Hundreds of rare and beautiful pieces are on display
A world-class archaeological exhibition opened this week in Calabria, on the borders of Italy.
Its subject is Magna Graecia, or Great Greece – the name given to the regions of southern Italy settled by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago.
Modern European migrations are not new.
But for the ancient Greeks, southern Italy was their America.
Long before the rise of the Roman Empire, they were sailing west in search of new lands.
They settled around the hospitable coasts of Calabria and Sicily, dominating local tribes, building huge temples to their gods, and founding Greek-speaking colonies.
However, their cities and culture were later destroyed by the Romans. It is only very recently that archaeologists have been able to reconstruct their history.
It is a puzzle with many pieces still missing.
Salvatore Settis of the University of Pisa, one of Italy’s most eminent archaeologists, has collected more than 800 pieces of marble and terracotta sculpture from Magna Graecia in Catanzaro, the regional capital of Calabria.
They were originally dug up or collected from the sea all around the coasts of southern Italy, but are now scattered in museums and private collections across Europe.
Greek settlers arrived in the 8th century BC
Colonies founded among small coastal settlements
Built an important center of Greek civilization
Cities began to decline after the 5th century
There are also gold and silver coins, ancient maps, books, inscriptions and Greek vases, as well as busts and votive offerings to the Greek gods whose shrines once dotted the Italian landscape.
Some of the most beautiful Greek temples in Europe can still be found in Paestum, south of Naples.
The area around them has yielded astonishing archaeological finds, including wall paintings, elaborate bronze vessels for honey, wine and oil, and inscriptions that provide important clues about this now almost extinct world. .
Two large bronze sheets, known as the Tablets of Heraclea, discovered in 1732 and now kept in the Naples Museum, are also on display in Catanzaro.
They bear ancient inscriptions in Greek on one side and a text dating from several hundred years later in Latin on the other.
They provided some of the first documentary evidence about the lives of the ancient Greek-speaking inhabitants of this part of the Mediterranean.
Hopes for regeneration
Mr. Settis told me that as a native of Calabria, he was first fascinated by an unexpected legacy of Magna Graecia: the large number of ancient Greek words that have survived more than 2,000 years in its dialect local.
This figure of a woman with a lotus flower dates from around 500 BC.
“It was English aristocrats who were the first to become infatuated with Greek sculptures discovered in southern Italy at the end of the 18th century.
“Your consul in Naples, Sir William Hamilton, was one of Italy’s first serious collectors of Greek art,” Mr. Settis said.
“Italian archaeologists and collectors began to take an interest in it during the 19th and 20th centuries. The memory of this long-forgotten world is now being resurrected.”
Catanzaro, located at the very end of Italy, is a rather dull and ugly provincial capital, built on both sides of a deep gorge, and is not normally featured on guided tours of Italian art cities.
However, local authorities hope that foreign visitors who come to view the new exhibition will also be interested in the recently discovered remains near the town of Scolacium.
This is the city that the Romans built when they conquered Magna Graecia and founded their colonies on the ruins of ancient Greek colonies.
The house of a former large landowner has been transformed into a small museum exhibiting beautiful pieces of Roman sculpture, unearthed during recent excavations.