Stilo – World Heritage in Calabria

World Heritage in Calabria: Since the seventh century, hermit monks from the Arabian deserts have sought refuge in the sparsely populated Calabrian mountains, as can be seen at Cattolica di Stilo. Read more

Illegal farm workers in South Italy

Award winning journalist Fabrizio Gatti has described a system of organized exploitation, intimidation, suppression and terror among illegal farm workers in South Italy.

Last week’s riots in the Calabrese town Rosarno highlight south Italian problems with illegal immigrants working as farm hands under slave like conditions. Already in early January 2007, the undercover journalist Fabrizio Gatti received the prestigious Premio Guiseppe Fava prize for his articles in L’espresso called ‘Io schiavo in Puglia’, where he described a labour system of organized exploitation, intimidation, suppression and terror. Since then nothing much has happened. At least it is obvious to anyone travelling in Mezzogiorno on a regular basis that the problem still exists.

It is increasingly rare to see Italians working the fields. The gangs harvesting tomatoes, watermelons, olives, oranges and other labour intensive crops are alternately from Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe, depending on the connections of the people who hire them. Their status as illegal immigrants leave them unprotected from the law and labour agreements. And they live under abominable conditions in camps or in closed down factories, as can be seen from their characteristic packed-up vehicles parked outside.

Seen from an Italian farmer’s point of view agriculture is unprofitable without access to cheap labour and subsidies (for a detailed outline of the economy behind the problems see eg. La Stampa: Le arance di carta di Rosarno (The online article referred to here has unfortunately been taken off the web).  While small farms used to be family enterprises, farmers who are getting on in years complain that their sons and the young people in general find it too hard to work the land for a living. Younger generations are neither willing nor able to lend a hand during harvest, which means that the farmers come to depend on hired help. And as long as there is an illegal work force willing to do the job at cut-down rates, the basic structures will not change. It is sad, really.

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Ferry to Sicily: Whirlpools around the Strait of Messina

Thoughts sitting on the deck of the Ferry to Sicily: A floating rust pile with a phenomenal view of Sicily and the Calabrian coast.

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Reggio Calabria to Taranto

Reggio Calabria to Taranto: A road trip through south Italy

Driving down Europe Road 90 from Reggio Calabria to Taranto resembles a scene from an American road movie.

From Reggio Calabria to Taranto there is 491 kilometres asphalt connecting lawless truckers with Magna Grecia monuments, Mediterranean scents, old fishing villages and new construction sites.

There is no music score accompanying the drive, but otherwise Europe Road 90 resembles a scene from an American road movie where an endless streak of asphalt stretches out under a blazing sun, while the deep-blue sea, the mountains and deserted yellow plains in the background set a colour scheme to make any Swede happy. Dotted along the way are local workers trying to earn a few euros by selling chili on a string without interference from La Fiamma Gialla; shirtless camionisti with black sunglasses, Christmas light chains in the windshield, Padre Pio dangling under the rear view mirror, and trailers loaded with smuggled goods; and Schumacher clones, flashing their red Ferrari in sleepy holiday villages. A cocktail, that makes Statale 106 one of the most dangerous roads in Italy.

Crashed cars, flower bouquets by the roadside, frequent speed checks and road sections that are blocked by traffic accidents or road works, testify to the latent danger, and turn the 500 kilometres drive into an all-day project. These years the road is being expanded from one lane in each direction to an expressway with four lanes and concrete blocks to separate oncoming cars, but construction takes time, and for the time being long queues is part of the fun. The same goes for the urge to drive faster and wilder when occasional gaps occur in traffic. Mortality on Statale 106 is still above average for Italian roads.

reggio calabria to taranto

Road works on the Ionian highway can block the traffic for hours.

The road is rich in contrasts other than the contrast between the dense traffic and a depopulated landscape. Electric red plastic palm trees stand right beside the real thing. There is a slot machine for every saint statue. New shopping malls and holiday resorts in bright colours pop up in the neighbourhood of ancient Doric columns. Cultivated agricultural land alternate with forest-clad mountains stretching down to the water’s edge. And the orange groves and eucalyptus trees masks the stench of smelly oil refineries.
Yet conditions have changed radically since the English travel book writer Augustus Hare a hundred years ago warned foreigners against all travel in the South:

“The vastness and ugliness of the districts to be traversed, the bareness and filth of the inns, the roughness of the natives, the torment of zinzare, the terror of earthquakes, the insecurity of the roads from brigands, and the far more serious risk of malaria or typhoid fever from the bad water, are the natural courses which have hitherto frightened strangers away from the south.”
Augustus Hare: Cities Of Southern Italy And Sicily

More on road trips and driving in Italy in addition to Reggio Calabria to Taranto

Drive in Italy

Puglia itineraries

Traffic fines in Italy

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