Gerace is about 10 km east inland and 479 metres above sea level. The town affords a captivating view of the surrounding mountaintops and of the valleys that lead down to the sea. This charming harmonious town, relatively undiscovered by the general tourist, stands amidst some rugged and colourful countryside.
Legend has it that the town was founded by Locri inhabitants to serve as a stronghold against pirate attacks which regularly destroyed the coastal towns. Their leader, Sparviero (Jerax), still features in the town’s coat of arms.
Folklore aside, archaeological traces have been found of buildings from the period preceding Greek civilization, which has influenced the development and culture of this area for centuries. Many of the Greek philosophers and mathematicians actually came from Calabria (Pythagoras, for example, had his school in Crotone, about 150 km north of Gerace).
Nowadays the town has the same structure it had in the Middle Ages with no major changes. In the olden days it was surrounded by thick town walls and there was strictly only access to the town through the town gates.
The town was captured and ruled firstly by the Byzantines and then by the Normans. After this, it followed the same fate as the rest of southern Italy and was ruled by the current power of the time, which included the Swabians, the House of Aragon, the Franks, the Spanish and finally the Bourbons.
In Gerace, you can find one of the oldest and most important parishes in Calabria. There are therefore unique examples of religious buildings as the life of the town was strongly influenced by spiritual and other religious activities.
The town’s cathedral is amongst the most important buildings in Southern Italy. It towers above the town from every perspective. The cathedral was consecrated in 1045 and measures 76 metres in length and 26 metres in width.
The Saint Francis church and monastery were founded here at the beginning of the 13th century by Daniel, friend of Saint Francis of Assisi. The church is decorated with an impressive door in Norman/Arabic style and has recently been restored. There is a beautiful altar with Baroque-style colourings, made by the local Bonaventura Perna in 1664, and Ruffo’s tomb from the 14th century. There is unfortunately only limited access to the monastery and the medieval well.
You can also find other more ancient churches in this town built between the 12th and 18th centuries. Fine examples are the Byzantine churches of Saint Giovannello, Annunziatella and Santa Maria del Mastro from the 12th century.
The ruins from the magnificent fortress – the highest place in the town - are also definitely worth a visit.