Roccaforte del Greco
Called Vunì, that is, mount or mountain in Greek, Roccaforte del Greco, stands on top of a sheer-sided plateau from which one may obtain a 360° panoramic view of the entire Greek-speaking area. The village developed within the orbit of the monastery of the Santissima Trinità [Most Holy Trinity], the area’s innermost Byzantine outpost, near the summit of Atò, which, in Greek, means eagle peak. In the village church dedicated to San Rocco [Saint Roch], stands a statue of the Madonna and Child. The church was built after the Latinisation of the Bova Diocese when, with the spread of plague in 1577, devotion to the French Saint Roch replaced the older cult of Saint Sebastian, whom the Byzantines invoked against this great Mediaeval scourge. The church of the Spirito Santo [Holy Ghost] is majestic and imposing; it was built in neo-classical style in 1930, on the west side of the village, the area of the town rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake. Of the old hamlet, built on the remains of some prehistoric settlements, we are left with the ruins of small country houses and the defensive intent encapsulated in the town’s place name, as implied by the castle, which is situated at the very top of the hamlet. It cannot be discounted, however, that the town acted as a real fortress.
The first part of the name is a compound of the substantive rocca [fortress] and the adjective forte [strong], while the connotation del Greco [of the Greek], added in 1864, specifies the language spoken here at that time.
Until this definition was added by royal decree on the 8th of May 1864, the town was known simply Roccaforte. The inhabitants call it Vunì, which corresponds to the modern Greek Bouv’ (mount or hill).
TOWNLAND AND LOCALITIES
Chorio di Roccaforte, Cuvolo, Santa Trada.
The origins of Roccaforte del Greco go far back in time, certainly to the Magna Grecia period, when a group of settlers from Greece arrived here during the Doric period and founded the city.
There is no further information about Roccaforte until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when, with Gallicianò and Roghudi, it is mentioned by Barrio, Fiore and Marafioti.
It was a grange belonging to Amendolea, and therefore governed by that family until 1400. It later became a fiefdom of the Malda de Cardona, the Abenavoli del Franco, the Martirano, and De Mendoza families, and finally of the Ruffo di Bagnara dynasty, which held it until 1806.
Known in olden times as Vunì, it was called La Rocca [The Fortress] when it was a pagus belonging to Amendolea. Until the royal decree of 1864, which added del Greco to its name, the town was known simply Roccaforte.
Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, the present town’s territory belonged to the Bova domain. Roccaforte was an important site of Coenobitic settlements, including the Monastery of Agia Triada, [in Greek, the Holy Trinity], dated between 1300 and 1400, a place of worship until the Latin rite was imposed in the sixteenth century, and the Abbey of San Nicola [St. Nicholas], dating back to the early 1600’s.
Roccaforte was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783.
The town’s patron saint is San Rocco whose feast day is celebrated on the 16th of August, when the faithful carry an effigy of the saint from the church dedicated to him to the more magnificent Spirito Santo, built in 1930.
In the spring of 1873, the glottologist Giuseppe Morosi, during a quick excursion of Greek-Calabria, visited many of its towns and villages. In Roccaforte, he was welcomed by the mayor, Antonino Sgrò, and by the primary-school master, Giuseppe Cento, who facilitated his research into the origins of the neo-Greek colonies and language of the area. In his book, Dialetto romaico di Bova [The Romaic Dialect of Bova] he places the origins of Roccaforte between the ninth and mid-eleventh centuries AD, because, at that time, the Saracen incursions forced the inhabitants to take refuge “on the peaks of tall, inaccessible hilltops or at the very ends of remote valleys almost totally cut off from all human intercourse”.
From 1883 on, Ettore Capialbi and Luigi Bruzzano, scholars of Calabrian folk traditions, and both from Monteleone, (present-day Vibo Valentia) began to publish, in the cultural column, Avvenire Vibonese, “i racconti greci di Roccaforte” [Greek tales from Roccaforte] the outcome of research they carried out among the peasants of Roccaforte. They published as many as 43 short stories and 15 songs.
The German glottologist, Rolhfs, a professor at the University of Tübingen, who stayed at Roccaforte at various times between the 1920’s and 1960’s, held the contrary view, that the origins of Roccaforte went back to Magna-Grecian times.
In 1956, Italo Calvino published his “Le fiabe italiane raccolte dalla tradizione popolare durante gli ultimi cento anni e trascritte in lingua dai vari dialetti” [Tales from the Italian popular tradition, gathered over the past hundred years and transcribed from the various dialects into standard Italian]. Among these tales we find La vedova e il brigante [The Widow and the Brigand] and Il granchio dalle uova d’oro [The Crab of the Golden Eggs] Greek fables from Roccaforte originally published, in 1894 and 1897 respectively, by Prof. Luigi Bruzzano in the La Calabria magazine.
Giuseppe Rossi-Taibbi and Girolamo Caracausi, connoisseurs of southern-Italian linguistic issues, came to Roccaforte in 1958 where they were cordially welcomed by Mayor Alberto Sergi. In 1959, the two scholars published their Testi neogreci di Calabria [Neo-Greek texts of Calabria].
THE EXPLORING HISTORIC CENTRE
Perched on three rocky outcrops, the hamlet dominates the Amendolea valley. The old part of the town contains the Municipio [Town Hall], on the spot where, according to popular memory, the castle once stood against the rock face, ruined by landslide. The town is crowned by the rione Castello [Castle Ward], il rione Borgo [Hamlet Ward] and the rione San Carlo [Saint Charles’s Ward], the latter totally uninhabited.
The tiny houses and streets in stone are typical of the village. Walking through the old town, one can still see stretches of the wall that once surrounded it.
From several vantage points along the wall, it is possible to enjoy some wonderful views (on clear days one can even see Sicily and the tip of Mount Etna).
One must visit the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo [Church of the Holy Ghost], a building in neo-classical style, erected in 1930. On the façade with the gable, there is a series of pilasters decorated with composite capitals, resting on a high base. The rectangular portal contains a tympanum with lunettes, surmounted by a full-arched lancet window bearing a coat of arms. There are similar windows, surmounted by triangular tympana, below. The upper part of the lateral façades contain rectangular openings, while to the back of the church stands a bell-tower. The inside, with a single aisle, is decorated by a series of columns in red marble, with capitals. In the wall of the apse, where a crucifix hangs, there is a balustrade and three arched stained-glass windows.
For greater information regarding the history of Roccaforte del Greco, we suggest you visit http://www.roccafortedelgreco.net/
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