The Valley of the Great Rocks - La Valle delle Grandi Pietre - Aspromonte
The Town of San Luca is located about 22 km from the city of Reggio di Calabria and 86 km from the Lamezia Airport.
It lies on the eastern slopes of the Aspromonte mountain, in the valley of the Bonamico river and like many other mountain towns was for a long time pretty much isolated; there was no road to the coast and the only way to get there was on foot.
Historians suggest that San Luca may have been founded by the survivors of an ancient Greek village known as Pietracucca , probably in the area of Pietra Cappa (below). The town was destroyed by the Saracens in 952.
Many of the inhabitants were enslaved and deported to Africa. Others, who escaped the massacre took the path of the mountains and settled at the foot of Stone Castle, an imposing mass of rocks transformed by the Byzantines in a practically impregnable fortress.
The new village was called Potamia and lasted for centuries in the shelter of the castle, sharing the feudal vicissitudes of the whole territory.
The area is today known as the Valley of the Great Rocks (Valle delle Grandi Pietre) and comprises Pietra Cappa, San Peter's rock, the Round, Drione and Long rocks.
It was not until 1590 that the people from Potamia, once again , were forced to abandon the land of their forefathers, due to a tremendous flood, followed by massive landslides which destroyed the town.
On October 18, 1592, day of San Luca the Evangelist, in a symbolic gesture, a solemn procession made up by the surviving inhabitants, left the destroyed old church of Potamia heading to the chosen site where the new town was to be born.
The given name was to honor the saint of the day who is also its patron saint...San Luca (The celebration honoring the saint, take place on takes place on the 18th of October).
The big floods of December 1972 threatened the
most beautiful area of the old town up in the hill and caused yet another dramatic mass exodus to the lower areas.
What to see and do in San Luca.
House of Corrado Alvaro - The house retains the original furnishings and the books of the writer. The bedroom has been reconstructed to the smallest detail and now presents itself as he had left it.
Also of some interests are the ruins of the medieval castle and those of the monasteries of St. Stephen, St. Constantine, St. George and St. John. Nearby San Luca, you can visit the ruins of the Norman abbey of St. Nicholas of Butramo.
The main attraction however is exerted by the Sanctuary of Polsi , well-known center of Marian devotion, a pilgrimage site for thousands of faithful, coming especially from Calabria and Sicily.
The origins of the cult go back to well before the Medieval era, findings of "pinakes" (The Pinakes was a bibliographic work considered to be the first library catalog), votive clay artifacts manufactured in pre-Roman times by settlers from the nearby Hellenic colony of Locri, indicate the existence of a female fertility cult associated with Persephone.
It is from this ancient ritual place that the tentacles of the "Ndrangheta" the Mafia-type criminal organization, reaches out to the outside world. It is up here, in the Aspromonte (Harsh Mountain), where decisions that matter are made.
The Sanctuary, also known as our Lady of the Mountain or the Sanctuary of the "bosses", was founded by Roger (Ruggero) II of Sicily in 1144.
Originally, the lonely and almost inaccessible refuge was the hermitage of Byzantine monks, or monks from nearby Sicily fledging persecution from the Arabs in the 9th century. Then the site was abandoned perhaps due to the extreme discomfort and harsh winter.
Legend has it that in the eleventh century, in the place where now stands the church, a Shepard found a strange iron cross miraculously unearthed by a bull.
The Cross is still preserved in the shrine.
This "miraculous" discovery can be traced back to the origin of the monastery that was, for several centuries, under the care of the monks of St. Basil the Great, practicing the Greek rite .
This was the most spiritually rich and intense period of the monastery.
The church and monastery are situated in a spectacular setting at the bottom of a gorge at an altitude of 865 meters surrounded by high mountains on the east side of the Montalto (1955 meters) the highest peak of the Aspromonte.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi lies at about 13 km from San Luca.
Although religious rites have recently undergone a processes of transformation, in the south of Italy, many expressions of popular Catholicism have resisted the wear and tear of time.
Pilgrimage to the Madonna of Polsi has ancient origins and is still very important. Beside being a religious event it is also cultural event for local music and dance.
The sanctuary is difficult to reach and until some years ago it could only be reached by foot and before the road was constructed pilgrims from all around would walk for hours and even days.
During the pilgrimage they would dance along stretches of the road. Women in particular might make the vow to dance along the route if they wanted to ask for a favor or to give thanks.
According to the Calabrese writer Corrado Alvaro in his book ‘Calabria’ in 1931:
“Girls thus dance along the entire route, and will be dancing night and day for the hours that they have specified in their vow, until they will collapse on the ground or need to lean on a wall while their feet are still moving.”
The whole event is accompanied by wild performances of the tarantella, a local dance, which represent an ancient and universal way of honoring the divine being.
Therefore pilgrims, young and old, go to Polsi to pray, thank, ask for graces, but also to feel free, live the illusion, be together, dance and sing. Worshipers come from June to November, but the numbers increase between the end of August and September.
The festival had nothing of the sadness of others where the sick and deformed met in search of pity and help, wrote Alvaro. It was more a great religious bacchanal, a Dionysian feast, to which people flocked as to a giant picnic in the mountains, ate, perhaps prayed a little and danced, according to Francesco Perri in his book ‘Enough of Dreams’ from 1929.“
Caravans came down from every point in the valley. The people sang and uttered short, loud cries of ‘Viva Maria’ and continually fired their guns.
Among the crowds around the sanctuary and in the nearby wood the shooting was incessant …. And over all that multiple discordant din that boomed like the surf of the sea, rose a mingled music of pipes, harmonicas, violins, guitars and Basque tambourines.
Inside the sanctuary the song of the elderly women in veneration to Our Lady breaks the repeated sound of the non stopping tarantella; people sleep on the ground piled up in the corners, someone eat, someone despairs or cheers up, someone kneels and proceeds towards Our Lady crossing themselves and kissing the Virgin.
Outside, 'a rota' (dancing circle), keeps on turning and the megaphone of the sanctuary tries to challenge that sound in the total unconcern of musicians and dancers who never stop.
Even unbelievers who come to Polsi feel as if they have set out beyond a “new frontier”...it is a duel between the sacred and profane, it is a beautiful madness.
The contemporary festival has sadly changed, the long walk has almost disappeared ...and nobody dances on the way there...
People now drive to the sanctuary, and the journey is accompanied by the sound of religious chants played by portable amplifiers.
San Luca is the birthplace of Corrado Alvaro (San Luca 15 April 1895 - Rome 11 June 1956) a journalist and writer of novels, short stories, screenplays and plays.
In 1925, he supported the Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals written by the philosopher Benedetto Croce.
He was one of the first authors to mention the 'Ndrangheta – the mafia-style criminal association in his native Calabria – in several short stories and in an article published in the Corriere della Sera in 1955
In the valley of Great Rocks
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