Like other Calabrian villages, Oriolo started as a fortress to defend the people fleeing from the coast because of the continual Saracen raids.
It has a 17th century layout, with the noble palaces overlooking the main street, which crosses the whole village and connects the feudatory lord’s house with the 15th century town walls. The mother church is dedicated to San Giorgio; of Norman origin, as shown by the two lions guarding the central door. Inside, the wooden statue of the Madonna with Child, also 15th century, and the monumental wooden Baroque altar are worth seeing.
The mother church houses relics of San Giorgio and San Francesco da Paola, a collection of silverware, 17th century Spanish statues, an 18th century Ecce Homo in terracotta, cotto flooring and crypts with tombs of the original church.
n 1693, Oriolo was struck by a severe earthquake but the layout of the village resisted. In the last century, the population of Oriolo has halved but it manages to maintain the tourist dimension developed in the second half of the 20th century, aided by the ‘La Portella’ open-air theatre.
The castle has an Aragonese appearance and a square layout. It was firstly the fief of the Sanseverino da Salerno and then, in the 16th century, it became the marquisate of the Pignone del Carretto whose coat of arms, with five fir cones, is above the entrance to the fortress. The castle erected by the Sanseverino has been recently restored and still preserves the old structure with two watchtowers and the keep.
The castle became the refuge for the coastal people terrorised by pirates until the end of the 17th century. History recalls the devastation of 902 caused by Ibrahim Ibn Ahmed, the Moslem warlord who waged a holy war against infidels. The watchtowers built on the shores of the upper Ionian Sea, like those of Albidona and Villapiana, were to raise the alarm on the arrival of the Saracens.
The local wine and food is based on locally grown products, such as meat from farm-bred animals, homegrown vegetables and homemade first courses, like firzuli con la mollica (pasta shaped by wrapping it round a metal wand and then prepared with the soft inside of a bread roll) and rascatelli (a type of short, hollow pasta) with ricotta and chilli pepper.
There are many dishes and products distinguishing Oriolo for the quality of the food and wine but the following are to note: taralli, crumbly savoury biscuits with a decided aroma of wild fennel. Oriolo taralli are prepared by mixing soft wheat flour, white wine, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, salt and local wild fennel seeds. Before being cooked, the taralli are boiled in water and then cooked in a wood-burning oven.