The Province of Calabria is generally seen as the stepchild of Italy although very few people ever took the trouble to visit this region so rich in history and culture. Sorry to add that I haven’t been there either … yet.
Situated at the southern tip of Italy, it was widely settled by the Greeks in the period between the eighth and the fourth century BC (see: Magna Graecia, the forgotten Greek legacy) and the modern cities of Reggio (Rhegion), Rosarno (Medma), Lamezia Terme (Terina), Crotone (Kroton), Catanzaro (Scylletium), Caulonia (Kaulonia), Locri (Epizephyrian Locris) and coastal cities of Bruttium (Scyllaeum and Petelia) have their roots back in those early days.
Except for a few vague architectural remains, no shipwreck that could give any indication about their provenance or destination was found, which evidently fueled further speculations. Meanwhile it has been established that the statues were made about thirty years apart: “Riace A” was apparently created between 460 and 450 BC whereas “Riace B” fits between the years 430-420 BC. So far, archeologists have not been able to agree whether they represent warriors, athletes or gods. Both are larger than life-size and measure nearly two meters. Both men are naked; the older man (Riace B) wears a helmet and the younger one (Riace A) shows his wavy hairdo. They may have carried a spear and shield; both are made of cast bronze but their eyelids and teeth are of silver, their nipples and lips of red copper, while their eyes are composed of ivory, limestone and a paste of glass and amber.
Scholars do not agree about the makers of these bronzes. “Riace A”, a man conscious of his good looks, may have been made by Myron of Eleutherae, an Athenian based artist of the mid 5th century BC; “Riace B” on the other hand, depicts a more mature man in a relaxed pose with a kind look in his eyes and could be from the hand of Alkamenes, a pupil of the great Phidias.
These magnificent bronzes made headlines again recently when after four years lying on their backs pending some repair and cleaning as victims of budget cuts and lots of red tape, they finally are back at the Archeological Museum of Reggio Calabria. They are now once again standing in all their glory for everyone to see.
At the end of last century both statues went on a triumphant pilgrimage through Italy to cities like Rome, Florence and Milan, but this kind of travel will not be repeated for the World Fair in Milan next year because their overall condition is far too delicate. Their exhibition for the G8-top in Genoa held in 2001 had already been refused. So, whoever wants to see these unique bronzes will inevitably have to travel to Reggio Calabria – an opportunity to visit more of Magna Graecia on the way?