By Kim Jae-heun

In 1983, at Christie’s auction house in London, a painting was sold for a record $604,672 (660 million won). The piece was called “A Man in Korean Costume,” and its title was later changed to “Korean Man” at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The man in the picture is believed to be Antonio Corea, who is allegedly the very first Korean man to set foot on European soil in a small village called Albi in Calabria, Italy.

Today, there are total of 197 Italians living in the “Country of the Boot” with the surname Corea, and 108 among them reside in Calabria A regional myth says they are the descendants of an East Asian man who came to the region around 417 years ago. However, nobody knows for sure if the person in the drawing was Korean, or whether Calabria was really his first stop in Europe.

As much as the region is unknown to many Koreans, Calabria looked fresh and original to The Korea Times during its week-long trip. The area is already popular among neighboring European countries like Germany and France, whose people seek a quiet and peaceful vacation to enjoy healthy food, great wine and wonderful scenery.

Overview

Calabria is an Italian southern region in the middle of the Mediterranean. The long and narrow peninsula is surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. It only takes an hour by car on the narrowest highway in the country to travel from one shore to another The region is home to 2 million people and the land is made up of three mountain ranges (42 per cent), hills (49 per cent) and plains (9 percent). The unique environmental features of sea, mountain and forest are all on the southernmost tip of the Italian Boot. Man-made terraces at 1,995 meters up on Montalto of Aspromonte face down to the sea

The region has five provinces shy Cosenza, Catanzaro, Reggio Calabria, Crotone and Vibo Valentia Each boasts important archeological sites, a national museum and exclusive artisanal traditions that differ from those of other Italian provinces.

The mild Mediterranean climate provides enjoyable weather all year as the temperature only falls to eight degrees Celsius in winter while the average temperature is around 30 degrees in summer These perfect conditions attracted more than 8 million visitors in 2013. There are about 195,000 beds available for tourists.

History

Calabria has played an important role in history and is culturally diverse. Situated in the center of the Mediterranean basin, Calabria experienced several invasions from Greece, France and Spain.

The first Greek colonists arrived in the ninth century BC to take aantage of fertile land and to use Reggio province’s decent geographical position as a commercial exchange center Angevins conquered Calabria in 1264, followed by Aragonese and the Spanish.

Among all, the Calabrese have been much influenced by the Greeks and locals are proud to inherit this culture.

Tourism

Traveling from Asia to Calabria requires a transfer from Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport in Rome. There are three airports in Calabria but Lamezia International Airport is the door for foreigners.

During summer, from June to September, disco festivals are the place for youngsters. The Ibiza-style “open-air” parties take place at Copanello, which is on the Coast of Lonian Sea to Stilo. Blue 70 and Rebus are the best clubs in the area and can hold some 5,000 clubbers.

Interestingly, dance parties begin at midnight and continue until four to five in the morning before people gather to watch the sunrise. At 6 am, clubbers eat breakfast and go to bed.

It is recommended you take a taxi or shuttle bus to these events because long queues form at car parks.

Magna Graecia, a town meaning “Great Greek” in English, is on the road to Stilo. Greeks found the soil fertile and decided to settle there when they conquered the area around the year 1000. They also learned the land was perfect for wine production. Traces of Greece civilization continue to the province of Reggio Calabria

Stilo is one of the most picturesque villages in Italy and stands in the narrow valley of the Stilaro River In the middle of the mountain is Cattolica di Stilo, a Byzantine church where hermits and monks left their writings.

The sanctuary of Santa Maria di Monte Stella in Pazzano, Calabria, has a legend concerning the Madonna statue. The Madonna is said to have arrived at Monte Stella, or Star Hill in English, on the back of a dolphin. The marble statue’s finger points to Monte Stella, which reflects her wish to be there.

Down a steep flight of stairs is the cave where Basilian monks resided long ago. Crotone province is famous for its Aragonese castle Le Castella a Isola di Capo Rizzuto. Shallow waters surround the building as it stretches 200 meters from the coast.

The Riace bronzes are a source of pride for the Calabrese. The two full-size Greek statues were found in 1972 by scuba divers. They were kept in Reggio for a year for restoration and later sent to Florence for further work. The statues were returned to their home seven years later and are in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico in Reggio Calabria

Visitors have to pass through three gates to see the bronzes. Only 30 people are allowed in at a time.

Wine

The Greeks called Calabria “Land of Enotria,” meaning the land of wine. Calabria produces one of the best-quality wines in Italy. Seventy percent of the region is vineyard.

One interesting story is that the different wines reveal the owners’ characteristics. Sommeliers are said to be able to detect how much passion each winemaker puts into the wine.

In this sense, Calabrese winegrowers are eager to explain to visitors their history and offer tastings.

Often, white wines are kept in stainless steel tanks for a year or two, whereas oak barrels contain the red wines so they can develop a deeper taste.

SOURCE: The Korea Times