Here at Winederful, all our products come from Calabria, which is a region in Southern Italy. Italy is often said to be boot shaped – Calabria is the toe of the boot, bordered by Basilicata to the north, and surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.
Calabria has a long and rich history – for instance, it has one of the oldest records of human presence in Italy. Dating back to around 700,000 BC, there are traces of a type of Homo erectus evolving around coastal areas of Calabria. The region was also the first to take on the name of Italy.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the area, we’ve explored the major historical periods below:
According to Greek mythology, the Oenotri were a tribe of Greeks who were led to the Calabria region by their king, Oenotrus. It was these Greeks who supposedly first used the term ‘italoi’ when referring to the region, and this name later became synonymous with the rest of the peninsula.
Many more colonies were founded by the Greeks in this era, including Rhégion, which is now known as Reggio Calabria, and Metauros, modern day Gioia Tauro. Both of these regions were the birthplaces of one of the famed Nine Lyric poets, a group of ancient Greek poets believed to be worthy of critical study by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria.
After the Greeks had settled in Calabria, the Lucanians, a group of culturally advanced people from what is now Basilicata, conquered the north. They pushed further south, until they took part of the interior. A group of Lucanian rebels, known as the Bruttii, also took over parts of Calabria, taking advantage of the ongoing factional wars.
A few centuries later, the Romans set up colonies in Calabria, including at Tempsa, Kroton, and Copiae. Named after the Bruttii, the Romans called Calabria ‘Bruttium’, which became ‘Regio III Lucania et Brettium’ during the reign of Augustus, as part of the third region of Italy.
As the Roman empire began to fall, Italy became part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, which stretched from modern southern France in the west, to modern western Serbia in the southeast. Around 50 years later, between 535 and 556, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I retook Italy, and although the empire quickly lost the north, they retained the south for approximately 500 years.
It was during this time that the area achieved great religious status, with monasteries being built from the 7th century onwards. Many Byzantine churches can still be found in the region, such as the 10th century churches in Rossano and San Demetrio Corone. Silk production also began to take off in Calabria under the Byzantine empire.
Around the year 800, the shores of Calabria began to be invaded by Saracens, and while they never got a strong foothold, this is a noteworthy period, as it’s when a lot of modern Calabrian cuisine began to take shape. Citrus fruits and aubergine became popular, and exotic spices such as nutmeg and cloves were introduced.
In the 1060s, the Normans established a strategic presence in Calabria, partly to have a base during the Crusades, which would be fought in earnest a few decades later. Ships would sail from Calabria to the Holy Land, which made the region one of the richest in Europe – many princes built secondary residences in Calabria.
Between 1194, when Frederick II took control of the area, and the early modern period, the rule of Calabria exchanged hands many times. The important thing to note is that the region became known for its silk production, making up around 50% of European production.
In the 15th century, Calabria came under the control of the Aragonese, most notably Ferdinand II of Aragon. Ferdinand and Isabella are famed for sponsoring the initial voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Under this rule, there was heavy taxation, as well as widespread starvation and sickness.
In the early 1700s, Calabria was briefly ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs, and then in 1735, came under the control of the Spanish Bourbons. It was during this time that the Calabrian astronomer Luigi Lilio created the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use today.
The silk trade also continued to grow throughout the early modern period, with Charles V of Spain formally allowing the city of Catanzaro to establish a consulate of the silk craft in 1519. Calabria became one of the most influential Mediterranean markets for silk in the 16th century, though the production started to decline in the 17th century. This was due to strong competition from other European countries, and an increase in exportation from Persia and the Ottoman Empire.
At the end of the 18th century, Calabria was taken over by the French, though a series of peasant revolts in 1848 demonstrated the unrest in the region. This set the stage for the eventual unification with the rest of Italy.
Today, Calabria is known for its agricultural exports, such as olive oil and citrus fruit like clementines, lemons, oranges, and mandarins. The region produces around a quarter of Italy’s citrus fruit. Another citron hybrid, bergamot, is found exclusively in Calabria, and is used in numerous other foods and drinks, including Earl Grey tea.
As we have seen, Calabria has a long history of silk manufacturing, and in recent years, this tradition has been revived. Green and sustainable silk products are being produced, with sericulture still being practiced in some areas.
Calabria is furthermore rich in history, art, culture and traditions, which has led to a thriving tourism industry. There are a number of medieval churches, monasteries and castles you can visit in the region, as well as all sorts of tourist attractions.