Cosenza (population 104,000), a provincial capital in Calabria, stands at the confluence of two rivers. The old town, overshadowed by its castle, descends to the River Crati, whereas the growing modern city lies to the north, beyond the Busento, on level ground. The historic city centre is crossed by the winding Corso Telesio.
To call the town picturesque is to use an inadequate word, wrote George Gissing in his 1901 travelogue, By The Ionian Sea. At every step, from the opening of the main street at the hill-foot up to the stern medieval castle crowning its height, one marels and admires. So narrow are the ways that a cart drives the pedestrian into shop or alley; two vehicles (but perhaps the thing never happened) would with difficulty pass each other.
Cosentia, the capital of the Bruttians, came under the influence of the Greek settlements of Magna Graecia. Taken by Rome in 204 BC, in imperial times it was an important stop on the Via Popilia, linking Rome with Reggio and Sicily. Alaric the Visigoth died here in AD 412 (probably Malaria) on his way back to Sicily after the sack of Rome. Legend holds that he was buried along with his treasurer in the bed of the Busento River, the waters having been diverted for the occasion and then restored to their natural channel.
Twice destroyed by the Saracens, the town was conquered by Robert Guiscard, but it rebelled against the rule of his half-brother Roger, who managed to restore his authority only after a siege (1087). In the 13C, 14C and 15C the city shifted its loyalties several times in the struggle between the Aragonese and the Angevins, and Louis III of Anjou died here in 1434 while campaigning against the Aragonese.
A notable centre of humanistic culture in the 16C, Cosenza was the birth place of philosopher Bernardino Telesio (1509-88), whose ideas were instrumental in freeing scientific research from theological restrictions. The city contributed freely to the liberal movement in the 19C and participated in the uprisings of 1848 and 1860. It was damaged by earthquakes in 1783, 1854, 1870 and 1905, and frequently bombed in 1943. Today it is an important commercial and agricultural centre. The University of Calabria, Italy’s newest and most modern, lies on the outskirts to the north.
The town consists of an old quarter on the slopes of Pancrazio Hill on the right side of the Busento River, characterized by a picturesque warren of streets, and a modern area, built to a regular plan, on the other side.
The most important monuments include:
the Romanesque Duomo (Cathedral, 12th century), with Isabella d’Aragona’s fine tomb the church of S. Domenico (15th century with 18th century additions) the church of San Francesco di Paola (16th century, with later additions) the church and monastery of S. Francesco d’Assisi (13th-15th century) the Castle on the top of Pancrazio Hill, originally a 10th century construction