjou as late as 1268. The prestige of the family is well documented in the year 1326, when Giovanni Amendolea, husband of a scion of the house of Ruffo, is reported as being in Florence as part of the entourage of Charles, Duke of Calabria. With the advent of the Aragonese dynasty the castle passed from the De Balzos to the Toraldos. It changed hands again in 1459, when Ferrante of Aragon punished Antonello Amendolea for having embraced the Angevin cause and donated his possessions to Berengar de Maldà Cadorna. In Naples during this period, Antonello Amendolea’s son, Coletta, was famous as a vernacular poet at the court of Alfonso of Aragon, known for his ballads, jokes and strambotti, where the memory of his native valley emerges from his invective, the popularesque vibrancy of his verse and his appealing, reckless impudent way of expressing himself. The poet never regained his Calabrian castle , however; and in 1495 it became the property of Bernardino Abenavoli del Franco and later that of the Martirano family (1528-32), first, the Mendozas (1532-1597) later, and finally of the Ruffo di Bagnara (1624) house, who kept it until to 1794, when it ceased to be their residential seat.
EXPLORING THE HISTORIC CENTRE
The very recent church of the Annunziata, which features scenes from the Life of Mary painted recently by expert iconographers, houses a small Virgin and Child in white marble, a personal adaptation of Michelangelo’s Pietà, by an artist close to Giovanni Aneglo Montorsoli, sculpted for the church of S. Maria della Gurda and commissioned by the Bishop of Bova, John Camerota (1592-1620). The ciborium on the left wall of the church, brought here from the cathedral and a popular interpretation of Renaissance models, was made in 1504 when Gagini sculpted the Bagaladi Annunziata. The wooden sculpture of St. Sebastian, dating from a later period, is the work of local artists when the church was built and dedicated to the saint, having been commissioned by the Bishop of Bova, Bernardino Aragon (1646-1669).
A visit to the ancient hamlet and castle of Amendolea is a must.
The fortress includes an earlier chapel-tower built during Norman times, while, on the second floor there is an apsidal church oriented according to the Byzantine tradition, with a southward-facing entrance and side pews in masonry. These, together with a small cistern, are the oldest parts of the building.
A second, far larger cistern dates from some time between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The surrounding walls and the second tower, which houses the extremely refined Palatine chapel, date from this period.
The castle was remodelled in later times, and elegant details were added to the keep, including the large fireplace built sometime in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The earthquake of 1783, which created a significant landslide, undermined the castle to such an extent that it was abandoned.
After a steep climb up the slope leading from the village below one reaches the square of the ancient hamlet where it is possible to admire the ruins of the apse of the Church of St. Catherine right outside a cemetery with no crosses. Further on, on the opposite side of the road, stands the church of San Sebastiano, with its pointed bell-tower, typical of the late-Baroque style frequently found in this area. A mere hundred metres away, on the left of the country road to Bova, a smaller dirt road on the left leads to the church of St. Nicholas, where in the Prothesis and Diaconon one can admire the silhouettes of two saints, painted at the time of Giotto in pure Byzantine style. The origins of the castrum, probably built in the Byzantine period, are unknown.
At the southernmost end of the hamlet, now featuring the ruins of private dwellings, we find the Church of the Annunziata, facing east as was the Byzantine liturgical tradition.