PORTA VATICANA (VATICAN GATE)
In this place (1) stood the Vatican Gate with annexed vatican bastion. It was accessed by a drawbridge (later replaced by a masonry passage) placed on a fifteen meter high viaduct (2). The bridge had three arches carved on the rock. A fortified door was built at the second arch (3). Before the creation of the (the New Gate) Porta Nuova (1783-85), the Vatican Gate was the only access to Tropea by land. There were two access gates to the city, equipped with a drawbridge, the Vatican Gate and an older one known as “Porta di Mare “ (Sea Gate).
All along the walls there was a large round tower dating back to the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic, a period called “aragonese”, equipped with cannons and slits for firearms. This fortified system was completely demolished around 1875, the keys of each gate were guarded by two “mastrogiurati” elected monthly by the Seat of Portercole (the Parliament of the Nobles). In times of war and in case of dangers (riots, pestilences) the keys came entrusted to the royal governor. In times of peace the gates remained open during the day while at the sunset they were closed. Entire portions of the city walls have survived to the various demolition processes since they were incorporated into the various,row buildings erected on the rock that surround the present via margherita di savoia. Even today it is possible to reconstruct the stretch of the ancient walls starting from the current entrance of the Corso, descending towards Largo Villetta del Cannone.
IL CASTELLO (THE CASTLE OF TROPEA)
The site on which once stood the Tropea Castle is now occupied by Palazzo Toraldo Serra. The Castle extended to the entrance of the city on a rock mass fifteen meters high on the road that, still today leads to the Marina (4). The mighty trapezoid-shaped fortification, with four corner towers two gardens with an ancient church leaning against the walls and dedicated to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, it also possessed a Torre Mastra (mast tower) and a central tower about 30 meters high, called Torre Lunga (long tower) (5).
Over the centuries, this defensive system made Tropea impregnable, it was repeatedly used as a prison and seat of the royal governor. The most ancient phase of the city walls, which was articulated as far as Porta di Mareand Porta Vaticana, dates back to the Greek-Gothic War (535 ad) by the byzantine general Belisario. The only remaining traces run along the road leading to the Marina, from the garden overlooking Palazzo Toraldo-Serra to the Cathedral. After the earthquake of 1783, a third gate was created, the Porta Nuova(New Gate), corresponding to the current beginning of the Course.
During the phases of the demolition of the Castle, which took place between 1825 and 1876, several tens of early christian funerary epigraphs (5th century ad) were found with names of religious such as Monses presbiter(6) and Leta presbitera(a female priest!) (7) and Hirene conductrixmassae Trapeianae (8), the first attestation of the name Tropea.
THE FEAST OF “I TRI DA CRUCI”
On may 3rd of every year in Tropea, in Via Umberto I called “u Burgu”, the oldest feast of the tyrrhenian city “I Tri da Cruci” take place. Drum rolls, colorful flags, balconies decorated with drapes and floral wreaths give the sign that it is a day of celebration. The triumph of the Holy Cross is commemorated, linked to the fact that, at the beginning of Via Umberto I, a small cylindrical church with three crosses stood. The “Burgu” district was the district of blacksmiths and artisans. The faithful prayed god to mercy by turning around it three times. The building was damaged by the earthquake of 1783 and, after a severe storm, finally ruined in 1875. Some faithful gathered the “Three Crosses” and placed them in the nearby St. Michael the Archangel chuch. On the site of the little church they built a small votive shrine (9).
The festival is full of meanings and symbols of pagan and christian rites, which tradition has brought up to the present day. During the day of 3 may, the children of the “Burgu” wandered from house to house and in the gardens searching flammable material to feed a large pile arranged nearby Largo Villetta del Cannone (Belvedere). After sunset the celebrations began with fireworks, popular games and the lighting of the great bonfire. These rituals recall the pagan rites in honor of Demeter and Persephone and above all the bonfires dedicated to the goddess Pale, to propitiate the change of season from spring to summer. In the past, at various times and for long periods, the arab and turkish pirates held this territory under their rule, wandering through the streets on camelback spreading terror. The tropeani on several occasions, managed to get the better of it, driving them out of Tropea and burning their ships. Under the command of the tropean colonel Gaspare Toraldo, about 1200 calabrians left and distinguished themselves for their value in the battle of Lepanto on 7 october 1571.
The tropeani therefore, to commemorate these events on 3 may, when they celebrate the triumph of the Holy Cross, they prepare shapes of boats, loaded with fireworks (10), they hang them along one side of the “Burgu” and during the feast they burn them, in creating a spectacle of lights, colors and explosions (11).
During this popular festival typical games take place (12), such as the race of the sacks, of the spicy pasta and the race of the pignatte (13). Then, at the end of the evening, to taunt the ancient enemy, a silhouette of a camel made of reeds, filled with fireworks, dances, shoots and agonizes to the frenetic rhythm of the drums (14).