Old Cirella, in Calabria, is the city that was “destroyed three times”. The dilapidated ruins of the small town in the province of Cosenza look out to the sea, where a small islet, also named Cirella, is home to the tower once built to watch for enemy attacks. The stumps of the ancient hamlet overlook the new settlement, rebuilt near the seaside after the last destruction, by Napoleon, in 1806.
“Oral history and a number of written accounts bear testimony to Turkish invasions and attacks,” says expert Vito Teti. “One of the city’s destructions is attributed to Turkish pirate Dragut Rays (the second one after a first attributed to Hannibal, who is said to have punished the loyalty Cirella – built by the Greeks – had for Rome; the city would later be rebuilt after the Punic Wars). It is said to have happened on 2 August 1569. According to one piece of oral history that was later recorded by various local intellectuals, the Saracens kidnapped the daughter of the islet’s tower guard, preventing him from warning people about their arrival. The beautiful woman made a vow to Cirella’s Madonna dei Fiori and was spared, but the city was destroyed and devastated; a total of seventy-two people, both men and women, were kidnapped.”
“There is one more legend about old Cirella’s destruction,” says Teti, “according to which giant red ants ate all of its people. Places like this have mythical foundations as well as mythical destructions. Even the latter have a charm of their own, and can become an element for people’s sense of belonging.”
“People who travel by train,” Teti goes on, “see Cirella as Calabria’s front door, either coming in or going out according to which way they are gong. […] Perspectives and sensations change depending on whether you are leaving Calabria or coming back, but the entrance or exit are always marked by places that tell a story of beauty and ruin at once” (translated from Vito Teti, “Il senso dei luoghi: memoria e storia dei paesi abbandonati”, Donzelli, Rome 2004).