Motta San Giovanni
Motta San Giovanni stands at 450 metres above sea level.
The term motta [motte] once indicated a fortress, inaccessible while providing a panoramic view of the surrounding area, built on the top of an outcrop. Despite this, the origins of Motta San Giovanni are rather obscure, although the settlement seems to have developed around the year 1500, possibly after the destruction of the S. Niceto fortress.
Like many other Graecanic villages it was destroyed by the 1908 earthquake and rebuilt further downhill.
Born as an annex to the San Niceto castrum [Roman fortification], Motta San Giovanni actually assimilated the castrum after its destruction in the fifteenth century.
In 1507, it became an independent fiefdom under the Aragona di Montalto family, before passing, later, into the hands of four Messinese patriarchal families: the Minutolos (1561), Marquetts (1565), Villadicanes (1576) and the Ioppolos, who, overwhelmed by debt, lost it. Put up for auction at at 46,000 Ducats, it was purchased by 1605 Carlo Ruffo di Bagnara who paid only 33,450 for it. In the seventeenth century the hamlet was still an enclave of the Greek clergy. Here, Nicola Stavriano, a relative of Bishop Giulio Stavriano, who, in 1572, abolished the Greek rite in Bova, resided here. As irony would have it, Nicola was the Greek-rite rector of Motta San Giovanni.
When, in 1682, the Ruffos di Bagnara were made princes by Philip IV, they took the title of Princes of Motta S. Giovanni, showing the esteem in which they held the place, which remained their fiefdom until feudalism in the Kingdom of Naples was abolished by the French, under Napoleon, in 1806.
Motta San Giovanni is renowned for its age-old production and crafting of pietra reggina [Reggio stone]. This sedimentary, calcareous stone is used a great deal in the building trade and extracted mostly from the quarries in the Sarto district of Motta San Giovanni and of Capo d’Armi, a limestone ridge which the Greeks called Leocupetra (white stone), near Lazzaro, a hamlet belonging to Motta San Giovanni. It grew up in the Eighteenth century on the outskirts of a landing place used in ancient Roman times. It was here that Cicero, a guest of Publius Valerius, landed in 44 BC. en route to Greece, as he fled from Marc Anthony.
EXPLORING THE TOWN
A visit to Motta S. Giovanni will necessarily include Castello S. Niceto, the original nucleus of which was built at the beginning of the eleventh century. It was recorded as a castrum in the Angevin registers of 1268 and, the following year, listed among the nineteen castles of the Regia Curia. A considerable amount of work was carried out on it under the Aragonese and, in 1459, it was annexed to Reggio. The irregular line of the surrounding ramparts encompasses a vast area containing many ruins which seem to have been the keep’s escarpment tower – built right next to the outer walls -, a central palace and a chapel. Of interest also are the remains of the inner walls containing barely protruding turrets and a gateway between two square towers. The “castle” proper is a High-Mediaeval fortification with irregular ramparts that follow the contours of the slope, interrupted in the vicinity of the keep by a crosswise wall that divides the fortified area into two sectors. Most of the wall’s circuit is quite well preserved, except for the part facing southward which has been destroyed by landslides. The techniques used to build the wall and the inner buildings vary considerably. The buildings are made mostly from chiselled stone and slabs, while the corners are full blocks.
Walking through the streets of the village one comes across the church of S. Giovanni Teologo [St. John the Theologian] containing a statue of the saint with his symbol, the eagle, at his feet. The base, bearing an Aragonese coat of arms, quartered by that of the Anjou, suggests that the statue was sculpted when Motta San Giovanni became an independent fiefdom, confirming Frangipane’s theory that places the statue around the fourth decade of the sixteenth century.
A little further on, we find the sacristy of the church of San Rocco containing a corpus of stone items from various local places of worship, belonging to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
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