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WHAT TO SEE IN CALABRIA: The Archaeological Park of Locri Epizefiri

2021-02-13 14:32

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WHAT TO SEE IN CALABRIA: The Archaeological Park of Locri Epizefiri

The Archaeological Park of Locri Epizefiri Locri Epizefiri was a city of Magna Graecia, founded on the Ionian Sea in the 7th century BC.

The Archaeological Park of Locri Epizephyri

Locri Epizefiri was a city of Magna Graecia, founded on the Ionian Sea in the 7th century BC by Greeks from Locri (a central region of Greece).

Locri Epizefiri was the last of the Greek colonies founded in the territory of present-day Calabria.

The colonists, who arrived at the beginning of the 7th century B.C., initially settled near Zephyrion Acra (Capo Zefirio), today Capo Bruzzano, and only later on settled a few kilometres north of the historical city, keeping the name of Epizephyrioi, which means "around Zephyrio".

The ancient Locri was the birthplace of many figures who were known and appreciated by the men of their time even outside their homeland; suffice it to mention Zaleukus, the first western legislator, who decided that laws should be written so that they would no longer be subject to the arbitrary decisions of judges, or the philosopher Timaeus; not to mention Nossis, "the emula of Sappho", of whom few epigrams have survived, but whose undoubted greatness is revealed.
But Locri was also home to talented athletes, winners of the Olympic Games, such as Euthymus and Agesidamus, and many other personalities.



The history of Locri Epizephyrii covers a wide span of time: about 15 centuries of history, from the VIII-VII century B.C. to the VII-VIII century A.D., that is from the period of the landing of the first Greek colonists, until the abandonment of the coastal area caused by the spread of malaria and by the by now continuous and no longer containable Arab raids.

We know with some certainty that the territory in which Locri Epizefiri developed was part of the so-called Italìa region which, in its most restrictive delimitation, extended from the Straits to the isthmus delimited by Squillace on the Ionian Sea and Vibo Valentia on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The population that inhabited this region, of Indo-European origin, took the name of Italians. Over time, tradition tended to make the Italians coincide with the Oenotrians and to extend the borders of Italy by incorporating the neighbouring Oenotria, almost entirely coinciding with the territories that would later be called Magna Graecia.

Between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, these Italian Oenotrians were joined by the Siculians, a population that, according to some traditions, came from the areas of present-day Lazio and northern Campania. However, in many cases they were driven out by the indigenous populations and forced to seek refuge in the territories of eastern Sicily, with a few exceptions such as the Locrian territory.

According to Strabo, the town was founded by Locrians from the Gulf of Chrysia.  Other sources, including Polybius, say that the settlers came from Locrida Opuntia (eastern Locrida) opposite the island of Euboea, and this is confirmed by Ephorus, with whom Strabo argues, and by Virgil, who called the founders of the colony Narici. Other testimonies speak of a provenance from Locris Ozolia, on the Gulf of Corinth.

The first settlement was founded in the place indicated by the oracle of Delphi, near Cape Zephyrius (now Cape Bruzzano), but after a few years the colonists - dissatisfied with the location they had occupied, even though it corresponded to the oracle's indications - moved northwards about twenty kilometres, where they founded a new town to which they gave the same name as the first settlement, probably to feel that they were still under the protection of the god Apollo.

The settlers moved to the Epopis hill, where they found indigenous Siculians, who would be driven out by the Locrians with a very cunning stratagem: the settlers swore that as long as they walked on the same land and carried their heads on their shoulders they would be faithful, but when they had sworn they got rid of the earth they had previously put in their shoes and the garlic heads, driving the Siculians out of the area.

In the course of a century, the polis of Locri Epizephyrii extended its presence from the Ionian coast to the Tyrrhenian side of present-day Calabria, probably to ward off the threat of expansion by the enemy Kroton (Croton); thus the Locrians founded between 650 BC and 600 BC a new city, Locri Epizephyrii. C. and 600 B.C. the two colonies of Medma (today Rosarno) and Hipponion (today Vibo Valentia), probably on pre-existing settlements, and occupied Metauros (today Gioia Tauro), a centre already founded as their own colony by Zancle (Messina) or Rhegion (Reggio Calabria).



Pausanias and Polybius link the foundation of Locri to the First Messenic War, Eusebius of Caesarea in his Chronicles indicates 673 BC. According to Strabone, it followed shortly after that of Syracuse (733 BC) and Croton (710 BC). Aristotle claims that the founders were servants who had fled with the wives of their masters, engaged with Sparta in the war against the Messenians. This assertion, later denied by Timaeus, was confirmed by Polybius, who collected direct evidence from Locrian descendants. Pausanias, for his part, rejected the thesis of the foundation of the colony by escaped servants, with a whole series of well-argued reasons. First of all, he refers to the traditional Locrian legend about an expedition officially sent from Sparta, at the time of King Polydorus, to participate in the founding of the colony, which is in stark contrast to the idea of an escape of servants. Secondly, Pausanias points out many points of contact between Locri and Sparta concerning the religious aspect: the cult of Persephone was fundamental in Locrian society, as it was in Sparta; in the same way, the cults of Achilles, Aeacus and Thetis were important for Locri and Crotone, coming from Sparta, from which the genealogy of Locros brother of Crotone derived; and, another important element, the request by the Locrians to Sparta, before the battle of the Sagra, for military help. This help, which took the form of a symbolic sending of a small handful of soldiers, gave rise to the cult of the Dioscuri, who would materialise on the battlefield and take an active part. All these details therefore seem to invalidate Polybius' idea, restoring value to Timaeus'.  Scholars have come to believe that these movements from Greece were initially occasional, by merchants, explorers and pirates, in a period of 'pre-colonisation' between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 8th century BC, before the period of actual colonisation that followed. This makes, if not plausible, at least conceivable the idea of the foundation of Locri by an expedition of colonists, accompanied by Spartan soldiers or even pirates, hired as mercenaries by Sparta which, because of the first Mexican war, would probably have considered this solution more prudent than distracting military forces from the ongoing operations.


Alliance with Reggio Calabria

Around 560 B.C.-550 B.C. Locri Epizephyrii was allied with Reggio in the victorious battle that took place at the River Sagra, which stopped Crotone's expansionist drive to the south.

According to legend, the 15 000 men of the Locri-Reggio alliance defeated 130 000 Crotonians, and Zeus is said to have flown over the battle in the form of an eagle, while his sons (the Dioscuri) appeared on horseback and took part.

Following this victory, the cult of the Dioscuri began to be practised in the two Italiote poleis of Reggio and Locri Epizephyrii; in particular, two statues, the marble acroteria, which could represent the twin sons of Zeus, were found in the excavations of the Ionian temple of 'Marasà' in Locri Epizephyrii (now in the National Museum of Magna Graecia in Reggio).

The outcome of the battle of the Sagra confirmed Locri Epizephyrii as a new power in Magna Graecia.

Later, with the growing power of Reggio ruled by the tyrant Anassila, Locri Epizephyrii had to repel the hegemony of the city of the strait, resorting to the help of Syracuse.


One of the statues of the Dioscuri exhibited in the museum of Reggio.

Alliance with Syracuse

From the 5th century B.C. Locri Epizephyrii established alliances with the Syracuse of first the Dinomenids and then Dionysius I and his son Dionysius II, thus entering the orbit of the tyrants of the Sicelian polis. Herodotus reports an arrival in 493 BC of Sami refugees in Locri.

In 477 B.C. Anassila of Reggio during his expansionist campaign attacked Locri, which turned to the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse. Later, when Athens organised the expedition to Sicily, Locri Epizephyrii sided with Syracuse in its personal war against Reggio (an ally of Athens).

The alliance between Locri and Syracuse was further strengthened by the marriage between Dionysius and the Locrian Doris. When in 389 B.C. the Syracusan tyrant defeated the Italiota League, he donated to Locri Epizefiri the lands of Kaulonia (near Monasterace marina and Scolacium (near Squillace), which delimited the northern border with Crotone, while to the south the border with Reggio was delimited by the river Halex (near Palizzi). The 4th century B.C. was for Locri Epizefiri a period of great artistic, economic and, above all, cultural splendour. In particular, the figures of the poetess Nossis and of the philosophers Echecrates, Timaeus and Acrione, founders of a flourishing Pythagorean school (introduced in Locri at the time of Dionysius I), should be remembered from this historical period: Plato himself, according to what Cicero attests, went to Locri to learn its foundations.

After the death of Dionysius I, Locri Epizephyrii hosted within its walls Dionysius II who, exiled from Syracuse, established tyranny in the Italiote polis between 357 and 347 BC. But his policy against the local aristocrats only aimed at returning to his homeland and so, once he had emptied the coffers of the Calabrian town, the people rose up and killed his entire family, driving him out again. Democracy was established.

Roman Conquest

In 280 B.C. Locri Epizephyrii allied itself with Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, in the war between the Romans and the Samnites, both for military necessity and to uphold a long-established alliance with Tarentum.

After a few years, however, the Locrians sided with the Romans and Pyrrhus devastated the town and sacked the temple of Persephone in 266 BC.

Livius (Ab Urbe Condita XXIX 8, 9) tells us how Pyrrhus, repentant of the serious outrage perpetrated against the goddess, interpreted some of his subsequent misfortunes as a punishment by the goddess herself against him and decided to return the treasure of the Sanctuary in an attempt to appease her wrath:

"[...] qui cum magno piaculo sacrilegii sui manubias rettulit."

"(But it was also said that Pyrrhus), after a severe expiation, returned the riches (gained) from his sacrilegious act".

But failure for Pyrrhus was, however, by then close, and was consummated, still in 275 BC, with the defeat of Maleventum (today Benevento), which forced him to leave Italy.

The main effect of Pyrrhus' arrival in Italy was that it allowed Rome to accelerate its expansion towards the south, taking control of what had once been Magna Graecia; and as happened to all the other cities of Bruzzio, Locri Epizephyrii also fell under the control of Rome and henceforth followed its fate.

In the Second Punic War Locri sided with Hannibal and was conquered by the Romans in 205 BC.

Afterwards the city declined and in the 8th century it was abandoned by the inhabitants who retreated inland.


The archaeological area of ancient Locri Epizefiri is located in the municipality of Portigliola, about 3 km south of the present-day town of Locri. It extends over the flat land between the Portigliola and Gerace rivers, the low hills of Castellace, Abbadessa and Manella, and the sea.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the settlement, organised with a regular urban layout, is crossed by a major artery that still bears the Greek name of 'dromo'.

The ancient city was defended by a 7 km long wall, many parts of which are still visible. Outside the walls are the necropolises, while most of the sacred areas are located close to the walls. The sanctuaries inside the walls are equipped with monumental temple buildings and date back to the Archaic period, while those located immediately outside have a less monumental appearance, although abundant votive offerings have been found there. 

The Theatre

Among the monuments still visible today is the theatre, dating from the 4th century B.C. with reconstructions in the Roman period: it is the only non-sacred public building brought to light in Locri. It is the only non-sacred public building discovered in Locri. It was built in a natural basin at the foot of the Casa Marafioti hill. In addition to the foundations of the stage building, part of the sandstone steps of the cavea, which could seat about 4 500 spectators, remain. In the Imperial Roman period, the building was transformed by eliminating the lowest rows of tiers and building a high semicircular wall of limestone blocks to protect the spectators during fights between gladiators or between men and animals.

The Sanctuary of Zeus

As far as the archaic period is concerned, the sanctuary of Zeus should be mentioned, which in the course of time had an increasingly rich articulation. On the basis of the discovery at mid-height of the Mannella hill of a deposit of inscriptions, so important for the later administration of the city, the presence of the agora at its foot has been conjectured.

At the moment the Sanctuary of Zeus Olympius has not yet been located, except for a truly remarkable cylindrical limestone shrine (125 cm. in diameter and about one and a half metres high with walls 31 cm. thick) closed by a heavy lid, which served as the archive of the Sanctuary itself.




  • Sanctuary of Athena 


Also within the city walls on the Mannella hill, a place of worship for another Olympian deity, Athena, was probably built in the 6th century BC.

Sanctuary of the Nymphs and Sanctuary of Demeter

Other places of worship, which have gradually sprung up outside the city walls, such as the sanctuary of the nymphs in Contrada Caruso or that of Demeter in Contrada Paparezza (cf. infra), as well as various domestic installations that tell of the different religious and cultural customs of the colony .

The Sanctuary of Grotta Caruso, also known as the Grotto of the Nymphs (who were worshipped here), was located inside a cave, outside the city walls, in today's Contrada Caruso. Already active in the 6th century BC, the sanctuary was one of the many examples of how the ancients saw in the natural resources vital to the survival of the community (in this case a spring) a divine sign to be honoured and venerated.

Area sacred to Aphrodite


sacred area of Aphrodite is located near the village of Centocamere, close to the coast, and is a complex consisting of a small temple, a series of rooms with a U-shaped portico and a central courtyard; it was built in two stages, between the end of the 7th and the middle of the 6th century BC, while its use lasted until the middle of the 4th century BC. At Marasà South, immediately outside the walls, and in contact with the area delimited by the U-shaped stoa, there is a late archaic sacellum (datable between 500 and 480 B.C.) undoubtedly dedicated to Aphrodite, and the so-called House of the Lions, where private celebrations of the Adonis took place, in the Athenian 'style' of worship, held by female thesis.


The Necropolis of Lucifer

The best-known Locrian necropolis is the Lucifer necropolis, where some 1 700 tombs dating from the 7th to the 2nd century BC have been found, often marked by large, well-made and valuable vases, the work of famous Athenian ceramographers, or by 'arule', small terracotta altars decorated with images from the underworld.

The Ionic temple 
One of the temples within the city walls is the Ionian Temple of Marasà, a construction dating from around the 6th-5th century BC.


The marble group of the Dioscuri  

One of the most important statuary finds is the marble group of the Dioscuri on horseback, exhibited in the National Museum of Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria. It is an imposing sculpture depicting a Dioscuri dismounting from a rearing horse supported by a triton with a beard, the human torso covered by a cloth and the rest of the body resembling a fish.

In the same museum, as well as numerous finds from excavations carried out in the area of the ancient Greek colony, are exhibited some antefixes with the head of a Silenus, which perhaps crowned the scene of the theatre for decorative purposes. In the cella tesauraria of the sanctuary of the Mannella dedicated to Kore-Persephone, numerous clay tablets (Pinakes) were found, carved in bas-relief, dating for the most part from the first half of the 5th century BC. Some of them refer to the practice of sacred prostitution of virgins, in use in Locrian society.

According to many scholars, the famous Ludovisi Throne comes from the Ionic temple of Aphrodite in the Marasà district of the ancient polis. Moreover, a fragment of a pínax, a terracotta votive picture dating from around 470-60 BC found in the temple of Persephone in the Mannella district of Locri and now in the Magna Graecia Museum in Reggio Calabria, shows part of a female figure almost identical to one of the two women depicted on the sides of the Ludovisi Throne.

According to the archaeologist Margherita Guarducci, the throne was the parapet of the bothros, a hypothesis confirmed by the fact that the dimensions of the sculpture match to the centimetre with the three surviving stone slabs of the covering of the bothros, still visible in the archaeological area of the Temple of contrada Marasà.


  •  Togato di Petrara


This statue, brought to light in contrada Petrara in 2003 during an excavation campaign in the Roman area of ancient Locri, is the first extraordinary example of a 'togato' found in the area of the ancient Municipium and has led scholars to hypothesise, for the first time, the presence in the Locrian territory of sculptor's workshops whose production quality was in no way inferior to the contemporary workshops in Rome.

The statue, made of marble and dating from the first century AD, is about 2.30 metres high and depicts a man of mature age wearing a toga.  The statue could very probably represent a magistrate of the Municipium or, in any case, an important personality.


Tables from the archive of the Sanctuary of Zeus

The 39 bronze tables (written in Greek characters from the 4th-3rd centuries BC) on display at the National Museum of Reggio Calabria come from what has been called the Archive of the Sanctuary of Zeus Olympius, located in the Pirettina district.

These tablets (which are of various sizes) were not recovered during official excavations, but were instead discovered in 1959 by some farmers, who initially made them disappear (probably together with other tablets and many other treasures that, unfortunately, are now found who knows where) in the expectation of selling them. However, they were later fortunately recovered by the competent authorities and, after being studied, placed in the museum.

When they were first studied, it was hoped that, having been discovered in the birthplace of the first Western legislator, Zaleucus, they would contain his code of laws.
After the first moment of disappointment (even if it is improper to define it in this way, since we were in front of almost unique finds not only for Magna Graecia, but for the whole Greek world) the scholars were able to draw a lot of information from the tables, information that contributed to better define the economic and political history of Locri; these tables also provided precise information about the institutions, the calendar and also the onomastics of ancient Locri.



Behind the National Archaeological Museum of Locri Epizephyrii, just before taking the path that leads to the Temple of Marasà, there is an area (adjacent to the square tower that characterises the eastern corner of the walled structure of the ancient town) in which archaeologists have identified several votive deposits dating back to a period between the 5th century BC and the 3rd century BC.



A pinax, plural pinakes, (in Greek πίναξ, plural πίνακες) is, in the usage of modern archaeology, a painted wooden votive tablet or bas-relief made of terracotta, marble or bronze generally hung on the walls of shrines or sacred trees in ancient Greece.

Originally the term generically denoted a board or square with a flat surface, particularly a waxed tablet used for writing. By extension the term came to mean the votive images hung in sanctuaries.

In Magna Graecia they were produced between 490 and 450 BC mainly in the poleis of Locri Epizephyrii, Medma and Hipponion. Other pinakes have been found in Sicily, near Francavilla di Sicilia.

Many of the bas-relief representations that have survived relate to devotion to Persephone, the goddess abducted by the god of the underworld Hades, who took her to the underworld to marry her while still a child. A considerable number of pinakes are kept in the National Museum of Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, where the various moments of the myth are depicted in around 170 different ways: the rape of Persephone, preparations for the wedding, the bride and groom on their thrones, the harvesting of fruit, etc.


Outside the town, there are several necropolises in the districts of Monaci, Russo, Faraone and Lucifero, where over 1 700 graves have been found.

The Necropolis of contrada Lucifero, in use from the 8th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C., includes tombs of three types: pit tomb, capuchin tomb and half-burial tomb.
Valuable and valuable objects imported from Greece or Magna Graecia (4th century BC) were found here, including vases, mirrors, bronze ornaments and precious metal jewellery.
Women's toiletries were for personal cosmetics. 
Bronze mirrors (produced by local craftsmen), and fibulas (bronze clothes pins, local products from the 6th and 5th centuries BC) were found in the necropolis of Lucifer.
In all the tombs lekythoi, in the sing. lekythos, were found, i.e. vases containing perfumed oils for toiletries, also used by athletes before sporting exercises and for funeral rituals.

Locri is, together with the city of Sparta, one of the very few Greek cities in which women participated in athletic competitions. Athletes used a curved metal instrument (strigil) to clean themselves of sweat and perfumed ointments and oils at the end of the competition.
Mirrors, a typical Locrian production, exported to Magna Graecia and Sicily, were made of bronze with male or female figure handles.

The Necropolis of contrada Parapezza, south-west of Lucifero, comprises over 200 tombs. It was used intensively in the Archaic (6th century BC) and Hellenistic (3rd and 2nd century BC) periods.
Small containers imported from Corinth, the Greek East (Asia Minor) and Attica were found in an inhumation tomb.
In the 6th century BC large ceramic containers (amphorae for transporting wine and oil) were used, many of which had been imported from Corinth or Athens. There are also amphorae imported from Laconia; this type of pottery was produced in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Laconic pottery, which was widespread throughout the Mediterranean, was made using a pinkish clay, covered with yellow mottling, on which figures were painted in black.
Hydriai, vessels with three handles for drawing and transporting water, have been found. The largest vessels were used to hold the lifeless bodies of small children. Other vases were used for the ashes of the dead.
The gardens of Adonis (4th century BC) were made from transport amphorae, which were broken and turned upside down. Fennel and lettuces were cultivated and watered with hot water to accelerate their growth.

The Necropolis of contrada Faraone is located in the north-east of the urban area. During excavations, a small limestone pediment with Doric friezes (naiskos pediment) was found, dated between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.


The famous Sanctuary of Persephone situated halfway up the Mannella hill was described by Diodorus Siculus as 'the most famous of the sanctuaries of southern Italy' (but excluding Sicily).

It is not yet understood what cult was practised in this sanctuary, but it seems to be the deities of the underworld, mainly Persephone.

The riches of the Locrian Persephoneion were plundered by Dionysius II (360 BC), Pyrrhus (276 BC) and the Roman commander Pleminius, Scipio's lieutenant, after his expulsion from Locri Epizephyrii during the Second Punic War (205 BC). The votive objects found in the architectural complex (figured terracotta, fragments of vases, arule, pinakes, mirrors and inscriptions with dedications to the goddess) date between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC.

With regard to the Ionic Temple in the Marasà district, it is known that in the first half of the 5th century BC the locrians demolished the archaic temple and replaced it with a larger Ionic-style limestone temple. 

The temple of Marasà was built by Syracusan architects and craftsmen working in Locri Epizephyrii in 470 B.C. on the initiative of the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse (ally and protector of the Locrians). The new temple has the same location but is oriented differently.

The temple was destroyed in the 19th century and the ruins today show only one column rostrum.

This temple was much taller than the Doric temples (ratio of height to width 1:1), and is one of the few Ionic temples of Magna Graecia.

Preliminary examination shows that at Locri Epizephyrii there was a Tesmophorion, a Iatreion of Demeter (Grotta Caruso), and a Persephoneion that was apparently used as a Telesterion for the 'Eleusinian' Mysteries.

The connection of Locri with the Western cult of Aphrodite and Adonis was highlighted by the analysis of Torelli, who identified the bothos of the temple of Marasà with the chest-tomb of the young god.

In the U-shaped stoa 356 bothroi were found with the remains of meals, evidently intended for the celebration of sacred banquets.

The lion house in the area adjacent to this complex is a place intended for private ritual homage to Adonis. The Locrian cult is also mentioned by the poetess Nossis, who may have belonged to one of the female thiasias that honoured the god.



Identified in the 20th century by P. E. Arias, the Greek theatre of contrada Pirettina exploits a natural concavity at the foot of the Cusemi plateau and was excavated by cutting steps in the very soft sandstone. The first phase of the theatre dates from the middle of the 4th century BC.

The building held up to 4 500 spectators. From the cavea (koilon), consisting of steps cut partly into the rock and partly arranged with slabs of the same sandstone, there was a remarkable view of the city and the sea.

The steps were divided into seven wedges (kerkìs, in Greek κερκίς) by six steps (climax, in Greek κλῖμαξ). A horizontal partition (diazoma) separated the tiers from other tiers (epitheatron) which are now ruined. It is thought that the theatre was also used for political meetings.


Bronze mirror - from the necropolis of contrada Lucifero, Locri - second half of the 5th century BC. - The handle depicts a mermaid, characterised by the body of a bird and the head of a woman. The mythological figure has half-open wings and rests on a motif of volutes, palmettes and lotus flowers, which acts as a link with the handle, originally covered in another material. - National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria


Calabria - Bronze nutcracker configured as a pair of forearms, from the necropolis of Contrada Lucifero (7th cent. BC), Locri Epizefiri (Reggio Calabria)


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