The magnificent hilltop village of San Giovanni a Piro, which enjoys some of the most spectacular views of the whole Cilento, has medieval origins and Greek-oriental provenance, revealed by its name Ab Epirum, that in Latin means from Epirus, very important historical region shared today between Greece and Albania.
Here the Basilian monks built the Coenobium of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist), one of the most important monasteries of Greek monasticism in Southern Italy.
Also, they sculpted towards 1200, on the tip of Mount Piccotta, a statue of the Virgin that forms a single body with the niche carved into the stone, with classic characteristics of Byzantine iconography: this masterpiece is the Sanctuary of Pietrasanta, built on a cliff rock overlooking the Gulf of Policastro.
The Coenobium of Saint John has long been the heart of the hamlet. Around the middle of the 15th century, Cardinal Bessarion called to San Giovanni a Piro the humanist, translator, philosopher and grammarian Theodorus Gaza, Greek from Thessaloniki, who drafted the “Statutes” or “Chapters” of the land of San Giovanni a Piro. In 49 articles, the relations between the Coenobium and the hamlet of S. Giovanni a Piro were regulated through rules of Civil, Criminal, Administrative and Public Security Law.
As for the whole coastline, San Giovanni a Piro must defend itself from the attacks and dangers that come from the sea. The architecture arrived to us is a very clear testimony of this: the narrow alleys, the leaning walls, the houses that resemble a wall were built precisely for the purpose of defending themselves. This did not always help: e.g., the notorious Dragut destroyed San Giovanni a Piro in one of his raids — along with many other villages in Cilento.
Even today the historic centre, with its narrow streets, its spectacular churches, its hilly green buttresses of Mediterranean maquis is a small, great jewel.
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