The number of pilgrims visiting the Sanctuary, which can be found perching on the mountainous slopes overlooking the town, has been increasing year upon year.
Another must-see attraction in the historic centre is the Fontana dei Sette Canali (Fountain of Seven Canals). Built in the mid-seventeenth century by local craftsmen, it has a characteristic fan shape which is a clear reference to the tail of the peacock, the symbol of the city. The walls of the structure are adorned with decorative motifs including the head of a human, animals and fantasy figures. The shields at the top depict the coat of arms of the Spinelli di Fuscaldo family who ruled over the city for about three centuries, starting from 1500. The fountain is located at the foot of a long flight of steps near the church of the Rosary, whose interior is decorated in a Baroque style and which houses an imposing pipe organ.
In Piazza del Popolo you can admire a 17th century sandstone fountain and a Renaissance arch supporting an ancient clock tower whose mechanism dates back to the 17th century. The church of the Madonna di Montevergine with its baroque facade is also located on the Piazza del Popolo and houses the icon of the Madonna and Child as well as a cabinet organ from the mid-18th century, a Byzantine panel and a 16th century canvas depicting Saints Biagio and Lorenzo.
The Sanctuary is located in the upper, hilly part of the town nestled in the gorge of the Isca torrent in a lush valley teeming with vegetation. A popular pilgrimage destination throughout southern Italy, it houses some of the Saint's remains.
After spending a period of time at the Franciscan monastery, Saint Francis, who was born in 1416, began his religious journey. During this time, he retreated in solitude for several years and lived as a hermit in a cave, surviving only on herbs. Many people were so fascinated by this mystical figure that they became “Minims”- followers of the order founded by the saint. Saint Francis is said to have been responsible for many miracles and was therefore canonised on 4 May 1519 by Pope Leo X, just twelve years after his death.
Just in front of the Sanctuary, you will find a large square which leads to the main facade of the temple. To the right of the main entrance is an archway leading to the side section of the sanctuary. This area contains the large modern basilica and the so-called Miracle Zone where you can admire the fountain of the cucchiarella from which pilgrims often drink. Next to the fountain, visitors can marvel at an unexploded bomb that fell into the stream next to the Shrine during an Anglo-American bombardment in August 1943. As you continue along the path you will reach the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's Bridge), on which, according to tradition, the Saint warded off Satan. You will also encounter a pathway which leads to the refuge inhabited by the Saint in his youth.
As you access the Sanctuary through the main entrance, you will see two semi-open rooms. The first room is home to several tombstones dating between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries which commemorate various festivities and events involving the Sanctuary. However, it's the second room that is the real pronaos of the ancient basilica: on the right you will find the portal for accessing the basilica whereas on the left you can take in a view of the stream and the adjacent convent. Straight ahead is the entrance to the cloister and hermitage of the Saint and the cell of Blessed Nicholas.
The ancient, Romanesque-style basilica, which dates back to the 16th century, consists of a large, rather bare main hall and a single side aisle on the right along which four small chapels are located. The aisle leads up to the decadent Baroque chapel that houses the few relics of Saint Francis that were procured by the city, including some of his clothes and bone fragments.
In the Sanctuary's cloister, which is closed off to the outside by glass windows, you will find the Saint’s flourishing rose garden whose interior walls are decorated with frescoes depicting the main episodes in the life of the Saint, many of which are tied to legends. Just opposite the garden you will find the hermitage of Saint Francis, a set of narrow underground spaces that formed the original monastic centre for the saint and his confreres. Between the cloister and the ancient basilica stands the temple's bell tower.
The Sanctuary is now the symbol of Calabrian Christianity and attracts pilgrims and visitors alike throughout the year. Many visitors come to take part in the celebrations of Saint Francis’ birth held on 27 March and those held on 2 April in commemoration of his death. Impressive festivities also take place between 1 and 4 May. For the occasion, several processions are organised on land and sea, in addition to concerts and shows.
The Castle’s tower perches on a rocky slope overlooking the Tyrrhenian coast in one of the most historically rich areas of Calabria. Cylindrical in shape, it stands on a four-sided bastion and was once the main part of a collaborative system of fortifications. In fact, the coastal towers acted as the final means of defence and were supported by the garrison located further upstream which also defended the town. The garrison was also the official residence of the feudal lord.
The origins of the castle are unclear. According to vague sources gathered from local historiography it is thought to date back to the Norman age and later to the Swabian period. Military requirements led to the development and growth of its connection routes and defence systems.
Visitors to Paola will, of course, be able to sample the area’s traditional gastronomy which includes authentic dishes prepared with local ingredients. Typical dishes include homemade pasta seasoned in a variety of appetising ways such as pasta ca' mmuddica, with breadcrumbs and anchovies, and pasta with fresh tuna and wild fennel or broccoli.
Among the main courses, freshly caught local fish such as anchovies with onion, spicy swordfish, fish soup and fish in a tomato sauce should be on every tourist’s gastronomic bucket list.
Local side dishes mainly consist of fresh seasonal vegetables and delicacies such as peperonata, potatoes with fried black olives, stuffed aubergines and cauliflower pancakes.
Cheeses such as ricotta, pecorino and scamorza, and cold cuts including soppresata and the speciality known as 'nduglia will also delight your taste buds.