Catanzaro stands in the middle of the narrowest part of Italy, perched on hills in a beautiful panoramic position. Its origins date from the end of the 9th century, after the Byzantine reconquest of Calabria. A fortified centre, it took in the coastal populations fleeing from Saracen forays and malaria. In 1059 it was reconquered by Robert Guiscard and became a Norman county and major town in an extensive feudal domain.
During the middle ages it acquired fame for its silk, such that the masters of Catanzaro were called to France to instruct the weavers across the Alps. Charles V guaranteed numerous privileges to this art and in 1519 conceded the statues of the silk Guild to the town, preceding Florence by five years. The plague of 1668 decimated the population causing a crisis in this flourishing trade, which suffered a further blow with the disastrous earthquake of 1783.
Under Bourbon rule, Catanzaro became the capital and administrational centre of Calabria. Once over the Morandi viaduct (1960) on the Fiumarella – one of the longest single-span bridge in Europe-and other entangled concrete links, you enter the old centre.
Despite the numerous earthquakes that have destroyed most of the old buildings, the original medieval plan of the city is still clearly visible. Its main nucleus unwinds along Corso Mazzini, which starts immediately after Piazza Matteotti, recently redesigned radically changed its original traits.
At the beginning of the street, on the right, is the Church of San Giovanni, dating from the 16th century and repeatedly altered, with a fine 17th-century doorway and a double spiral staircase. A little further on, in a narrow street, is the small deconsecrated church of Sant’ Omobono (12th century.), the city’s oldest monument, (a few ruins of the Norman Castle have survived). Visit also the Provincial Museum, exhibiting prehistorical material of varied origin and archeological finds dating from several periods.