A newly restored treasure of Sicilian Art Nouveau

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The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III at Messina was built from 1924 to 1929 by architect Camillo Puglisi Allegra who was inspired by the ornate seventeenth-century Sicilian baroque style which dominates the island, particularly in the Val di Noto area of South Eastern Sicily.

The beautiful Galleria has recently been reopened after many decades of abandonment, and in the evening it becomes a swirling buzz of cafes, bars, pizzerias, restaurants and fast food joints.

But visiting it in the early morning sunlight you really get a sense of the scale, colours and almost religious understanding of this elegant Liberty style structure, so characteristic of the eclectic post-1908 style of Messina.

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The Galleria is located on via Cavour and is part of a small cluster of important public buildings who circle the Piazza Antonello square at the entrance to the Galleria.

The circle around the piazza includes the main Post Office of Messina which was designed by architect Vittorio Mariani, il Palazzo della Provincia (or provincial government) built by Alessandro Giunta and the very grand Palazzo del Municipio (town hall of Messina) which is a work of the celebrated architect Antonio Zanca.

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In the morning the Galleria is like a stain-glass filled church, the sunshine streams in and there is a peaceful silence which allows you to take in the scope of the place and all of the decorative details.

The balconies which look out from the first floor onto the mosaic details on the expansive floor, the marble details, archways and domed ceilings are simply elegant. The balance of the simple classical elements gives the Galleria a real sense of style without being ostentatious.

It is light filled, breezy, with a wonderful well rounded sounding acoustics which I think would be perfect for chamber music, opera, choral music and other such refined performances which often find it difficult to find a performance space outside of the theatre.

And who would not pay good money to stay in an apartment or B&B directly over such a picturesque place?

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The Galleria seems to be empty, making it a home for Messina’s Burger King is a waste. The large elegant space has the potential to a focus of ongoing events and vibrant economic activities. If marketing is done the right way this venue could be the focal point of cafes, markets, local brands, offices and many other sources of entertainment.

Rather than lying half asleep in the late morning it should be bustling with people. The Galleria deserves to be filled with families, locals and tourists visiting and marvelling over this beautiful attraction, similar to other Galleria’s at Naples and Milan.

Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II


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Messina’s Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II was built in 1852 by Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies.

The building is in the Neoclassical style and was designed by Neapolitan architect Pietro Valente. Previously known as the Teatro Sant’ Elisabetta its name was changed after the Expedition of the Thousand (Italian Spedizione dei Mille) which was a part of the Italian Risorgimento that took place in 1860.

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Spanish Bourbon King Ferdinand II

A corps of volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi sailed from Quarto, near Genoa (now Quarto dei Mille) and landed in Marsala, Sicily to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, ruled by the Spanish Bourbons in a bid to help unify the Italian peninsula into modern Italy we know today.

The three archways at its portico entrance are elegant in the early morning sunshine and are embellished by marble architecture created by Messina’s sculpture Saro Zagari.

Walking by the theatre in the early morning the building is covered in a beautiful golden glow, each elegant embellishment seems to catch your eye and it is always a focus of contemporary art and performance. It’s outer halls often are host to exhibitions from antique opera costumes to contemporary pop art there is always something to see.

 

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Intrigued by these two busts engraved into the front of the theatre I googled them immediately on my phone. Count Vittorio Alfieri (1749 – 1803) was an Italian dramatist and poet and considered the creator of the Italian tragedy.

While Giovanni Battista Niccolini (1782 – 1861) was a believer in the independence of Italy and his neoclassical drama showed his idealistic belief in liberal politics with a distinct romantic flare. So it is no surprise why these two playwrights are featured on the facade of the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II at Messina. Both were symbols of the new Italian theatre when the building was first constructed.

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Inside the theatre, the ceiling was decorated by Sicily’s most well known contemporary artist Renato Guttuso and represents the legend of the half man half fish Colapesce who dived below the island to discover its mysteries.

The expansive painting is stark, modern and typically evocative as is usual in Guttuso’s style. The anorexic mermaids pose around observing the skeletal Cola Pesce who is diving naked down under the island of Sicily to discover the lava river flowing at its foundations. Noticing one of the four pillars holding up Sicily is about to give way he stays below, helping to hold up the island from the abyss below.

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In between Christmas and New Years of 1908 Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II was enjoying its winter Opera season as a thriving Sicilia Opera house.

On the 28th of December as the crowd of spectators had finished enjoying an excellent performance of Verdi’s Aida and the orchestra was packing up to go home in the early morning, the worst tragedy possible happened, wiping out the grand city in a dozen or so terrifying seconds of the earthquake and tidal wave.
The aftermath is the subject of hundreds of books, biographies and testimonies which tell the sad tale of too little help arriving too late, hundreds of orphans, looting and thievery of ruined houses, broken families, fortunes and hopes.  Millionaires became paupers, a thriving city reduced to rubble in seconds, the population became ghosts and the city a desolate wreck.

And many more stories still of heroic acts, of many locals who returned home to help their city to rebuild, the Italian Parliament who decided to fund the reconstruction of a town which no longer existed, the many generations of people who lived in temporary homes while the city was rebuilt and the many acts of kindness towards Messina from the Italian royal family to the entire world.

The Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II reopened its doors for performances once again in 1980.

 

Sicily in November

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The first and second of November in Sicily are sombre, holy and sad days dedicated to Saints and dead souls. A month of meteorological transition, which has been causing havoc all over Italy this year (2018) with extensive flooding in Veneto and Alto Adige.
In the south, there is a flux between the hot scirocco winds from Africa which whips up wind storms and slowly is pushed aside by the cool Baltic stream.
Every year the days are always uneasy, with hot allergy-inducing sandy winds in the day, followed by cooler longer nights and then days of rain before gradually settling down into a routine of winter-like chill.

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The garden and the plate are also transforming as tomatoes and aubergines are replaced with mushrooms and pumpkins.
As the vegetable garden prepares for winter greens in the planting of fennel, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, peas, beans, spinach and other leafy greens.
We welcome the persimmons and pomegranate together with our friends the walnut and chestnut.

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With the feast day of San Martino on the eleventh of November where the pressed grapes of October are miraculously transformed into ‘vino novello.’
French Saint Martin was the third bishop of Tours and is one of the most familiar and recognisable Christian saints in the Western tradition.
When Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army and stationed in Gaul (modern-day France). As he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. Martin thought to cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.”

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El Greco – San Martín y el mendigo

In another version of the famous story, Martin woke to find his cloak restored to its original state. The dream confirmed Martin’s mission in life, he was baptised at the age of 18 and then became a religious minister.

St Martin’s shrine in Tours became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His cult was revived in the French nationalism of the Franco-Prussian war of the late nineteenth century and as a consequence became the patron saint of France.

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In Sicily, San Martino gives us his ‘summer’ of Saint Martin, a blessed week of fine weather and sunshine before winter sets in. A perfect moment to taste the year’s new wine and drink a toast to the patron saint of soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors and vintners.

 

In fact, the feast of Saint Martin features heavily in the events calendar of Sicily this month. Here is another list of suggestions to pin later for anyone visiting the island this month.
(Events may vary from year to year, this information is valid for November 2018.)

 

Nov in Sicily

 

Images are taken from Unsplash.com, Canva.com and Wikipedia Media Commons.

The historical heart of Messina

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Piazza Duomo at the heart of Messina’s historic centre and is the focus of the city’s social and cultural life.

 

A few minutes walk from the port, train station, post office, university and shopping districts the piazza is wonderfully positioned.

 

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Lined with gracious palazzi, cute bars, restaurants and shady trees it is a beautiful spot to the side and soak up the sunshine, even in the middle of winter.

 

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Apart from the occasional busload of tourists or cruise liner passengers who stop to see the clockwork bell tower go through its midday chiming routine, the piazza is a tranquil place to visit.

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Right at its heart is the beautifully restored Cathedral and bell tower, which was nearly completely destroyed during the 1908 earthquake.

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Today it stands miraculously restored to its former greatness and is a must visit place filled with ornamentation marble sculptures and artful details. It is a beautiful church to wander through at any time of the year.

Downstairs there is a permanent exhibition of the Duomo’s treasures filled with golden ecclesiastical objects and beautiful donations given to the Madonna of Messina in thanks for the many miracles she has granted to the city.

The bell tower houses the largest and most complex piece of intricate clockwork in the world. Constructed in Strasberg, the sixty-meter tall campanile is made up of an impressive astronomical clock and a collection of gold-coated bronze statues which acts out seven different scenes symbolic of Messina’s history. (Clockwork Messina)

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The beautifully restored Cathedral at Messina is made even more spectacular simply because it was nearly completely destroyed during the 1908 earthquake. Today it stands miraculously restored to its former greatness and is a must-see place lovingly rebuilt by the locals. One could only imagine how beautiful the original church might have been.

 

Messina’s Madonna

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Messina has a special connection to its Parton the Virgin Mary. Not only does she welcome the ships into the port with her giant golden statue at the entrance of the naturally formed inlet. She has many churched dedicated to her, and her image is at the centre of the city’s immense faith and religious celebrations.

On the third of June, a procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to the myth was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is part of a procession around the town for the Madonna della Lettera.

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For the mid-August holidays, a float is constructed in her honour at Messina. The Vara, an elaborate cart depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels ending with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the sky as she ascends body and soul into heaven.

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The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes while singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

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The Quattro Fontane (four fountains) once dominated the corners of the two main streets of the city in pre-1908 Messina between Via Austria (now via I Settembre) and Via Cardines. The decorative fountain heads were constructed between 1666 and 1742.

The immense structures were symbolic of the city’s beauty and aesthetics before the disaster hit. Palermo’s surviving Quattro Canti mimic the style and grandeur of what Messina’s four fountains may have been.

The first fountain was designed by Florentine architect I. Mangani while later in 1717 the second was made by a local sculpture Ignazio Buceta. While the final two were completed in 1742 by unknown artists.

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Damaged significantly in the 1908 earthquake the two remaining fountains have been reassembled in the surviving stretch of Via Cardines, while fragments of the other fountains in this series are preserved in the Regional Museum of Messina together with many artefacts left behind in the aftermath of the destruction of the city.
The details in the two reconstructed fountain heads recall the influence of the Tuscan and Roman style which was popular in the seventeenth century. The elaborate decorative heads and features remember elements of mythology and the artistry behind their designs is obvious.

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Even if only a little part of these fountains survived, it is certain they were terrific to witness when they first became a part of the city of Messina.

Walking around Messina

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I love walking around and exploring the streets of Messina.

This city is filled with many treasures, and its details tell many stories.
The beauty of the world is always found in small pieces of beauty.
Like in the moments we connect to those around us, a handshake, a smile, a quick greeting, the brush of a cheek, small discrete intimacies which create harmony.

 

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When I notice a pattern on a wall, a small flourish or funny shaped piece in the puzzle, there is a sensation of feeling connected to an essential human past as if feeling the warmth of another palm against my own opened hand.
Each precious little mosaic tile tells you about how it was all put together. A work of art is created one day at a time, one word after the other, one brush stroke at the moment, until one day you step back and see the bigger picture and see you have finished something bigger than yourself, a work which will speak to everyone.
I’d like to share the little details I discovered while exploring on an early morning walk around the city.

Please come with me to Messina.

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Messina is a living, breathing miracle. The city was decimated in one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history.

On the early morning of the 28th of December in 1908, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed ninety per cent of the buildings of Messina and Reggio Calabria on the opposite side of the strait which separates Sicily from mainland Italy.

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In the second half of the 1800’s Messina was a thriving hub of economic and cultural activity. It was described as a beautiful city filled with a succession of beautiful palazzi, churches and a beautiful baroque fountain which provided fresh mountain spring water to its inhabitants directly in the centre of the town.

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Gradually over the decades the city has picked up the rubble and rebuilt itself, some reconstruction projects lasting up until the 1980’s while others continue until today.

Many well-known literati, musicians, businessman and barristers worked and lived in the city. The university hosted many famous intellectuals of the day as lecturers.

Even today the University of Messina fills the town with bookstores, trendy cafes, take away stores and restaurants frequented by young students giving Messina the vibrancy that only University towns can have.

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While Messina is usually a chaotic, buzzing metropolis for most of the year as it is the focus of essential offices for the provincial and national government, towards the end of August when most office workers are still on holiday the city is much calmer and more comfortable to explore.

This is when I usually like to go for a visit, explore the typically crowded streets, take the time to soak in the cosmopolitan atmosphere and so some street photography.

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At Messina the buildings are always as expressive as the people, they speak without words, their delicate details tell of their reconstruction, the care and love that was expressed by the locals to never let go of their city, bringing it back from an apocalyptical end.

Unexpected travels in Italy

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Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

 

Dolce Vita Bloggers have asked us to share our fun tales about travels in Italy. Really every day living here is filled with journeys and experiences, too many to share in one post.

Italy has taught me the art of being a traveller rather than a simple tourist. Because of the immense amount of monuments, museums, churches and art galleries to see it is literally impossible to see everything, so you are forced to choose what speaks most loudly to you.

You need to give yourself space to notice the little things, a detail in design, a quirky cherub in a church, the colours of different mosaic tiles, an exotic door knocker, clothes hanging on a clothesline from a balcony or a beautiful little old lady walking around the markets doing her shopping.

The beauty of Italia is always in the little details, allow yourself the time to observe the bliss of the moment, the sounds of the streets, a vibrant conversation in Italian, a motorino zipping past, the colours of the fruit and vegetables, the feel of the stone on an ancient palazzo, a detail in the architecture. Italy is a feast for the senses, so see, taste, feel, smell and listen to every single moment.

Italia is the home of the unexpected, often you are forced to improvise and be flexible. You will find places closed for lunch, or will be made late by traffic, or find yourself waiting in never-ending lines. But if you embrace the mishaps you will be taken into place you would never have imagined.

For travelling in Italy, you need to pack a good sense of humour, a certain amount of patience and a whole lot of time because anything can and will happen. Trains and planes will be late, locals infuriatingly will not be in a hurry, tourists will be, and you can expect the unexpected.

Sitting down to write this post my mind is ticking over the many strange and funny occurrences on my travels around Italy. Everything from getting off the wrong train station in Tuscany and discovering a totally new town.

To inadvertently catching the last bus to my father’s families original hometown in the Abruzzo region and getting a lift into town with a kind bus driver who turned out to be a distant cousin.

Disastrously following a GPS off the beaten track and into a dry riverbank in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Sicily’s criminal lack of road signs.

Getting hopelessly lost in Venice, finding many cute little stores and accidentally stumbling back on my hotel after an entire afternoon of aimlessly wondering.

Being caught up in a police blitz in Florence and seeing the African street vendors hot tail out from in front of the Uffizi before the Carabinieri arrived.

Or the time I was on a romantic dinner in Lucca and a water pipe burst in the apartment above the restaurant. While being accompanied outside I witnessed an absent-minded elderly man swearing at the janitor of the building because his house had been flooded. The man had just run out of his house accidentally forgetting to put on his pants.

The most amazing moment was when I went to see an exhibition at Florence in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi which was dedicated to the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. After seeing all of the fruits of da Vinci’s imagination and extra detailed models of Filippo Brunelleschi’s project for the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, at Florence.

After I finished I decided to take a look around the grand Renaissance palace which seemed to be open to the public.

I was about to leave when I noticed a small door to I room I had inadvertently missed, so I went through it.

On the other side, I discovered a small chapel whose walls were covered in the most vibrant and spectacular fresco’s I have ever seen.

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The famous cycle of frescoes was painted by the Renaissance master Benozzo Gozzoli in 1459 for the Medici family and they left me with a tremendous sense of awe.

The Journey of the Magi is a painting dedicated to a sacred subject but rich in traces of pomp and secular elegance. One wall is dedicated to hosts of angels who sing while the magnificent procession of the Three Kings approaches Bethlehem on a separate wall. The kings are accompanied by their respective entourages as they enjoy the scene of a noble hunting party with falcons and felines along the way.

The sumptuous dress of the regal party makes this series of frescos one of the most fascinating testimonies of art and costume of all time. The procession of characters features prominent Florentine nobles from Renaissance, merchants and artists which are painted with such vibrancy that they seem alive. The colours and style of Gozzoli are amazing the fresco looks so contemporary as to seem to be painted yesterday.

Reading up about the work Gozzoli, really had wonderful fun depicting local characters of Medici Florence, even inserting himself and featuring a particularly acrobatic horse who is miraculously able to balance on two legs.

This was a work of art, I discovered entirely by accident, just by following my own nose.

 

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Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash

 

A trip to Italy is indeed an adventure, so I’d advise you to keep these three things in mind:

1) You will be late for one reason or another, so give yourself plenty of extra time.

2) Let yourself get lost, that’s when you discover the most unexpected things.

3) Allow yourself to wonder and interact with the locals, go to local events and do plenty of people watching.

 

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Photo by La So on Unsplash

 

Italy is so colourful you really need to give yourself the time to absorb its unique energy, colours, flavours, art and history.

Think of a vacation to Italy as an adventure, go down the side streets, through tiny little doors on the side of churches, try a trattoria or bar where you see the locals spilling out onto the streets. Move out of your comfort zone, try something you usually don’t do.

I guarantee it will be the best experience ever.

And the most memorable vacation of your life.

Sicily Inside and Out is about sharing my own travel experiences in Sicily here are some of my favourites:

The one time I went to Etnaland 

The stone garden of Noto

On the road to Syracuse

 

Thanks so much to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for suggesting such a wonderful subject.

If you are a blogger or creator of an Italian themed channel please feel free to join us every 7th of the month for our Dolce Vita Bloggers topics, we’d love to hear from you.

This is part of the #DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #11 October 2018 – Hilarious Travel Mishaps

Past #DolceVitaBlogger Link-Ups:
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #10 September 2018 – Favourite Italian Recipe
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #9 August 2018 – Culture Shock
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #8 July 2018 – La Dolce Vita
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #7 June 2018 – Hidden Gems in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #6 May 2018 – Five Italian Words
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

 

 

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For more on how to join in on the fun click here.

Mata and Grifone

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Sicily is famous for its ceramics, designed in the classic Maiolica glazed style with delicate baroque patterns. The most original pieces and those who stimulate the most interest from visitors are the Moorish head designs, which consist of pairs of pots, cups or jars which depict a fair-skinned woman and a man with distinctly North African features.

Most foreigners are perplexed by this extravagant couple, which is often impressive features of many exquisitely groomed balconies and gardens all over the island.
Behind this couple, there is an intriguing mix of mythology and Sicilian history.

Theirs is a love story akin to Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, with a surprisingly gruesome mixture of violence and folly. The story takes us back to the end of the Arab period in Sicilian history from 831 to 1091 when the island was known as the Emirate of Sicily (Arabic: إِمَارَةُ صِقِلِّيَة).

This intriguing tale has been interpreted many times, and the characters at its heart have inspired many artists throughout the centuries.

The original folktale comes from Palermo and tells of a Saracen merchant who falls in love with a beautiful local girl. They start a passionate love affair until the girl discovers her lover has a wife and children waiting for him in his homeland. In a fit of jealousy and rage, she murders him in his sleep, cutting off his head so that her lover would stay with her forever. The girl uses the head as a vase to grow a beautiful basil plant. Others who saw her flourishing plant forged themselves colourful clay head pots in an attempt to recreate the bountiful fertility.

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A more romantic version of the Moorish heads tale comes to us from Messina. Every summer as part of the elaborate mid-August celebrations dedicated to Messina’s patron the Virgin Mary, the pagan founders of the city is also featured in the religious procession.

The gigantic eight-meter tall papier-mâché statues of Mata and Grifone riding on horseback date back to 1723 and reenact the arrival of Roger the first of Sicily to Messina, after the island was finally liberated from the Arab domination in 1071.

Roger, I was a Norman nobleman he became the first count of Sicily, and his descendants continued to rule Sicily until 1194.

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In 1547, when archaeological excavations outside of Palermo first unearthed the remains of mini elephants and hippos which used to roam prehistoric Sicily, this discovery lead to the widespread belief that Sicily was founded by giants. The elephant skulls were also taken as proof that the Cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey existed. The elephant skulls peculiar shape, and a typical single hole at the centre seemed to confirm that the animal in question had a single eye.

Many Sicilian academics believe Messina’s Mata and Grifone are manifestations of ancient nature gods, the pale-skinned Mata is a version of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone who was the daughter of the goddess of nature Demeter and who was kidnapped by the underworld god Hades, ruler of the ancients afterlife. There is a secure connection to many other pagan gods representing contrasting elements which coexist such as night and day, male and female and winter and summer.

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The tale told at Messina is a love story, with a staunchly Catholic flavour and no bloodshed. Mata was the daughter of a Messinese nobleman caught the eye of Grifone a general in the invading army who had just conquered Messina.

Pledging his undying love for Mata, he asked for her hand in marriage, which was granted with the understanding Grifone would convert to Catholicism, which he did and then the two went on to become rulers of ancient Messina.

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Probably the most famous version of the gruesome Moorish heads story is the one retold by Boccaccio in the Renaissance short stories from his Decameron. Boccaccio sets the story directly in Messina, the main protagonist is Lisabetta or Isabella an orphaned noble girl who is jealously guarded by her three brothers.

Isabella falls honestly and spontaneously in love with Lorenzo, a local boy of modest means. Their love affair goes on in secret until the three brothers discover Lisabetta leaving to meet her lover and decide to put an end to the relationship to avoid tarnishing the good name of the family. The brothers lead Lorenzo out of the city and murder him, hiding his body in a shallow grave and on their return home tell their sister Lorenzo quietly left on business.
But when her lover is absent for too long, Lisabetta becomes desperate with worry. One night Lorenzo appears to Lisabetta in a dream telling her he was killed by her brothers and where his body is buried.

Determined to find Lorenzo, she obtains permission from her brothers to go on a trip to the countryside with her female servant. She finds Lorenzo’s body and unable to give her lover the burial he deserves and insane with grief she cuts off Lorenzo’s head. At home, she hides the head in a vase and plants some basil in it. The plan blossoms, watered by Lisabetta’s tears.
Isabella’s behaviour alarms the neighbours and her brothers discover Lorenzo’s head. They get rid of the evidence of their crime, leave Messina and flee to Naples leaving behind a distraught Isabella to die of a broken heart.

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In 1849 the sad tale of Isabella of Messina was revived by British artist Everett Millais who created the first painting in the romantic Pre Raphaelite style. The canvas of Lorenzo and Isabella is filled with hidden messages and subtle phallic symbols which have intrigued art lovers for generations.
Another imminent Pre Raphaelite artist Edward Coley Burne Jones painted a portrait of Isabelle and the pot of Basil in 1867. This interpretation of Isabelle depicts the emotive moment the girl weeps over her basil plant towards the end of the story.
The Coley Burne Jones masterpiece draws on ancient mythology, recalling elements of traditional folklore, for example, the ancient Greeks and Romans believed basil was associated with hatred, and according to folk beliefs the plant had to be sown with swearing and ranting. The ancient Egyptians used the herb in the embalming process, making it also a symbol of mourning.

Romantic poet John Keats used the story as the inspiration behind his poem Isabella, or the pot of Basil. In the hands of the highly idealistic romantic Keats, the tale became a love story corrupted by the pride and greed of Isabella’s brothers who treated her like an object.
The Romantic’s version is set in Florence, the poem is filled with profoundly violent imagery before and after the murder occurs. Keats quotes the Greek myth of Perseus who killed Medusa the gorgon serpent-headed monster, which is at the centre of the Trinacria an ancient symbol still used to represent Sicily today.
Behind every work of art, there is always a story, Sicily takes this aphorism to an extreme with its history filled with violence, tragedy and loss.

The baroque ceramic Moorish heads are the artistic expression of the islands rich yet dark mythology.

Sagre and Feste in July

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Food and religious festivals (sagre and feste) all over the peninsula are at the heart and soul of Italian traditions. The ones celebrated on the island of Sicily are particularly rich in history, colour and taste.

Sicilians are proud of their cuisine and dedicate a considerable amount of effort in preparing and sharing their typical plates. So a visit to a sagra is a celebration and invitation to taste the best of Sicily.

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While patron Saint celebrations have a long history in Sicily and Italy linked to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe. Sicilians have a sincere dedication to their hometown Saints and a visit to a big feast day will give a unique experience into the intriguing history of Sicily as each has been linked to a particular place for centuries.

The Saints statues are works of art unto themselves, their stories are miracles are amazing tales, and the churches they are housed in are filled with more colour and art still. The celebrations include elaborate pageants like processions, music, fireworks, food and costumes.

Sicily is dedicated to its Saints and cuisine, and these elaborate parties show the best side of the island for all to see.

Here are some events to pin for your next trip to Sicily.

July in sicily

Decadenza Estiva

Decadenza Estiva blog

La Sicilia è piena di molte delizie culinare durante tutto l’anno, ma sembra che ancora di più vengano fuori per le vacanze estive, quando tutti sono pronti per divertirsi e dimenticono le loro diete. Ci sono i soliti dolci e i classici gelati, due particolari preferenze estive che semplicemente non devono essere dimenticate da ogni visitatore dell’isola.

La prima è l’umile granita, una bevanda ghiacciata offerte in una varietà di gusti, quali: limone, fragola, caffè, cioccolato, mandorle, more, pesca ecc (le scelte è senza limiti, depende dall’immaginazione del propretario del bar. Per essere chiaro questo non è sempice ghiaccio tritato aromatizzato con sciroppi artificiali, sono fatti con frutta fresca stagionale e ingredienti veri.

 

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La più irresistibile tentazione per una colazione estiva è un pacchetto ‘rovina dieta’, ma in verità per quel sapore, chi se ne frega. Una granita al caffè, per gli amanti della caffeina è il migliore caffè freddo della tua vita. Deve essere assolutamente consumato con uno spesso strato di panna montata e uno gigante e dolce brioche da inzuppare in modo da mischiare la panna in questa squisito creazione.

Per quelli che non sono fan del caffè provatelo panna e fragola, quando miscelate i due insieme è come mangiare fragole e panna. O se avete qualcosa contro la panna o la briosche provate a ordinare granita fragola e limone insieme per una rinfrescante bevanda. Alcuni Siciliani ordiano acqua minerale con un cucchiao di granita o te freddo e granita o la birra e granita le combinazioni sono infinite.

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Poi c’è la briosche riempito con gelato, che non è inferiore alla granita per niente. Si amici miei avete letto bene, una porzione gigantesca di gelato dentro un panino per un hamburger con una differenza.

Non è per i deboli di cuore, una briosche con gelato è una sostituto di un pasto. Per esempio non mangiatelo dopo un abbondanti colazione o dopo aver mangiato un pranzo con tante portate perchè finireti per sentirvi molto male.

Potrebbe sembrare una strana cosa da mangiare, ma credetevi sareti tentati di sicuro da due o più gusti di gelato Siciliano, che si sposano perfattamente con la consistenza della sofficissima pasta quando la divorate.

Provatela e capirete.

Disappearing Sicilian Markets

For the love of Sicilian Markets title
It’s no secret I’m a fan of open air markets, I love trawling through every stand exploring what I can find. My blog is filled with photo’s of African wood carvings, crafty jewellery and fun discoveries, endless market randomness and textures. I enjoy the colours and the unexpected. A Sicilian market contains everything from fresh produce, antiques, fabrics to bric-a-brac.
Every year in Sicily, is made up of annual appointments with big Sicilian markets and fiere (/fiè·re/), which are big brothers to the simple daily food markets who bring together many vendors from other provinces together with the trade of livestock. A spring fiera previews what you will see in the stores during the summer, while an autumn one often brings a chance to find unique gifts without the Christmas rush.
Often visitors to Sicily criticise markets as places filled with cheap Chinese rip offs, which sadly is a valid lament as over the years of the never ending economic crisis in Europe, many boutique operations and family businesses selling beautiful products have closed down, moving overseas to cut costs, leaving space for dreaded cheap imports to fill in the gaps. I’m afraid my beloved Sicilian markets are beginning to disappear.

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In my little piece of Sicily in Messina province most locals have an appointment with the Fiera at Capo d’Orlando on the 21st and 22nd of October which is associated with the feast day celebration of the local Madonna, who is the city’s patron. Also I never miss out on the autumn and spring markets at Sant’Agata di Militello, the ancient Fiera over the 14th and 15th of November (and the 14th/15th of April) which stretches out along the main esplanade running parallel to the Tyrrhenian sea.
The November markets are usually where I do my Christmas shopping, but for the first time last year I actually came home empty handed. There were the usual endless stalls common of this extravagant fair, yet none of the substance of these historic markets which date back to the 1700’s.
Established by the Ventimiglia family, a well known Sicilian aristocratic dynasty, who gathered up the agricultural wealth of the Nebrodi area, the Sant Agata fiera was a focal point for farmers and artisans of all types. The first day is dedicated to livestock while the second offers visitors everything from textiles to haberdashery, farming tools, local produce, fashion and crafts.
Marching up and down the stalls last year I found nothing of quality, so much cheap Chinese junk, many obviously second hand clothes and shoes being passed off as new, strange one size fits all clothing which really won’t cover anyone who weighs more than 40 kilo’s and the same series of scarves and Christmas decorations as other years. I didn’t see the usual ceramics I go crazy over and there was only one antique stall which had the same things as last year, the owner sadly told me business is really slow and he probably won’t be back next year.

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The decline of markets in Sicily has gradually been creeping forward all over the island. For example many travel magazines surprisingly still sing the praise of Palermo’s Vucciria as a thriving major Sicilian city market, but the once buzzing neighbourhood packed with hundreds of food stores spilling over out onto the streets has become nothing but a small strip of resilient store owners who keep the historic markets alive for the tourists.
Italians believe in slow food and travel, where you take the time to soak in the character of a place, happily making the most of the moment. In a country where the people and culture are as colourful as the scenery itself, it is justifiable to seek out a more authentic connection to everyday life.

Food markets are filled with the sights, sounds and tastes of an Italy which relishes its food. In times of economic downturn Italians will cut back on everything else except what is on the table.

 

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Thank goodness the Palermitani’s demand for fine food persists, it is this which keeps the other daily food market neighbourhoods thriving. The il Capo, Ballero’ and Borgo Vecchio markets keep the traditions alive with their associated family run restaurants and street food vendors deep in the centre of Palermo.

You can still have an authentic Sicilian market experience at Ballaró which extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.

While the Capo markets are tucked behind the Teatro Massimo opera theater and extend from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli. The Vucceria is at Piazza San Domenico, but in a much reduced manner as compared to its past history, it still winds along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria.

The Borgo Vecchio markets are in between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone. Palermo’s markets are usually open all day from 9 to 7pm (they are closed Sundays and open only half days on Wednesdays).

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At Catania the main markets are in Piazza Carlo Alberto near Via Umberto and Corso Sicilia which is easily reached from Via Pacini off Via Etnea near the Villa Bellini park.
The Pescheria (fish markets) filled with the city’s most sought after seafood is located off Piazza Duomo near the cathedral and fountain dell’Amenano, between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini, extending along Via Gemelli Zappalà and some of the nearby streets. Catania’s markets are closed Sundays and afternoons.

Sadly the markets around me seem to be fading into insignificance, so when you visit Sicily be sure to visit a major city’s food market as it is a precious piece of Sicilian history.

To discover the best local daily markets in Sicily simply ask around, once you arrive in Sicily the best information will be found through local knowledge. If you want a general idea about the different smaller markets to visit see the Italian Ambulente web page, which is a site set up by market stall owners to let tourists know about market days. The page is in Italian but it is easy to do a search of particular towns throughout Italy to see when the markets are usually on in most local squares.

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Here’s my personal list of Sicilian Food markets not to miss.

Sicily'a markets

 

Hidden Gems

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This month the #DolceVitaBloggers link up is sharing our personal guide to Italy’s hidden gems, special off the hidden track treasures which are often whisked by on thirsty bucket list group tours or pedantically planned summer trips.

Thanks again to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for creating this great way of connecting Italophiles, to pool our collective knowledge. So get your pens and papers out to start planning your trip to Italy.

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For more on how to join in on the fun click here.

The whole of Italy is filled with hidden treasures, tiny little towns away from the major cities where you can still eat the best meal of your life at a tiny Trattoria away from the crowds. Most visitors spend only a few days here and there without witnessing the authentic daily life of the peninsular.

Italy is made for slow travel so the best way to spend your trip here is to take your time, move out of the big touristy centres, try to eat where the locals eat, visit small food markets, so to the churches, religious and food festivals, as it is there where you will see Italians and Italy at their most relaxed.

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Take the time to taste local dishes and wines, flavour your trip with free time to wander and explore, learn a few words of italian, at least enough to ask simple questions. Go to free summer concerts organised by the locals, go to the theatre, go into that interesting artisan studio, explore cute little ceramic stores, artist workshops and tiny wine bars, what you find inside will become wonderful memories.

Don’t limit yourself to visiting only in the summer, there are so many wonderful tastes and experiences even in autumn and winter, while spring in Italy is beautiful and generally much less crowded.

Italy’s biggest hidden jewel has to be the island of Sicily, not because I live here but for the rich historical landmarks left behind by the thirteen different foreign rulers of its past. From the Phoenicians to Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, French (Normans), Germans (Hohenstaufen/Swabain), Nordic Vikings , English (Angevin), Spanish (Aragonese/Borbons) and Austrians (Habsburgs).

Not only have these cultures left behind physical architectural landmarks from churches to temples, but also the traditions which give birth to colourful Festa and Sagre celebrations.

The nine provincial capitals of Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse and Trapani) each filled with many historical sites, museums and typical products to see and taste. Keep in mind every region and some times each town will have its own variations in wines, cheeses, breads, pasta dishes, sweets and abundant feasts.

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An Italian Festa celebrates a towns patron Saint and is filled with processions, parades and market days. A saint day celebration is more than simply religion it is a piece of living history. A city’s patron has been around as long as the town’s been established and the celebrations are the fruit of careful planning and dedication.

Even a small villages patron Saint’s statue is laden with elaborate decorations, taken through every street where it meets and greets the people like an old family friend. The town’s marching band will accompany it with a personalised soundtrack, those who physically carry the Saint will cry out praises of ‘Viva Saint so & so.’

There will be monetary donations given to the Saint’s confraternities and the days celebrations will be accompanied by market stalls, booming fire crackers and night-time pyrotechnics and the local school children will get a holiday. There are Saint day’s all through the year and each has its own unique tradition and flare.

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In Sicily the biggest celebrations are St Agata at Catania (February), St Rosalia at Palermo (July), St Lucia of Syracuse (November), St Giorgio at Ragusa (April) and the Madonna at Messina (August) which is also a national holiday throughout Italy.

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Apart from the religious based feste, Italy chooses to celebrate its cuisine in endless food festivals or Sagre during the year. Each town offers a taste of local specialities, over a few days visitors can dip their fingers into the rich culinary stew which gently boils over throughout Italy. For some small change you can taste everything from freshly harvested strawberries in the spring, to new wine at November, gelato in the summer and roasted pork in the winter.

There is always something to taste or experience in the rich tapestry which is Italy. To give you an idea of the sheer amount of Feste and Sagre here is a list of those which happen annually in Sicily every June. These events are advertised locally so be sure to keep an eye out for flyers and posters around the place.

June in sicily

Here are some more useful posts you might like to read since SI&O is all about discovering Sicily’s hidden gems.

A tasteful introduction to Sicilian food

Easter Celebrations in Sicily

Yuletide Sicily

Novembrando

How to explore Sicilian towns

Dividing Sicily into bitesize pieces

A Sicilian wish list for the Summertime

What to do in Sicily

To read all the other posts about Italian hidden gems for June 2018 click here.

Past #DolceVitaBlogger Link-Ups:
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #6 May 2018 – Five Italian Words
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

Springtime Asparagus

Wild Asparagus

As the weather begins to warm the first fruits of spring literally ‘spring’ up from the new foliage. A favourite has to be wild asparagus which grows randomly and abundant throughout Italy.

Asparagus is a member of the Lily family and is sought after for its tender, succulent, edible shoots. This plant has been cultivated for more than two thousand years in the eastern Mediterranean. Roman emperors loved it so much they kept special boats for the purpose of fetching it and named them the Asparagus fleet.

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Wild asparagus shoots up between thorny blackberry plants, in cool damp gullies or secluded places where they are hidden and keep themselves tender and ripe for those who search for them every year. The spontaneous uncultivated variety has a sweeter taste than the domesticated type and is a sort after ingredient during the early days of spring.

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There are two types of wild asparagus, a slim, tall, sweet variety dispersed in every area and then a short, dark, slightly spindly and bitter asparagus which grows later on in the season. The sweeter variety is the most popular while the bitter type is an acquired taste and often needs to be blanched in hot water to take away a little of the bitterness.

The asparagus hunt can be as popular as mushroom or truffle hunting in the Italian autumn months. The hunt for asparagus can turn into a war. Often it’s a race to get to the best spots first and it can be quite vicious. Like mushrooms, asparagus are a delicacy that bring out the competitive nature of people. 

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The asparagus hunter has an intense satisfaction and can relish the preparation of this sweet vegetable which can be cleaned and fried with olive oil to make an omelette, or wrapped in thinly sliced cheese and prosciutto cotto ham and baked in the oven.

Personally when I see a batch of freshly picked asparagus I feel like a quiche is coming on. The culinary possibilities really are endless. Dishes like these are an elixir to the wintertime, like the warmth of spring they assure me the cold is coming to an end. 

 

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Per la versione in Italiano clicca qui: Asparagi di primavera

Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily

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Goethe once said to have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything. But in order to understand Sicily you need to go to its geographical centre because the key to the island’s identity is there. The province of Enna is known as the belly button of Sicily and is the home of the island’s most ancient traditions.

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The town of Leonforte casually rests upon the Erei mountains of central Sicily, only about thirteen miles from the main provincial capital of Enna. Today it is a beautiful municipality surrounded by a scenic countryside. It’s an idealistic tranquil place like many other communities all around the island where everyday life rambles on without much fuss or bother and the locals tend to forget about the outside world, happily going through the rituals of daily life in Sicily.

The provinces of Enna and Caltanissetta have always been a source of great strategical importance in the island’s history and have been the backdrop to many battles and skirmishes throughout history. Together with its immense agricultural wealth and fertility, the heart of the island has always been more savage or untamed, its landscape isolates it from the coast, yet it has always been inhabited from prehistoric times.

Before the founding of modern Leonforte the area was home to the ancient city of Tabas or Tavaca which became an important base during the Muslim conquest of the island from 827 to 902 A.D. The Arab invaders from North Africa saw the island as an earthly paradise. The central province of Enna became a Muslim stronghold for generations together with many other major Sicilian cities such as Palermo and Syracuse.

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Sicily was essentially an Arab Emirate from 831 to 1091 A.D after an extended struggle with the late Roman Byzantine Empire lasting nearly four hundred years. In an extraordinary piece of Sicilian history, for two hundred years the island became a multicultural society which blended together both Arab and Byzantine elements of life.

The new Arab rulers initiated land reforms increasing productivity and encouraging the growth of small estates, by introducing elaborate irrigation systems which tapped into the island’s abundant underground water supply, bringing water to areas which once suffered from drought. The introduction of crops like oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugarcane by North African Muslims also improved Sicily’s agriculture and added new elements to Sicilian cuisine. 

The local population conquered by the Muslims were Romanized Catholic Sicilians in Western Sicily and Greek-speaking Christians in the eastern half of the island. Christianity and Judaism were tolerated under Muslim rule but were subject to some restrictions as to where they could practice their rites and were obliged to pay religious based taxes.

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The gradual breakdown of Muslim rule in Sicily began in the 11th and 12th centuries as a series of Norman Kings began to push the Arabs out of Sicily. The Norman period, however, continued to be multi-ethnic in nature. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards and native Sicilians lived in relative harmony. 

Arabic was the official language of government and administration for at least a century into Norman rule and traces remain in contemporary Sicilian and Maltese. Under the guidance of the royal court of Frederick the second of Sicily Italy’s first school of poetics was born, anticipating the Tuscan Renaissance. Muslims also maintained their domination of industry, retailing and production, while Muslim artisans with expert knowledge in government and administration were highly sought after.

After many centuries under the influence of Middle Eastern and North African culture and religion, Sicily began another epic transformation under a succession of staunchly Catholic French Norman Kings who all struggled with endless battles throughout the island to push out other foreign dominations. At Leonforte one ancient folktale recounts how the local river was tainted blood red during brutal wars between the Saracens and Normans to control the heartlands of Sicily.

In the succession of thirteen different invaders of Sicily’s history the Normans were surpassed by the German Hohenstaufen’s, then the French house of Anjou and eventually the Aragonese House of Barcelona who gradually transformed Sicily’s culture over the course of two centuries. The Roman Catholic Church gradually became a part of the culture and forced Sicilian Muslims to be expelled from the island.

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The town of Leonforte was later founded by the Branciforti, a legendary Sicilian noble family, whose founding father, Obizzo gained his knightly title and name after heroically holding up the flag of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne in the battle to expel the German Lombards from Italy.

The first member of this Sicilian aristocratic family is credited as literally holding up the royal flag despite losing both of his hands in a grotesque mutilation. This heroic action earned himself and his family the name of Branciforte, in honour of his strong arms who helped to hold up the cause of  Charles the Great’s campaign to unite Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Leonforte together with Scordia in Catania province and Niscemi at Caltanissetta were all founded around the same time in the 1600’s as part of a project to colonise central Sicily with a conscious focus on town development, infrastructure and agriculture.

Building upon what had been left behind from past foreign inhabitants the Branciforte positioned Leonforte on the same strategic position on the internal Altesina mountains as the Arabs had used to divide the island into its three historical valleys which are still used to define the geography of the island today. From the Val Demone in the east at Catania, to the Val di Mazzara of Ragusa and Syracuse in the south and the Val di Noto in the west from Trapani to Palermo.

Prince Nicolò Placido Branciforti literally built the town from the ground up, his family gradually constructing a castle, a parish church, convent, gardens and several water fountains. Leonforte developed under the flag of the Braciforte with its regal crowned lion, holding onto the royal French Lily adorned flag, complete with two severed front paws in the foreground as a testament to the family’s heroic founder.

The town’s name reflects its connection to the Sicilian nobility and its iconic coat of arms. Leonforte flourished and developed under the rule of the Braciforte and today it is well known for its agriculture from its mouth-watering peaches, fava beans, olive oil, citrus, terracotta products and cheeses.

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Of all of the historical treasures of Leonforte, the one which the locals are most proud of is their baroque Granfonte water fountain, which is at the centre of their civic and cultural history. Built on the ruins of an earlier Arab fountain known as the Fonte di Tavi, it is connected to a complex irrigation system of pipes, mills and smaller fountains which go down into the valley and was once used for the irrigation of the surrounding countryside and a now lost botanical garden.

The fountain built in 1652 was designed by prominent Palermo architect and painter Marino Smiriglio, whose works are dotted around the island and include Palermo’s central Quattro Canti at the intersection which connects the four main neighbourhoods of the Sicilian capital.

The Granfonte or 24 Cannola as it is known locally is a grandiose succession of twenty-two archways and twenty-four bronze spouts which gush out water into a series of sandstone basins once used as a public wash house, fountain and marketplace in a main square of the town. The archways are elaborate frames filled with ornamentation and inscriptions, spiral shaped stones and two lion carvings on either side which quote the coat of arms of the ever-present Braciforte.

A little over 74 feet long and 8 deep the Granfonte is imposing and faces out to the original entrance of the old town at the Palermo gates, which lead to the original trade route towards the Sicilian capital. This theatrical backdrop of water quotes influences from the historical papal gardens of Tivoli outside of Rome to the Flemish fountains of Amsterdam and is literally at the heart of the city’s civic and religious history.

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Public fountains in Sicily were used up until the early 1900’s and were an important focal point of everyday lives. Daily trips to gather water, wash clothes and take animals to drink were occasions for socialising, gossiping, visiting the markets and as a meeting place in general. Today the Granfonte at Leonforte no longer hosts the markets but it has become the stage for a much more elaborate religious performance during Holy Week at Easter.

Good Friday at the Granfonte water fountain of Leonforte becomes the focal point of a suggestive funeral procession which commemorates the death of Jesus Christ.  An elaborate march weaves its way through all the streets of the town on the afternoon of Venerdì Santo. The crucifix stops in front of each church it meets arriving at the Chiesa della Madonna near the Granfonte where the ancient life-sized wooden statue of Christ is taken down off the cross and placed in a decorative glass coffin, in a performance played out by the local priest.

Accompanied by a large bonfire lit in the piazza, the fountains waters are silenced as a sign of mourning and respect for the solemn funeral rite. At dawn the cortege is accompanied by a brass marching band playing a funeral march as Christ’s coffin is carried on the shoulders of the hooded and tunic wearing members of the brothers of the Confraternity of the Santissimo Sacramento, followed by the statue of the Madonna Addolorata as a symbol of the grieving mother of Christ.

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The parade makes its way up through the ancient stairways of Leonforte ascending up to the highest point of the town at the Church of Santa Croce, symbolic of the hill where the martyrdom of Christ took place. The band stops playing and in the silence, the mourners begin to recite a poetic lament in the form of an ancient folk song which mixes elements of prayer with the local dialect.

The Lamento is hypnotic, exotic, evocative of a middle eastern call to prayer and is an integral part of the ritual of the Passion at Leonforte. Once performed by the elders of the community today it is the young who uphold this tradition of song handed down from father to son, in a prayer recited in the local dialect which seeks to console the Virgin Mary in her hour of loss.

With the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, the people of Leonforte gather in the square of the convent of Capuchin friars to celebrate. All of the statues who participated in the many processions during holy week, are a part of the meeting of Christ with the Madonna. The Granfonte’s waters are reopened restoring their healing qualities and the baptismal promise of new life.

Per la versione in Italiano clicca qui: Leonforte il cuore della Sicilia

Leonforte il cuore della Sicilia

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La città di Leonforte si trova su i monti Erei della Sicilia centrale, solo 13 miglia dalla provincia di Enna. Oggi è una città bellissima circondata da una scenica campagna.

È un posto idealistico e tranquillo come molte altre comunità dell’ isola, dove, la vita quotidiana senza confusione o disturbo e gli abitanti tendono a dimenticarsi del resto del mondo, vivendo serenamente i riti della vita di ogni giorno in Sicilia.

Le provincie di Enna e Caltanissetta sono sempre state luoghi di grande importanza strategica nella storia dell’isola, e, sono state campo di molte battaglie e “scaramuccie”. Insieme alla sua immenza ricchezza agricola ed alla sua fertilità, il cuore dell’isola è sempre stato più selvaggio ed incontaminato, il suo territorio lo isola dalla costa, tuttavia è sempre stato abitato sin dai tempi preistorici.

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Prima della fondazione della moderna Leonforte, l’area era la casa dell’antica città di Tabas o Taraca, un’ importante base durante la conquista Mussulmana dell’isola, dal 827 a 902 A.D. Gli invasori Arabi dal Nord Africa vedevano l’isola come un paradiso terrestre. La provincia centrale di Enna fu una roccaforte Mussulmana per generazioni, insieme a molte altre città principali, come Palermo e Siracusa.

La Sicilia fu essenzialmente un Emirato Arabo dall’ 831 all’ 1091 A.D. , dopo una lunga lotta con il lontano Impero Romano Bizantino, durata quasi 400 anni. Quindi per gran parte della sua storia l’isola divenne una società multiculturale, che mischiava insieme sia elementi della vita Araba che Bizantina.

I nuovi dominatori Arabi iniziarano a rivoluzionare l’agricoltura: incrementando la prodottività e incoroggiando la crescita di piccoli poderi; introducendo elaborati sistemi di irrigazione che sfruttavano la abbondanti acque presenti; portando l’acqua alle area che una volta soffrivano la siccità.

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L’introduzione di piante come arance, limoni, pistacchi e canna da zucchero da parte dei Mussumani Nord Africani migliorarono l’agricoltura dell’isola e diedero nuovi elementi alla cucina Siciliana. La popolazione locale conquistata dai Mussulmani era Cattolico Romana nella Sicilia Occidentale e Greco Cristiano nella metà orientale. Cristianità e Giudeismo erano tollerati sotto il dominio Mussulmano, ma erano soggette ad alcune restrizioni, come i luoghi in cui potevano praticare i loro riti e l’obbligo di pagare tasse religiose.

Il graduale declino del dominio Mussulmano in Sicilia inizia nell’ 11° e 12° secolo, quando il Regno Normanno inizia a spigere gli Arabi fuori dall’isola. Il periodo Normanno comunque continuò ad essere di natura multi-etnica. Normanni, Ebrei, Arabi Mussulmani, Greci, Bizantini, Lombardi e Siciliani vivevano in una relativa armonia.

L’Arabo fu la lingua ufficiale del governo e dell’amministrazione per circa un secolo durante il dominio Normanno e ne troviamo tracce anche oggi nelle lingue Siciliane e Maltese. Sotto la guida della corte di Federico II di Sicilia nacque la prima scuola poetica d’Italia, anticipando il Rinascemento Toscano. I Mussulmani mantennero inoltre il controllo dell’industria, del commercio e della produzione, mentre gli artigiani Mussulmani per la loro grande conoscenza erano altamente ricercarti.

Dopo molti secoli sotto l‘influenza della cultura e delle religioni di Medio Oriente e Nord Africana, la Sicilia inziò un’ altra epica trasformazione sotto una successione di Re Franco Normanni, fortemente cattolici, impegnati a combattere battaglie senza fine nell’isola per cacciare le altre dominizioni straniere. A Leonforte antichi racconti, parlano di come il fiume locale fosse diventato rosso come il sangue durante le brutali guerre fra Saraceni e Normanni.

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Nella successione di 13 differenti invasori della storia della Sicilia i Normanni furono sovrastati dai Tedeschi Hohenstaufen, poi dal casato Francese degli Anjou e in seguito dalla casa Aragonese di Barcellona che trasformò gradualmente la cultura della Sicilia nel corso di due secoli. La Chiesa Cattolica Romana lentamente divenne parte della cultura e costrinse i musulmani Siciliani ad andarsene dall’isola.

La città di Leonforte fu fondata dai Branciforte, una leggendaria famiglia nobile Siciliana, il cui padre fondatore Obizzo ottenne il suo titolo cavalleresco eroicamente, sostenendo la bandiera del Sacro Romano Impero di Carlo Magno nella battaglia per scacciare i tedeschi lombardi dall’ Italia.
Il primo membro di questo famiglia aristocratica Siciliana viene ricordato per aver letteralmente tenuto la bandiera reale nonostante avesse perso entrambe le mani in una grottesca mutilazione. Questa azione eroica fece guadagnare a lui ed alla sua famiglia il nome di Bracciaforte, in onore delle sue forti braccia che aiutarono a sostenere la causa di Carlo Magno per riunire l’europa dopo la caduta dell’ impero romano d’occidente.

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Leonforte insieme a Scordia nella provincia di Catania e Niscemi a Caltanissetta furono tutte fondate nello stesso periodo, nel 1600 come parte di un progetto di colonizzazione della Sicilia centrale, con l’intento di focalizzarsi sullo sviluppo delle città, delle infrastrutture e dell’agricoltura.

Costruendo su ciò che era stato lasciato dietro dai passati abitanti stranieri, i Branciforte situarono Leonforte in una posizione strategica, sul monte Altesina, seguendo la divisione territoriale dell’isola fatta dagli Arabi, che prevedeva l’individuazione di tre valli, che sono usate ancora oggi per definire la geografia della Sicilia; dal Val Demone ad est di Catania, al Val di Mazzara di Ragusa e Siracusa nel sud e la Val di Noto ad est da Trapani a Palermo.

Il Principe Nicolò Placido Branciforte costruì il suo feudo letteramente dal nulla, la sua famiglia gradualmente costruì un castello, una chiesa madre, un convento, i giardini e una serie di fontane. Leonforte si sviluppo’ sotto la bandiera dei Branciforte con il suo regale leone incoronato, che sostiene la bandiera che raffigura il giglio francese, completata da due zampe mozzate in sottofondo come testimonianza dell’ eroico fondatore della famiglia.

Branciforte

Il nome della città riflette la sua connessione con la nobilità Siciliana e il suo iconico stemma. Leonforte fioriva e si sviluppava sotto il dominio dei Branciforte ed oggi è ben conosciuta per la sua agricoltura, per le succose pesche, le fave, l’olio di oliva, gli agrumi, i prodotti di terracotta ed i formaggi.

Di tutti gli storici tesori di Leonforte, l’unico di cui gli abitanti sono più orgogliosi è la loro fontana in stile barocco, la Granfonte, che è al centro della loro storia civile e culturale. Costruita sulle rovine dell’ antica fontana Araba conosciuta come fonte di Tavi, è collegata ad un complesso sistema d’irrigazione a tubi, mulini e piccole fontane che vanno giù nella valle, ed un tempo erano usate per l’irrigazione della campagne circostanti e di un giardino botanico ormai sparito.

La fontana, costruita nel 1652, fu disegnata dall’ importante architetto e pittore Palermitano Marino Smiraglio, i cui lavori sono presenti in tutta l’isola, compresi i Quattro Canti di Palermo all’intersezione che collega i quattro prinipali quartieri del capoluogo Siciliano.

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Granfonte o 24 cannola come è conosciuta localmente, è una grandiosa successione di 22 archi e 24 bocche in bronzo dalle quali sgorga l’acqua in una serie di bacini in pietra, una volta usati come lavanderie publiche, fontana e mercato nelle piazza principale della città. Gli archi sono elaborate cornici arrichite con ornamenti e iscrizioni, pietre a forma di spirale e due leoni incisi su ogni parte che ricordano la stemma dei sempre presenti Branciforte.

Lunga un pò meno di 74 piedi e 8 profonda, Granfonte è impressionante ed è di fronte all’entrata originale della vecchia città alle porte di Palermo, che conduce all’antica rotta commerciale verso il capoluogo Siciliano. Questo teatrale sfondo di fontane vede l’influenza degli storici giardini papali di Tivoli fuori Roma, delle fontane Fiamminghe di Amsterdam ed è letterlamente il cuore della storia civile e religiosa della città.

Le fontane pubbliche in Sicilia vennero usate fino i primi del 1900 e furono un’ importante punto focale della vita quotidiana. I viaggi giornalieri per prendere l’acqua, lavare i vestiti e abbeverare gli animali erano occasioni per socializzare, spettegolare, visitare i mercati ed un posto d’incontro in generale. Oggi la Granfonte a Leonforte non ospita più i mercati ma e’ diventato luogo di più elaborate celebrazioni religiose durante la settimana santa di Pasqua.

Via Crucis

Venerdì Santo la fontana Granfonte di Leonforte diventa il punto focale di una suggestiva processione funebre che commemora la morte si Gesù Cristo. Un’elaborata marcia intreccia la sua strada attraverso le vie della città nel pomeriggio di Venerdì Santo. Il crocifisso si ferma di fronte ad ogni chiesa fino la chiesa della Madonna vicino la Granfonte, dove l’antica statua in legno a grandezza umana viene scesa dalla croce e situata in una decorativa bara in vetro, in una rappresentazione messa in scena dal prete.

Accompagnata da un grande falò nella piazza, le fontane sono spente come segno di lutto e rispetto per il solenne rito funebre. All’alba, il corteo è accompagnato da una banda di ottoni che suona una marcia funebre e la bara di Cristo è portata a spalla dai membri della confraternita del Santissimo Sacramento incappucciati e vestiti con tuniche, seguita dalla statua della Madonna Addolorata come simbolo del lutto della madre di Cristo.

La parata si fa strada attraverso le antiche scalinate di Leonforte salendo fino il punto più alto della città la Chiesa della Santa Croce, che simboleggia il colle dove il matirio di Cristo ebbe luogo. La banda smette di suonare e nel silenzio chi è in lutto inizia a recitare un lamento poetico sotto forma di un’antica canzone, che mischia elementi di preghiera con il dialetto locale.

Il lamento è ipnotico, esotico, evocativo delle musiche medio orientali, ed è parte integrale del rituale della passione a Leonforte. Una volta veniva messa in scena dagli anziani della communità, oggi invece sono i giovani a mantenere questa tradizione, tramandata di padre in figlio, una preghiera recitata in dialetto che cerca di consolare la vergine Maria nella sua ora di dolore.

Con la resurrezione di Cristo la Domenica di Pasqua, le persone di Leonforte si raccolgono nella piazza del convento dei Frati Cappuccini per festeggiare. Tutte le statue che partecipano alle molte processioni durante la Settimana Santa, prendono parte all’incontro di Cristo con la Madonna. Le acque di Granfonte sono riaperte restituendo le loro qualità guaritrici e la promessa battesimale di nuova vita.

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Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily