The Valley of Sinni and Mercure

In Earth Cinema by Anish Kapoor, the contact with the land is essential. This monumental sculpture shows the relative nature of the human, physical and historical dimensions. The concept of ‘depth’ is important and can be explored from different points of view: a geological one, as it reminds us about the soul of the land and stratifications; an historical one, relating to human settlements in the region; and, finally, a conceptual one, because it promotes a participated movement that enables us to travel back in time and then return to the present days, with renewed knowledge and awareness.
Starting from the concepts of stratification and unique insight, we identified the key places of the area, the ones that tell the most about the interaction between nature and men. The villages of Latronico, Castelluccio Superiore and Viggianello are the backdrop of the story.
There are three levels of narration: the first represents the ancient and the deep, morphological erosion and prehistoric sites; the second is about human settlement and the interaction between men and the land, which gives rise to gastronomy, farming landscape, and historical centres; the third level is about men discovering nature, the mountain protected by the Park.
Our journey starts from Latronico, a village that stands out on a vast horizon, 3 km away from the Sinnica area, rich in precious environmental resources. Protected by the rocky Mount Alpi (1,900 m), it guards the shady stillness of the beechwood of Fagosa, the Malboschetto, where wild animals, such as the wolf, live. The mountain routes, from Piana fiorita to Teduri, are dotted with small fountains: these routes are ideal for trekking, with panoramic views over the gorges, ravines and ancient marble quarries. Downstream, abundant thermal spring water comes from the Calda (which means ‘hot’) water source (23° C), known, since the ancient times, for its healing properties.
In Latronico, we have thought of two ideal itineraries to enhance the peculiarity of the land and the meaning of Anish Kapoor’s work. The first itinerary, which is mostly related to nature, starts from contrada Iannazzo; under a stone quarry, at 980 m above sea level, you can see a fossil of Istiophoridae, of 235 cm in length from the rostrum to the caudal fin, and 95 cm in height from the dorsal to the ventral fins. To get there, take road SS 104. The route leads to one of the most important viewpoints, Mount Alpi, from whose peaks, when weather conditions are good, you can see the Tyrrhenian coast and the main peaks of Cilento area, to the west; the Val d’Agri area to the north; the Pollino massif to the south and the complex system of clay gullies known as ‘Calanchi’, descending to the Ionian Sea, to the south.
From the slopes of Mount Alpi, a trail leads to the heart of Malboschetto wood. The beechwood, known as ‘Fagosa’ by its inhabitants, is the ideal place to cool off during the summer heat, as the forest canopy is so dense that only a few sun’s rays can penetrate through the gaps. After having admired the natural beauties, the first part of the route ends in the most ancient inhabited settlement of Latronico.
The historical centre is characterised by poor architecture; houses are leaning one against the other to form an amphitheatre. The streets are winding and narrow and only one, via Dante Alighieri, goes through the entire historical centre, starting from Umberto I square and reaching up to the Church of Sant’Egidio. On Via Dante there are the palaces that in the past were considered as the most beautiful, with their portals in carved stone.
The second route starts from the Caves of Calda. These five caves, located in Calda, are very important for prehistoric studies in Southern Italy, in particular the period between the Mesolithic (8000 BC) and the Bronze Age (1300 BC). In Calda we also have the chance to visit three small museums and start a journey through the history of Latronico’s civilisation. They are the Civic Archaeological Museum, the Musuem of Spa and Wellness and the Museum of the Peasant Culture.
The important Thermal Baths of Latronico are easily accessible from this point. From the thermal spa, you can reach Sinni river, which originates at 1,380 m above sea level from Serra della Giumenta, on the eastern slope of Mount Sirino.
Two different routes start from this point:
the first road runs along the river, across a bridge, following the path that connects contrada Preti with Castelluccio Superiore, leading to Peschiera torrent’s valley and, finally, to Bosco Magnano. Peschiera torrent is another key point, as it is very rich in water sources and Hygrophila plants, commonly known as swampweeds. The vegetation here boasts a variety of species: Turkey oak, Beech, Alder and Poplar. The most important animal species include the otter, the deer, the spectacled salamander, the green woodpecker and the black squirrel. Between 1860 and 1870, the area was the setting of bloody episodes linked to brigandage.
The second road leads to the main, suggestive streets of Latronico, up to the town centre. The second step of our journey takes us to another village, at the heart of Pollino: Castelluccio Superiore. Anish Kapoor’s artwork is our guide through an ‘insider journey’, across the human, physical and historical dimensions.
It starts from the so-called Laure del Mercurion, natural caves where Basilian monks settled around the year 1000, which present clear signs of human ‘intervention’. They can be accessed through the ancient Roman road, Via Popilia, made in dry stone.
The same road leads to one of the most impressive works of the southern Italian railways: one helical gallery, incorporated in the 16 km railway route that once connected Prestieri to Laino (the first village in Calabria region).
Our journey leads to the historical centre of Castelluccio Superiore, through alleys and narrow streets, up to the first viewpoint, the ruins of the castle, where a superb panorama of the Mercure’s valley offers a 360° view on the peaks of the central Pollino massif.
This part of the itinerary ends with a visit to the Steles, surrounded by myths and legends of the pagan world. Popular legends tell that this seven, ancient, calcareous stones, half-moon shaped, are the symbol of a source of water. The mystery around the Steles, and the different meanings they have been given over time, takes us back to the historical periods that marked our region.
A trail leads to the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso, at 1,100 m above sea level; from here, the peak of Mount Zaccan, 1,680 m asl and natural habitat of the impressive Bosnian Pine, can be accessed.
Viggianello is our next destination, with its important natural, historical and cultural heritage, that well illustrates the history of our land. The historical continuity of these places also symbolises their cultural continuity; as a matter of fact, as it is in Castelluccio Superiore, the first point of interest are the hermitages, known as ‘Laure’: a positive sign of the relationship between men and the region.
Going up to the historical centre, through narrow streets reserved for pedestrian-only use, you arrive at the medieval castle, whose terraces offer a view on the highest peaks of the central Pollino massif.

This area, where men have always had special care for nature, is rich in water sources such as the one that gives its name to the entire valley: the Mercure’s source, the last stop of our tour.