Escape to the Mainland

Standing in Messina, you can see houses and buildings sprawling up the mountains on the other side of the strait. After a few months of living on an island (granted, a big island), you might decide that it’s time to hit the mainland for a while. When that happens, you’ll remember the houses that you saw on the other side of the strait, and decide to go see their town.

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Rhegium used to be a place where Roman emperors sent the people that they didn’t want to exile, but who were too dangerous or embarrassing to be wandering the streets of Rome (see Julia the Elder). After the fall of Rome, it was an important seat in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which covered the southern part of the Italian peninsula and the island of Sicily, and was renamed Reggio (reh-jee-oh).

Very little interesting happened there until 1860, when the swashbuckling Giuseppe Garibaldi fought la Battaglia di Piazza Duomo (bah-tah-ylah dee pee-ah-tsah doo-oh-moh; Battle of Cathedral Square) there, and conquered the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the name of Italian unification. However, because Italy was now unified, the name of the city was insufficient; there was a Reggio in Lombardy, and a Reggio in Calabria, and the two, now being in the same country, had to be distinguished somehow. The former was dubbed Reggio nell’Emilia, and the latter Reggio Calabria.

Despite the fact that Reggio Calabria was ravaged by an earthquake in 1908 (the same one that leveled Messina and killed almost 65,000 people in Sicily alone), it retains some of its old-time charm. Up above the downtown area, there’s a castle which, since it no longer defends the city from marauders, houses an art exhibit. When I visited, there was also an exhibit of reconstructions of Leonardo da Vinci’s machines.

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Downtown, the city has rebuilt itself with all the modern conveniences, including an outdoor escalator! Considering the street that it’s on has quite the slope to it, that’s pretty cool. There’s a shopping district with the hottest stores flaunting the latest trends. There are hole-in-the-wall cafes with coffee and gelato. And my favorite: There’s a beautiful promenade.

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After the earthquake in 1908, everything that had been built by the shore had been washed away by the resulting tsunami that hit the coast. Instead of rebuilding buildings and roads right along the water, the city built a promenade with gardens, trees, and even a miniature Greek-style theater right along the water. If you stop at one of the gelaterie along the way, you can enjoy your gelato while enjoying the view of Sicily across the straits.

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