Scalea’s Hidden Treasure

June 13, 2008 / Local Interest
Named after the Italian word scale (steps or stairs), Scalea sits on a step terraced cliff packed right up against the Tyrrhenian Sea and is accessible only by, you guessed it, climbing stairs. As with much of southern Italy, throughout the ages this Calabrian town has been controlled by Normans, Arabs, Spanish, and Greeks, but possibly the most lasting impression was left by the Byzantines.

Buried in the heart of ancient Scalea is a once-forgotten token from its Byzantine past. A non-assuming facade of a nearly decimated building hides mosaic wonders that date back to the 3rd century B.C. A small sign indicates the importance of the find, but you will likely only discover a locked and gated door. If you want you can wait for someone to turn up, but much better to venture up the next set of stairs to where the family that has the keys lives and simply ask them for a “tour”.

Once the creaky gate opens and your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you will find a small room with a large oval cleft in the center, once used as a burial ground and still containing bones from ancient times. The once brilliant colors of the mosaics, now chipping away with time, are still evident as pieces of the luminous artwork remain. There are no ropes to protect the walls and no chains to restrict you. There are no barriers between you and this rich past. You could literally reach out and touch the mosaics if you wanted; the smiling blond-haired Scaleota girl who unlocked the door for you probably wouldn’t say a thing. There are very few riches in the world that can be seen in such a close and intimate setting, and one is in Scalea . . . not to be missed, stairs notwithstanding.

Cherrye Moore

by Cherrye Moore

Cherrye Moore is owner of My Bella Vita Travel, a boutique tour operator specializing in custom vacations and heritage tours in southern Italy. Join her in June or September for the Small Group Heritage Tour of Calabria – a unique small group tour that combines group travel with a private heritage tour, or in September for the Undiscovered Southern Calabria and Eastern Sicily Tour.


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