The Aspromonte National Park includes part of the mountain range in the far south of the peninsula and derives its name from the Greek word aspros (white). People already began to populate this area in the Lower Palaeolithic period and occupation can be documented throughout the Neolithic and Enolithic periods and the Bronze Age.
The Iron Age recorded a considerable increase in the settlements, usually located high on the plateaus overlooking the coastal strips. Some of them were of a considerable size, judging by the number and type of remains found in the necropoli.
During the 8th century BC, Calabria was involved in a flow of migrants from various regions in Greece. Two famous poleis were founded in the area immediately next to the Park: Reggio and Locri Epizefiri. Reggio was built between 720 and 715 BC on the Calabrian coast of the Strait of Messina by Calcidese colonies. Following the indications given by the Oracle of Delphi the colonies settled in a site called Pallantion, northeast of the River Apsias, between the sea and the mountain range. Reggio soon became one of the most important towns in Magna Graecia and achieved considerable political and economic importance in the 5th century BC.
Locri was founded between the end of the 8th century BC and the beginning of the 7th century BC by a nucleus of colonists from the area of Locris, a region in ancient Greece. The town grew rapidly in political and economic importance and experienced long periods of splendour, especially during the Archaic period, thanks to its alliances with Reggio and Siracusa. During the 2nd Punic War, it sided with Hannibal and, in 205 BC, it was conquered by the Romans. Although it became a Municipium (89 BC), it experienced a long period of decline, marked by a gradual depopulation. The difficult environmental conditions – the coastal areas were highly malarial – and the frequent Arabic raids made the last inhabitants completely abandon the town and move inland between the 7th and 8th century BC.
The entire area of Aspromonte was placed under Roman rule at the end of the Punic wars and became highly romanised, particularly after direct roads were built during the second half of the 2nd century BC.
With the advent of Byzantine rule, this region, named Brutia, became a thema, a province of the Eastern Empire. The entire area experienced a period of relative tranquillity and economic stability, characterised by the diffusion of small agricultural properties and new crops, such as the mulberry, which allowed it to increase trading with Muslim Sicily. At this time, numerous monasteries were built and Aspromonte and its caves became the refuge for many hermits.
After being given a feudal structure under Swabian rule, Calabria was divided during the 12th century into two giustizierati or districts: that of Val di Crati to the north and that of Calabria to the south. The boundary between the two sub-divisions ran to south of the Sila and divided the areas in which people spoke mainly Latin dialects (Bruzia province), from those where they spoke mainly Hellenised dialects (Byzantine province).
The Aragonese on their arrival (1442) roughly maintained the previous division. They contrasted Calabria Citeriore or Citra, today’s Cosentino, with Calabria beyond the River Neto, which was further divided into I and II, the first with the main town of Reggio, the other with the main town of Catanzaro.
The reorganisation carried out by the Bourbons in 1816 maintained the old Aragonese tri-partition, which was then carried over to the order of the new Italian state (1860).
The Park territory is characterised by a stratification of very old and very complex historic and cultural signs, not all of which are as yet fully known or clearly understood.
One of the main signs of identification is the existence of the so-called “Grecanic Area”, a district which spoke the Grecanic language or Grico dialect. This was a dialect that evolved differently from Modern Greek and its origin is still debateable: some scholars believe it is linked to repopulations in Byzantine times, others say it is connected directly to Magna Graecia.
The bond with the natural landscape and anthropic occupation is very evident here. In fact, the morphology of the area has determined the model of settlement, which can still be clearly seen.
The settlements were organised diagonally along the valleys cut by the rivers, especially in the spectacular cutting of the River Amendolea, which acted not only as a link between the coast and the hinterland, but also as a means of separating the towns rising on opposite slopes.
Due to their geographic isolation in inaccessible places, the towns in the Grecanic area have maintained a rich, historic, architectural and cultural heritage which, although it is not considered very highly, is still very impressive,
The main town is Bova, one of the most beautiful Villages in Italy, which stands on a site showing signs of occupation from prehistoric times. Recent archaeological investigations have highlighted a continual occupation of the area by ancient peoples, linked to an economy based on agriculture and sheep farming. The town is dominated by the ruins of a Norman Castle, dating back to the 10th-11th century, standing on a rocky spur. In addition to this building, it also has noble residences from the early 18th century, such as Palazzo Nesci and Palazzo Mesiano.
Other elements of extreme historic interest are to be found in the Locri area. Due to the looting by the Saracen pirates during the Middle Ages, the coastal area has preserved very little of the immense architectural and artistic heritage of its great splendour under Greek colonisation. These traces have been kept inland in the river plains and in the foothills. Symbol of the cultural importance is the little town of Gerace, which represents one of the towns of greatest architectural and artistic merit in all Calabria.
Some suggestions have been made that it was founded by the people of Locri, who were forced to abandon their homeland to flee from the Saracen peril during the 9th century. Recent archaeological excavations have brought to light tombs from the Bronze Age, which would appear to show the area was already occupied in the pre-Hellenist period.
It was an important Byzantine and Norman town and despite its favourable position, it was subjected to frequent attacks by the Saracens, who repeatedly looted it. Nevertheless, it is still full of beautiful art, preserved mainly in its Cathedral, one of the most well-known Norman Byzantine buildings in Calabria. Of the ancient walls surrounding the historic town centre, today only some of the gates remain, such as those of Borghetto, Sole or Bombarde. In the higher part of the town stands the castle, which unfortunately is in ruins.
Another significant historic complex is that of the so-called Gioia Tauro Plain between the slopes of the mountain massif of the Serre and the north-western slope of Aspromonte. The towns within this area have all been completely rebuilt after the earthquakes of 1783 and 1908. Some of them have preserved the historic layout of the typical urban structure of mediaeval and eighteenth century villages.
The town of greatest interest is San Giorgio Morgeto, founded according to tradition by the Oenotrians (2350 BC), although we have no archaeological evidence of this. Today, it is one of the most interesting historic villages in Calabria: narrow winding alleyways lead to the upper part of the village, where the ruins of the mediaeval castle stand. The town centre has some interesting buildings: of particular importance is the convent complex of the Dominican fathers, founded in 1393. The building has an impressive porticoed cloister and stands on an imposing architectural floor plan. To the right stands the monumental church of San Domenico, which houses some valuable, 18th century, wooden statues.