Southern Italy - one of the poorest regions in Europe

After about half a year, our time in Italy has come to an end. At least, in the mainland part of Italy. Because now we first took the ferry to Sicily, where we arrived in Messina for the second time. But before we turn to that we want to take a look back at Calabria and southern Italy, which were something like our home during the last months.

Die kalabrische Küste

The Calabrian coast

The further south the poorer

It was noticeable that especially down here, at the southernmost point of the coast, it became poorer, shabbier and more run-down with every step. We had now entered an area that could hardly be distinguished from poor districts in Latin American or African cities. The only difference was that here the corresponding big city was missing.

When we thought back to our trip through Italy, we could even say that there had been a shallow but noticeable and permanent development from north to south, where it had become poorer and poorer and more and more unkempt. At the latest from the border to Basilicata it had been like a new country, which had only little in common with the northern part of Italy. That this area was also called Cal-Africa in a somewhat pejorative way.

Reggio Calabria - City of waste

From Reggio Calabria, the capital of Calabria, which was at the farthest point of Italy, we expected a little more. Somehow we had assumed to find here again a culturally attractive city in which we could visit a lot. But apart from a cathedral and maybe four or five other buildings worth seeing, the city did not offer anything at all. It was built up like every run-down village we had visited before. Only a little bigger. We could not really answer the question why people wanted to live here. About 90 % of all buildings were square concrete blocks, which would have been called building sin anywhere else in the world. But that alone was not enough. It was much more the fact that one had the feeling that the people themselves hated their city and therefore treated it as badly as they could.

Der Weg nach Reggio Calabria ist mit Müll gepflastert

The road to Reggio Calabria is paved with garbage

Garbage just lay everywhere

Not only here in Reggio Calabria, but everywhere. About every one or two kilometres you walked over real garbage dumps, even if you followed the normal roads. Even on the beach, where the beach holidaymakers still lay like sardines in a can, there was a garbage island about every fifty metres. It was the collection point where they had actually provided garbage cans for the removal.

Die Armut in Süditalien ist übrall sichtbar

The poverty in southern Italy is visible everywhere

A throwaway society as it is in the book

But the Italians loved to produce garbage. They even used plastic plates and plastic cutlery for normal household use. If you order a dessert in a bar, you get it on plastic. Even if you're right in the bar. If you take it with you, it is additionally wrapped in a plastic box that you put into a plastic bag. Fruit and vegetable sellers, however, have already learned a lot about the environment. That's why they now sell their food in recycled paper bags. Of course, these are then put into plastic bags again afterwards, because there is no other way, but you can already see the beginnings.

Sehenswürdigkeiten in Calabrien

Places of interest in Calabria

In any case, this infatuation with rubbish means that both bins and refuse collection are mercilessly overtaxed with their task. The result is a veritable garbage island that rots in the heat and stinks of decay and rot for a good kilometre against the wind. With a distance of just 100 m between the garbage dumps, you can surely imagine what that means.

Vermüllte Straßen in Süditalien

Littered roads in southern Italy

Bodies line the path

And as if that wasn't enough, about every two to three kilometres there is a dead animal lying on the roadway, which happily decays here. Once a dead dog lay directly on a sidewalk and had already decayed to a skeleton with skin and hair. So he had been lying here for at least a month, blocking the way for walkers and cyclists. Yet no one had even bothered to push him to the side.

Ein Hunde-Kadaver am Straßenrand

A dog carcass at the roadside

We found a dead cat in similar condition a few days later in front of the entrance of a house. The inhabitants had to bend over it to get to the bell and the mailboxes. The stench, however, was so unbearable already from three meters that we could not stand to breathe without pressing our scarves in front of our faces. And yet. It still lay there and was accepted as a new part of the entrance to the house.

Actually we had thought that just these things wouldn't happen in a city like Reggio Calabria, but as soon as we reached the center, Heiko almost stumbled over a decaying marten lying in the middle of the road.

Ein Schloss in Calabrien

A castle in Calabria

Why quality when you can also mess up?

What fascinated us most about southern Italy was the talent of the people here to make everything as impractical and non-functional as possible. That was really impressive. Here are a few examples:

Sockets in all sizes and shapes

In Germany there is exactly one type of socket for all common electronic devices that do not require high voltage current. Accordingly, there are also matching plugs that fit into each of these sockets. In Italy it is different. Theoretically, you have the same plug system as we do, but in practice we carry more adapters than in the UK.

kleine antike Dorfkirche

little ancient village church

The reason is that there are at least three different types of sockets:

  • One with normal spacing and small holes,
  • one with normal spacing and large holes
  • and one with extra-wide spacing and big holes.

There are also some mixed forms, as well as several different ways to place the grounding, so that this alone always prevents you from plugging a plug into the socket. But this is almost negligible. But here it comes. Our ordinary round plugs, which have a grounding, will only fit into sockets with normal spacing and large holes.

Castello di le Castella

Castello di le Castella

They hardly ever exist. Our flat plugs, as we know them from fairy lights or battery chargers, also fit into the small holes. But one has to be careful here, as they tend to get stuck, which can lead to the fact that when pulling them out, one holds the plug in the hand but not the two prongs with which it gets stuck in the socket. Most Italian multiple plugs and extension cords, on the other hand, have a plug with large prongs and a long distance between them. There is no adapter for these, so you have to be lucky that there is always at least one socket in the room designed for this dimension. However, it can happen - and here we speak from our own experience - that you are provided with such a cable by a host, but that he does not have a single socket that fits to it.

Kunstvolle Fächer

Artful subjects

Voltage peaks and energy troughs

In addition, the voltage in the electricity grid is subject to very strong fluctuations, especially here in southern Italy. So it can happen that a mobile phone is connected to the grid overnight and in the morning it is only charged by a few percent because the voltage is insufficient. It can also happen that one connects it and that a spark strikes you, which could almost pass as a real lightning bolt. Therefore, every now and then you can see plugs that have completely melted because they could not withstand the voltage peaks.

Das Castello di le Castella bei Nacht

Das Castello di le Castella at night

windows and doors

If there is one thing that Italians here love even more than pasta and garbage production, it is driving. Accordingly, you have traffic almost always and everywhere. So car traffic. With the other one you stay here rather discreetly behind closed doors. But even there we are already back to the topic. Because the windows and doors are not really lockable here. Also with us there are areas where the traffic is unbearably loud and annoying. But usually we have particularly soundproof windows and doors. These are soundproofed that the sound that is generated inside stays inside, while all other sounds are blocked out. Here, on the other hand, we usually use single-pane glass in wooden frames, which do not even have a seal, let alone a functioning locking system. This means that you will feel almost no difference whether a window is open or closed.

Das Hotel Costa Jonica

The Hotel Costa Jonica

You have the same problem with the doors. These consist either of thin wooden panels or, even better, of a steel plate. Steel certainly has some great advantages, but unfortunately insulation is not one of them. For example, the doors transmit heat and cold as well as sound as if they had not been created for any other purpose. In summer you can fry fried eggs on the doors and in winter you feel as if the heat is being sucked out of the room. It even happened that we opened the doors because the clean air insulated better than the steel door.

Unser Zimmer im Hotel Costa Jonica

Our room in Hotel Costa Jonica

heat and cold budget

With the steel door we have a perfect transition to the next topic, which drives us personally crazy. For some reason, Italians in general and those in southern Italy in particular seem to hate all forms of insulation material. A house here is usually built like this: Pillars of pure cast concrete or bricks faced with concrete. Then concrete slabs are placed on top of them as intermediate ceilings and the whole thing is finished off with sloping concrete slabs for the roof. In between there are windows, doors and other concrete elements to close everything more or less. At first sight, this construction method raises a few questions.

Why do you build all the houses in a way that reminds on a house of cards, when the whole Italy is an earthquake area? And really all of them, starting from the tool shed over family houses, churches and supermarkets up to residential complexes and hotel complexes.


Showman car

Who needs insulation material

But that is not all! The paint is applied directly to the concrete walls, while the roofs are partly (really only partly) covered with corrugated iron or roof tiles. But these are then also applied directly to the concrete that forms the roof truss without any insulation material. This means that there is not a single house here that has been built in the last fifty years that has even a hint of insulation. Why? We are located mainly in the south of Italy, in a region where it can easily reach 45°C in summer. In winter it doesn't get really cold here, but at night temperatures can drop below 10°C. This means that in summer the rooms heat up like incubators, while in winter they cool down to such an extent that despite the mild climate here, one freezes at night. Why, I ask myself! Why?

All the techniques to build houses more sensibly are known, but are not used. If you ask the locals, you won't get a clear answer. And it goes on!  
Kirche in Süditalien

Church in Southern Italy

Better too hot than too cold

Air conditioners, which we thought were the absolute standard in southern Italy, are a luxury item here that is as rare as chairs and tables that do not wobble. But there are also no heating systems. So it is always uncomfortable in the houses here, both in summer and in winter.

Another fascinating phenomenon: Especially in the last few years, there has been a development that people are moving more and more to the big cities, while in the smaller ones more and more apartments are empty. Often, however, the ground floor apartments are left empty, while the apartments on the upper floors are still occupied. The already unbearable interior temperature rises by one degree with every step of the stairs.

Kalabriens Steilküste

Calabria's steep coast

Path systems

Throughout Europe there is a relatively extensive system of larger and smaller roads and paths. Not here. Especially along the coast, the technology has been chosen to lay small roads only as branch roads from the highway to the sea and to build this one highway as the only connection along the coast. Imagine if there were a continuous foot and cycle path around the entire Italian coast, similar to the Danube cycle path, which runs completely through southern Germany and Austria. This would attract a swarm of tourists, who would not only come to the beach for frying, but all year round. They would book hotel rooms, visit places of interest and eat and drink a lot. Just what the people here can offer.

Stadtkirche von Reggio Calabria

City church of Reggio Calabria

Domestic tourism

But instead, in the south of Italy, one almost completely renounces to foreign tourism and concentrates on the own people that live in the mountains and want to get to the sea in the summer time. These people, however, usually have hardly any money at their disposal, which is why a major part of the infrastructure in the tourist resorts simply decays again. Except in Spain, where madness has been committed with the senseless building boom, nowhere else in the world have we seen so many empty and decaying hotels, restaurants and bars as here in southern Italy.

Almost every day someone complains that there is no work here and that tourism is not working as it used to. The solution would be so simple and if you ask the people here about this idea, they immediately answer: "Yes, that would change something!". But at the same time they also have the feeling that such an idea would be completely crazy. "A continuous cycle path? Our place? Never! That's ridiculous!"

The hierarchical system

A normal hierarchy works as follows. The boss, who sits at the top of the pyramids, makes the most important decisions. All others he delegates to his next subordinates. These in turn make the decisions that are most important to them and delegate everything else further down the pyramids. This is how the game then continues. On the other hand, each decision-maker has a deputy. This is usually a confidant who knows him well and who makes the decisions in his place in case the boss is absent.

The one-man hierarchy

An Italian hierarchical system works differently. At first we thought that this is only within the church, where the pastor simply has sole control over his parish. But no! It really does affect every system, from the supermarket to the church to the city administration. It works like this: The highest boss makes all the decisions. That's it! That's all there is. If the top boss isn't there or doesn't have time because he has other decisions to make, then nothing happens. The system stops and waits until the boss is available again. Or until he is replaced by a new one, because the old one usually doesn't last that long before he is incapacitated by a burnout or a nervous breakdown.

No kidding! If you meet a deputy here, it's the same as if you meet a cleaner or the postman. In the best case you get the information when the boss comes back or how to reach him. That is all.


Optimal Zen Training

Now these were just some of the most present examples that influence our everyday life the most and through which we regard every day as a mental training to maintain the inner peace of a Zen master. Without this, one would definitely go crazy here and become either insane or a psychopath. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a complete account of the many details in which everyday madness is manifested. But it is definitely a very special experience. If you really want to do it is up to you, but if you get into it, then it definitely offers some material for funny anecdotes. Anecdotes you can laugh heartily about at least with a slight distance.

The slogan of the day: The spiders the Romans! (Asterix and Obelix)

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