Castello di Ruffo di Scilla (also known Ruffo di Calabria castle) is an ancient fortification, originally built during the 5th century BC, and located on the Scillèo promontory, looking out over the Strait of Messina. The castle is in the town of Scilla, about 20 km north of Reggio Calabria. The castle also houses one of the Navy lighthouses, the Scilla lighthouse.
Mythology tells us that Scilla was a beautiful young girl, daughter of Niso, who was King of Megara. She was loved by the marine god Glauco, and transformed by a wizard named Circe into a monster with six heads of ferocious dogs who devoured sailors passing through the Strait of Messina. Due to the unpredictably strong currents, the Strait of Messina had always been feared by ancient mariners.
It is said that Tyrrhenian pirates were first to settle this coastal area in 493 BC, but others claim it was already settled during the time of the Trojan Wars in the 12th century BC.
Built by the Dukes of Calabria, the Castello di Ruffo costs a mere €1.50 to tour, overlooking the Marina di Scilla and its wonderful pebble beach. The beach-front in summer is frequented by tourists and surrounded by hotels and restaurants. Because of its location in the Straight of Messina, the waters are typically very warm. As such, the fishing in these waters are world renowned for catching Pesce Spada, or swordfish and the Castello contains many exhibits about what it takes to catch this elusive great fish.
When I Voyaged throughout Puglia, it became obvious that the Olive Tree is king here--and has been for thousands of years. There are more ancient olive trees here than anywhere else in Italy, many of which are hundreds of not thousands of years old. What is intriguing about these gnarly giants is their bizarre, fantastical shapes, often twisting and turning about themselves, even when the interior of the tree is gone, they continue to live. One can regard the resulting shapes as one does when finding animals and babies in passing clouds... but these shapes aren't going anywhere.
This particular olive tree was given the name L’Ulivo Pensieroso (the Pensive Olive Tree) by photographer Michele Grecucci. What is he thinking after living on this Earth for over 500 years? Is he forlorn about the loved ones and neighbors he has lost over the centuries? Does he miss the children who used to play at his feet? Is he worried about the future with blights, wars, drought or fire? Is he simply pondering, worried, concerned or trying to unravel a problem of the ages? Perhaps we'll never know...
The photo was captured near Ginosa, Puglia but in order to retain the olive grove owner's privacy--and to protect the tree from damage--Grecucci is keeping its precise location a secret.
This winter in my Bucks County Pennsylvania home, we've had less than normal snow, and they've all been little annoyance snowfalls... half inch here, two inches there, a dusting, a coating of slick "black ice". I think my son Lucas has only enjoyed two leisurely "snow days" so far, the last for a very wet and slippery 4" of wet snow. A couple of years ago we had over 6 feet of snow over the winter--one event dropped 28 inches in one day. That's the sort of snow that stops everything for a few days until we plow and shovel out.
But in Italy, at least in the more central and southern parts, snow is more rare. Sure, in the mountains they get snow, but in Rome, not so much. So when it snowed on Rome this past Monday, Romans were both delighted and crippled. Snowball fights erupted, cyclists slipped and slid their way to work and police were called to many fender-benders.
They are simply not used to the white slippery stuff. In fact, the government announced they were going to call the army in to clear the snow away... all 2-4 inches of it. Hell, I love when the snowfall here is more than two inches because I can use my snow-blower rather than have to shovel it by hand. Our local road crews spread a salt slurry on the roads before storms and have the roads cleared before breakfast.
Someone give this man a proper snow shovel!
But when the snow hit Rome, it suddenly fell silent. Few cars were on the streets that usually host a melee of honking horns, "bee-doo, bee-doo" sirens, scooters, cursing and Grand Prix wannabees. People stayed home... perhaps to simply enjoy throwing snowballs or making a pupazzo di neve (snowman). Enjoy it while it lasts... Rome will heat up soon enough. Trust me.
The presepio, derived from the Latin word presepium, meaning manger, has been the defacto symbol of Christmas for Italian families for dozens of generations, and in the South, perhaps as long as a thousand years. Of course, most Italians also have a modern Christmas tree, but the presepio in its simplest form is a tradition of devotion representing the birth of the baby Jesus. These nativity scenes typically consist of a structure to represent the simple barn where Joseph and Mary were forced to give birth to the Son of God. An ox, donkey, angels and perhaps the three Wise Men are typically represented.
But the presepio is often much, much more, showing village scenes from every day life. Its components are mostly handmade from a variety of materials: wood, ceramic, cartapesta (Papier-mâché), terracotta and fabrics. Some scenes include small waterfalls or fountains, houses, buildings, mountains, trees, grottoes, livestock and vendors of all sorts. The details can be absolutely astounding.
There are some characters and elements that many deem essential to the tradition:
Benino or Benito: In the Holy Scriptures this character represents the “sleeping people to whom the angels announce the coming of the Christ”. Originally represented by a sleeping shepherd, but can be any sleeping man.
Benino, the shepherd often sleeps among 12 sheep, to stand for the 12 apostles or the twelve months of the year.
Another figure is the Shepherd of Wonder, shown on his knees, with open arms in front of the Nativity. He is a symbol of admiration and childish amazement, free of sin, in the face of the miracle of birth and regeneration.
The wine cellar and Cicci Bacco: the wine represents the blood of Christ, given to the people for their salvation, while Cicci Bacco is a representation of pagan divinities.
The fisherman: Fish is the first symbol of the christians persecuted during the Roman empire. The character is a “fisherman of souls”.
The Hunter, Both the fisherman and Hunter represent the two activities of human survival and the opposing Death and Life.
The two comrades: Uncle Vincenzo and Uncle Pasquale represent Fat Tuesday and the Death, the two moments that open and close the period of commemoration of the death of Jesus before Easter time.
The Three Wise Men: originally represented on the back of three different animals, the horse, the dromedary and the elephant, they symbolize Asia, Africa, and Europe, that find Baby Jesus after a long journey and honor him.
Three female figures: 1) the Young Gypsy Woman with tattered clothes is able to predict the future. She is a sign of misfortune and pain yet to befall Jesus. 2) Stefania is a young virgin who was blocked by angels forbidding unmarried women to visit Our Lady. Stefania swaddled a stone pretending it was her baby and after Jesus' birth, the stone sneezed and became a child--Saint Stephen, whose birthday is celebrated on December 26th. 3) La Lavandaia represents the midwives who discovered after washing the Child, spread out the clothes of childbirth, white because of virginal birth.
In the Neapolitan presepio are found the Card Players "duie cumpare, zi' Vicienzo and zi 'Pascale", "The two cronies" are also nicknamed "the San Giovanni", with reference to the two solstices of December 24 and June 24.
The Monk is often set in a desecrating manner, representing the irony between the sacred and the profane.
The Harlot is a symbol of the carnal, as opposed to the purity of the Virgin. She is placed near the tavern, opposite to the Nativity.
The months of the year are represented as follows: Januarybutcher or grocer; Februaryseller of ricotta and cheese; Marchpoultry man and bird seller; Aprilegg seller; Mayrepresented by a married couple carrying a basket of cherries and fruit; Junebaker or miller; Julytomato seller; Augustseller of watermelons; Septemberseller of figs; Octobervintner or hunter; Novemberchestnut seller; Decemberfishmonger or fisherman