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What to see in Italy: The Pignarelle caves at Palmi, in the heart of Byzantine Calabria

2021-02-27 12:00

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What to see in Italy: The Pignarelle caves at Palmi, in the heart of Byzantine Calabria

The Pignarelle caves,are caves located in the town of the same name in the municipality of Palmi. The caves form a rocky settlement of Byzantine monastic imprin

What to see in Calabria: the Pignarelle caves in Palmi, in the heart of Byzantine Calabria

The caves of Pignarelle, sometimes also called 'caves of Macello-Pignarelle' or 'caves of Tarditi', are caves located in the homonymous locality in the municipality of Palmi. The caves form a rocky settlement of Byzantine monastic imprint, as they were created by the monks themselves by digging into the sandstone, in a period between the 6th and 8th centuries.

The caves are catalogued in the Table of Cave Sites or Caves of the Calabria Region.


It is likely that the creation of the rock settlement dates back to a period between the 6th and 8th centuries, when numerous Byzantine monks chose Calabria as a consequence of the iconoclastic persecutions proclaimed by Pope Leo III and the occupation of Sicily by the Saracens. In fact, in that period they founded monasteries and monasteries in the area.

In the 20th century, the caves were used by the population of Palmi as a refuge from the air-ship bombardments of the Second World War. The place is also called 'Tarditi's caves', perhaps to recall the name of the government technician who rebuilt some neighbourhoods in the lower part of the city, after the 1908 earthquake, not far from the site.


The caves are located a short distance from Palmi Station and the Impiombato district, in the locality known as Macello-Pignarelle. The settlement is located on a steep ridge and hidden by thick natural vegetation. From the ridge there is a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which extends from the Strait of Messina to Capo Vaticano.

The cave complex consists of several caves, dug by the monks in the sandstone, on different levels and with the entrance facing north. The first cave, which on the outside has a Byzantine cross carved into the rock, on the inside consists of a single chamber with a large opening, from which some tunnels branch off, penetrating a few metres into the interior. The second cave, on the other hand, is 17 metres deep and ends in an apse. It too has a Byzantine cross carved on the arch of the vault rock and it is assumed to have been the home of the egumen.

The largest cave in the entire rock settlement, both in terms of size and architectural form, is represented by a cavity located in the centre of the whole complex, and is called a 'basilica': inside, it consists of three naves, the central one being six metres high and three metres wide, while the two side naves are two metres wide and about one and a half metres high. Inside the cave, the side aisles flow into the central aisle, forming a Greek cross. The end wall of the nave has an elliptical apse, where the monks hung crucifixes and icons. Steps, niches, lamp holders and beds are evident on many walls and on the floor of the cave. A further cave of considerable size, located in the same step, appears to have a connection with the 'basilica' through a tunnel.

In front of the settlement, on another ridge separated from the complex by a channel, there is a small cavity, perhaps natural, with two crosses carved in the rock at the entrance. Since there is a small slit made of lime and stones, facing upwards, it can be assumed that the cave was used to alert the monks of the cave complex in case of danger.


Further information

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