Melito Porto Salvo
Melito Porto Salvo has experienced a rapid growth in population over the past twenty years due, in particular, to the fact that many people from the hinterland have moved down to the coast.
During the Byzantine period, it was far less significant. Back then, it was seen as a satellite settlement of the more important Pentedattilo, its outlet to the sea.
Melito (in ancient times “Melìto”) owes its name to the local river, potamòs tu Melìtu, in Greek, wadi al asal in Arabic, both meaning River of Honey and clearly referring to the abundance of honey produced in the area.
The second part of the place name, Port Salvo [lit. Safe Haven], refers, on the other hand, to the local people’s devotion to the Madonna di Porto Salvo, a maritime cult practiced, strangely enough, in an inland rural context.
Within the context of the national history of Italy, Melito Porto Salvo is remembered for two Garibaldian landings: one on the 19th of August 1860, when the victorious Garibaldi went to meet the King Victor Emanuel II, and on the 25th of August 1862, when he clashed with the Piedmontese whom he had backed for two years.
Casa Ramirez, a nineteenth-century palazzo overlooking the SS106 state highway, still bears the signs of a bombardment that occurred as the Hero of the Two Worlds [Garibaldi] slept on the lower floor of the building, today a restaurant. The reference to Porto Salvo recalls the Virgin honoured most by the seafarers and the fisherfolk who were the first to inhabit the shores when these were still threatened by the Turks.
The name derives from potamos tou Melitos, that is the river of honey and refers to the nearby sanctuary of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo, so called because it provided a safe haven for seafaring vessels.
TOWNLANDS AND LOCALITIES
Annà, Armà, Caredìa, Concessa, Lacco, Lembo, Marina, Musa, Musupuniti, Paese Vecchio, Pallica, Pentedattilo, Pilati, Porto Salvo, Prunella, San Leonardo, Sbarre.
Melito di Porto Salvo, with its population of about 12, 000 is the largest town in the Graecanic Area and stands on the southernmost tip of Calabria, at the mouth of the Melito River.
This is a seaside and agricultural town surrounded by vast citrus plantations. It was inhabited back in Romans times, but the Byzantines introduced and started cultivating bergamot here in the fifteenth century. It was the inhabitants of Pentedattilo who first founded the town which now spreads, sloping gently downwards from its hilltop historic centre, towards the Ionian Sea, where its more recent buildings stretch for about four kilometres along the coast.
According to some of the local historians, Melito was certainly inhabited in late Roman times, even if proof of this is provided only by the discovery, in the older part of the town (near the Calvario hill), of a fifth-sixth-century AD necropolis. It is supposed, furthermore, that in the late Roman period, the place was used by travellers between Reggio Calabria and Locri to change horses and rest.
According to an ancient legend, a painting of the Madonna, found on the beach, at the time of the Saracen incursions, travelled across the sea to protect the locality and its inhabitants from the Turks. On the spot where the picture was found the inhabitants built a sanctuary, which still houses the image. The construction was sponsored by Don Domenico Alberti, Marquis of Pentedattilo, lord of the Melito fiefdom. Later on, the Albertis encouraged their dependents to move from Pentedattilo down onto the more productive plain, thus giving rise to the town, which soon flourished and grew.
During the second half of the nineteenth century all Pentedattilo’s municipal and religious institutions were transferred down to Melito.
GARIBALDI AND HIS “THOUSAND”
Melito inscribed its name in the annals of the history of the Unification of Italy by welcoming Giuseppe Garibaldi and his brave “Thousand” volunteers, who, en route from Sicily, landed on the 19th of August 1860 on the beach at Rumbolo, a few hundred yards from the Porto Salvo Sanctuary. Garibaldi landed at Melito di Porto Salvo again on the 25th of August 1862, when he arrived in Calabria with his Redshirts during a military operation, aimed at freeing Rome and chasing Pope Pius IX from the city.
EXPLORING THE TOWN
Melito Porto Salvo is a seaside resort that has earned “two sails” [like “stars” for chefs in the Michelin Guide] for itself in the Guida Blu [Blue Guide] published by the Italian Environmental Association, Legambiente, and is also a member of the Comunità Montana Versante Jonico Meridionale Capo Sud, an association that promotes the towns and villages of the Graecanic Area.
The town is reached by travelling down a long road called Via Lembo [lit. Hem Road] nicknamed “Lembo d’Italia” [the Hem of Italy] because it skirts the end of the Italian peninsula. En route one comes across the spring of “l’acqua buona” [the good water], which once flowed directly from the mountains, before arriving at the town itself which is divided into two parts, Melito Alta and Melito Bassa [Upper and Lower Melito]. In the upper part we find houses standing on rather steep tarmac-covered hillocks, while, further downhill stand the village’s laboratories and shops.
Melito’s lungomare [promenade] facing the Ionian Sea, has Sicily, especially, the Mount Etna volcano, as its backdrop and, on particularly clear evenings, the view is astounding.
It is worthwhile visiting the Museo Garibaldino on the Melito Porto Salvo seafront on the exact spot where Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Thousand “Redshirts” landed way back in 1860 and 1862. The museum is divided into three parts: the outdoor section [containing the new Garibaldian stele erected here to replace the older one which has been dismantled]; the underground area which contains tombs of some of Garibaldi’s allies; and the museum proper where it is possible to view some of the weapons used, clothes belonging to Garibaldi, as well as documents and other items concerning the Thousand and the celebrated landing.
On Lungomare dei Mille [ the Seafront of the Thousand] stands the santuario dedicato alla Madonna di Porto Salvo built in 1680 at the behest of the Marquis Domenico Alberti di Pentedattilo, on the remains of an older building which, in the fourteenth century, was known as Portus Veneris [the Port of Venus]. At the centre of the main altar, we can see an imposing painting on canvas of la Madonna di Porto Salvo, portrayed as she saves a sailing ship at the mercy of the waves. Painted at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Antonio Cilea, it returns annually in procession to Pentedattilo, to reinforce the bond between Melito and the inland hamlet standing on its hand-shaped outcrop [in Greek Pentedattilo literally means Five Fingers]. The procession, held on the last Saturday of April, is the religious celebration the 12,000 inhabitants of Melito di Porto Salvo feel most keenly. This seaside town is the Graecanic Area’s most populous, because of the 1952 floods which caused the residents of the Graecanic hinterland to move down to the coast.
On arriving here, a detail that strikes visitors particularly is the unmistakable scent of bergamot, a citrus fruit that has made this town the plant’s most important production area as far back as the fifteenth century.
The bergamot is a citrus fruit classified as belonging to the Citrus Bergamia Risso species, of the Rutaceae family, the Mesperidee subfamily, the Citrus genus. The fruit is spherical in shape and each weighs an average of 200 grams; when ripe, its skin is yellow; it blooms from November to March. In Calabria it has found a perfectly suitable habitat: a narrow strip of land, a little over one hundred kilometers long, stretching from the inner slopes of the Aspromonte to the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, in the province of Reggio Calabria.
The cultivation of this fruit and the marketing of its essence, for the past fifty years, a rare example of agricultural entrepreneurship, have won Calabria an important place on the international market.
THE ORIGIN OF “GREEN GOLD”
The origins of bergamot are uncertain. Many claim that it is the outcome of the mutation of another species. The most plausible etymological explanation of its name seems to be the Turkish Berg-armudi, meaning “the lord’s pear tree”, due to the fruit’s pear-like shape.
The fruit and its essential oil are indispensable to the cosmetics industry; the essence is also used in pharmaceuticals because of its amazing disinfectant and antibacterial qualities. Furthermore, the essence is also availed of in the production of food, drinks and confectionary: liqueurs, tea, sweets and candies.
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