The Italian Almanac
Italian Art - June 22
A world-class archaeological exhibition opened this week in Calabria, in the toe of Italy. Its subject is Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece - the name given to parts of southern Italy colonized by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago.
For the ancient Greeks, southern Italy was their America. Long before the Roman empire flourished, they sailed west in search of new lands. They settled around the hospitable coastline 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. Only very recently have archaeologists been able to reconstruct their history.
Salvatore Settis of the University of Pisa, one of Italy's leading archaeologists, has brought together in Catanzaro, Calabria's regional capital, more than 800 pieces of sculpture in marble and terracotta from Magna Graecia. They were originally dug up or recovered from the sea all around the coasts of southern Italy, but are now scattered in museums and private collections around Europe.
There are also gold and silver coins, ancient maps, books, inscriptions and Greek vases, as well as portrait busts and votive offerings to Greek gods whose shrines once dotted the Italian landscape. Some of Europe's finest Greek temples are still to be seen at Paestum, south of Naples. The area around them has delivered up some stunning archaeological discoveries, including wall paintings, elaborate bronze containers for honey, wine and oil, and inscriptions which provide important clues about this now almost vanished world.