Castrovillari is an enchanting small town at the foothills of the Pollino. Its urban area extends in two parts, the historical centre, with its elegant monuments called Civita connecting with a rocky point and the new rich modern quarter spread out at the foothills of the Monte Pollino.
Various archeological sites give testimony to early forms of organized life from the age of Hellenic and Bruzia era, although other artifacts have been found on the banks of the river Coscile (ancient “Sybaris”) and are now kept in the Civic Museum of the city, date from the Paleolithic era. The discovery of some ruins of Roman villas confirm the site was colonized by Romans, from which the ancient name of the city Castrum Villarum, “the village fort” is derived. This name appears in a certificate belonging to Count Ruggero, in 1094.
Certainly the origins of the place stem from the medieval period since during this period it was strategically placed between the two coasts and became an important economic and commercial centre.
A remarkable recovery took place in the city of Castrovillari around the XI Century under the Swabian dominion, when it was enlarged and defined as the “città nuova degli Svevi” (the new Swabian city). In 1064, the Normans with Roberto Guiscardo at their head, besieged and conquered the city centre. The Norman dominion lasted till 1189, when Costanza d’Altvilla, the last decent of a Norman family, married Arrigo VI from the Swabian family, consequently the power passed to the Swabians. The Swabians dominated the area until the battle of Benevento in 1266, when Castrovillari and the whole of Southern Italy passed into the hands of the Angevins, who ruled until 1400, after which Ferdinando I d’Argagona finally conquered Castrovillari. From this period is the Aragonese Castle which was completed in 1480, however was not built with the purpose of protecting the town but to intimidate the population from continuing revolts against the Aragonese. This aim is declared in the Latin phrase inscribed under the Coat of Arms in the entrance to the castle. “ad continendos in fide cives” (In order to confine the faith of citizens).
Following which the city passed directly under imperial authority, then finally enfeoffed to the family of Spinelli di Cariati, who ruled almost continuously until the 'end of feudalism’, except from 1579 to 1610 during which the city was owned by the family Sanserverino di Bisignano. In 1700 the Bourbons took control of all Southern Italy. In 1806 the Bourbon troops were beaten by the French army of Napoleon at Campotense and the City of Castrovillari fell. The arrival of the French brought great change to Castrovillari, fuedalism was abolished, the monasteries were suppressed and the rich middle classes were granted large plots of land. The nobility were forced to sell their noble titles. The French innovations led to the urbanization of the Piano dei Peri, and the city expanded towards what is now Corso Garibaldi. The large pavements are testimony to the fact that they were built in the image of French boulavards. Under the French the district of Castrovillari was recognized as the chief town of the area. With the fall of the Napoleonic dominion, Congress of Vienna, in 1820, the Bourbons returned to power until the Risorgimento Italiano and Castrovillari became part of a united Italy. Castrovillari played an important part in the reunification of Italy, in 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi together with Giuseppe Pace arrived triumphantly in Castrovillari and soon after in Piazza San Giuliano, the people’s plebiscite was held for the Unity of Italy.
The history of the city circles around the hill of the Madonna del Castello, which is strategically located. The legend about the construction of the church began in 1090 by Ruggero Conte di Calabria and Sicily, successor to Roberto Guiscardo, who orders the building of a castle, as he fears the citizens’ rebellion, on the peak of the hill above the ancient city. It is said that the construction of the castle commenced straight away, but each night the day’s work was miraculously destroyed “ignota manu”. Sothe Count decided to dig the foundations deeper into the earth, while this was happening an image of the Madonna appeared painted on a wall. The population declared it was a miracle and the Count Ruggero instead of building a castle, ordered that a church should be built in its stead. The church was called the Madonna del Castello. In the opinion of prof. Francesco Di Vasto in History and Archeology of Castrovillari, the church was named Santa Maria de Castro, as was inscribed in a certificate of 1114, which made explicit reference to a document of 1109, which has been lost, but was the oldest record of the church.