10 Feste Patronale in Sicilia

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Every town and city in Italy has its own Saintly patron or protector which has its own dedicated festa or celebration during the year with associated religious processions and events.

In Sicily alone, there are three hundred and ninety town halls which means many lifetimes of Saint day celebrations.

Apart from the religious celebrations, the locals take pride in celebrating the grandness of their particular Saints miracles and the intimate connection with their specific town. The statues of each Saint is a work of art, and the parades are filled with music, prayer and colour. The locals take their saints seriously and try to keep up the traditions.

Sicily’s nine major provincial capitals each have big celebrations which have been practised uninterrupted for centuries, and today each is a significant event in each cities calendar filled with holiday markets, art exhibitions, food preparations and epic fireworks.

Some towns have more than one Patron which means several celebrations throughout the year. While other cities whose Saints celebration happens in the dead of winter, so they have decided to have a summer version of the festa for visitors to experience too.

Patron Saint celebrations sicily

Here is a list of the important Patron Saint-day celebrations of the main cities in Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse (Siracusa) and Trapani.

To round the number up to an even ten I’ve included an extra location at Cefalu where the festivities feature the Saint’s statue being loaded onto a boat, the procession continuing out into the sea, something which is common for many celebrations around the island particularly with coastal towns.

Pasti I Mennula

An iconic Sicilian sweet blog title

Many of Sicily’s sweets and desserts were created inside convent walls. The image of nun’s innovating and mixing new decadent inventive creations from the Frutta Martorana, marzipan which is moulded into tiny sculptures to the tantalising ‘Minni di Sant Agata’, tiny little white Saint Agata breasts, ricotta filled sweets complete with little red cherry nipples.

The convents were supplied with high quality local ingredients such as fresh ricotta cheese, almonds, pistachios and above all sugar. The sisters had the time to experiment and thanks to the excuse of religious celebrations and Saint days they were able to express their culinary expertise. It’s a truely beautiful cinemagraphic image to picture these women, subtly shaping Sicily’s sweet tooth.

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One of the most well known Sicilian creations are the ‘Pasti I Mennula’ a true classic of Sicily’s confectionary from Messina province. Made from a simple short crust pastry, generally in a moon shape or ravioli form, covered by icing made from sugar, egg whites and lemon juice and finally decorated with colourful sprinkles or dark chocolate.

The magic comes from inside this super sweet bomb which is heaped with sugary goodness, potentially teeth rotting and diabetic inducing sugar levels. The Pasta di Mandorle is at the apex of Sicilian Baroque decadence, perhaps the nun’s were sick of their fasting and daily sacrifices and heaped in as much glucose as they possibly could.

The pastry is filled with crushed almonds which have been turned into a type of marmalade, cooked up together with syrupy white sugar in to a caramel, flavoured with cinamon, often paired with a mixture of candid orange, lemon and citron peel and small pieces of dark chocolate.

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Predominately prepared for Easter, the Pasta di Mandorle were also used by young lovers when proposing marriage, the biscuits would be used as a gift for prospective in laws. The origins of the Paste are found deep in the Sicilian province of Messina, in the ancient village of Ficarra. The Ficarrese hold tightly and jealously onto the original secret recipe.

The town of Ficarra has a history which dates back to the Norman period, the name of the city was first mentioned in an official court document from1082 in the Sicily ruled by the French Count Roger the first.

Today this beautiful medieval town looks out at the Aeolian Islands from a strategical position high up on the Nebrodi mountains, in the same idealistic spot its been for centuries. Luckily this place and other towns dotted around the island still hold onto their traditional recipes with great pride. Small towns like Ficarra are treasured little pockets of an ancient Sicily which are sadly disappearing.

 

The Pasti I Mennula were the subject of Sicilian documentary filmmaker Calogero Ricciardello’s new project Sicilian Moments, dedicated to sharing snippets of traditional everyday life in Sicily.

Click on the link to see Calogero’s wonderfully personal video dedicated to the Pasti I Mennula and the women who make them.

If you want to hear more about Sicilian Moments read my interview about the project here.

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Paste di Mandorle: un iconico dolce Siciliano

Paste di mandorle: un iconico dolce Siciliano

Blog post Paste di mandorle

Molti dei dolci e dessert Siciliani sono stati creati nelle mura dei conventi,mi piace immaginare una suora che innova e crea nuovi dolci partendo dalla frutta martorana, un marzapane che viene modellato in moltissime forme, un esempio sono le “minne di sant’agata”, letteralmente “seno di sant’agata” dolci a forma di semisfera ripieni di ricotta completati con delle ciliegie rosse a simboleggiare i capezzoli.

Le suore avevano accesso ad ingredienti di alta qualità come ricotta frescha, mandorle, pistacchi e in particolare lo zucchero. Senza dubbio loro avevano il tempo di sperimentare ed usavano le ricorrenze religiose come un modo di esprimire la loro abilità e competenza culinaria; è veramente una bellissima immagine cinematografica pensare a queste donne, che modellano le dolcezze della Sicilia da dentro un ordine religioso.

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Una delle più conosciute creazioni Siciliane sono le ‘Paste di mennula’ regine della pasticcieria Siciliana.

Composte da una semplice pasta croccante, generalmente a forma di ravioli a mezzaluna, coperte da una glassa fatta da zucchero a velo, albume e succo si limone e decorate con zuccherini colorati o cioccolato fondente.

La loro magia viene dall’essere ‘super piene’ di zucchero, nonche’ potenzialmente letali per i denti e per l’aumento dei livelli di zucchero. Fu all’apice della decadenza Siciliana quando le suore stanche del loro digiuno e sacrificio giornaliero, decisero di ‘chiudere’ tutto il glucosio che potevano in un piccolo contenitore.

La pasta è riempita con mandorle tritate che sono lavorate come una marmallata, cotte con sciroppo si zucchero caramellato e insaporite con cannella, spesso arricchite con un mix di arance, limoni e cedro canditi e a volte piccoli pezzi di cioccolato fondente.

Maggioramente usate per Pasqua, le paste di mandorle erano anche usate dai giovani innamorati quando facevano la proposta di matrimonio, i biscotti venivano donati anche ai futuri suoceri.

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Le origini delle paste risalgano alla provincia di Messina in un antico paese di nome Ficarra. I Ficarresi costudiscono fortemente e gelosamente l’originale ricetta segreta.

Ficarra ha un storia che risale al primo periodo Normanno menzionata ufficialmente in un documento di corte del 1082 sotto il dominio del Conte Ruggero I.

Oggi questo bellissimo paese medievale guarda le Isole Eolie dalla sua posizione strategica sui monti Nebrodi, nello stesso idealistico luogo in cui si trova da secoli.

Ecco un Sicilian Moment: Pasti i mennula

To see this post in english click here: Pasti i mennula

 

Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Per l_amore dei mercati Siciliani title
Non è un segreto che io sia una fan dei mercati, io amo scrutare in ogni bancarella per vedere cosa posso trovare. Il mio blog è pieno di foto di legni Africani intagliati, gioielli fatti a mano, scoperte divertenti, casualità e sensazioni senza fine. Io adoro i colori e l’inaspettato. Un mercato Siciliano contiene di tutto: prodotti freschi, antichità, stoffe e oggettistica.
Ogni anno che trascorro vivendo in Sicilia è fatto di appuntamenti annuali con grandi mercati Siciliani e fiere (che sono le sorelle maggiori dei semplici mercati quotidiani di alimentari, che portano insieme molti fornitori da altre province ed anche il commercio di bestiame.) Una fiera primaverile prevede quello che vedrai nei negozi durante l’estate, mentre in autunno ti dà l’opportunità di trovare regali unici senza la fretta natalizia, spesso chi visita la Sicilia critica i mercati definendoli posti pieni di merce scadente, osservazione che purtroppo trova fondamento.

A causa della continua crisi economica Europea infatti, molte boutique e imprese di famiglia che vi vendevano bellissimi prodotti hanno chiuso, spostandosi oltreoceano per tagliare i costi, lasciando cosi’ il posto a importazioni scadenti che li hanno sostituiti. Sono spaventata all’idea che i miei amati mercati Siciliani stiano iniziando a scomparire.

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Nel mio piccolo pezzo di Sicilia in Provincia di Messina molti abitanti hanno un appuntamento con la fiera di Capo d’Orlando il 21 e 22 di ottobre, giorni che corrispondono alla celebrazione della Madonna, protettrice della città. Inoltre non manco mai ai mercati in autunno e primavera a Sant’Agata di Militello, l’antica fiera del 14 e 15 novembre (e del 14 e 15 aprile) che si estende lungo la strada principale che costeggia il mare Tirreno.
I mercati di novembre sono di solito dove io faccio il mio shopping natalizio, ma per la prima volta l’anno scorso sono tornata a casa a mani vuote. C’era la solita folla senza fine comune di questa fiera stravagante, ma non della sostanza di questi storici mercati che risalgono al 1700.
Stabilita dalla famiglia Ventimiglia, una dinastia aristocratica Siciliana, che decise di crearla per raccogliere la ricchezza dell’agricoltura dell’area dei Nebrodi, la fiera di Sant’Agata era un punto focale per agricoltori e artigiani di tutti tipi. Il primo giorno è dedicato al bestiame, mentre il secondo offre ai visitatori tutto dal tessile, all’ oggettistica, attrezzi, prodotti locali, bellezza e artigianato.

Mercatini di Natale
Io ho camminato su e giù per le bancarelle l’anno scorso ma non ho trovato niente di qualità, tante cose scadenti di origine cinese, molti abiti e scarpe palesemente di seconda mano che venivano spacciati per nuovi, strani abiti taglia unica che in realtà non vestono a nessuno che pesa più di 40 kg e la stessa serie di sciarpe e decorazioni natalizie di ogni anno. Non ho visto oggetti in ceramica, sono diventati rari, c’era una sola bancarella di antiquari, (che aveva le stesse cose dell’anno passato), il proprietario tristemente mi disse che gli affari erano veramente pochi e che lui probabilmente non sarebbe tornato l’anno prossimo.
Sembra che il declino dei mercati in Sicilia si stia gradualmente insinuando in tutta l’isola. Per esempio molte riviste di viaggio soprendentemente ancora cantano le lodi della Vucciria di Palermo come maggiore mercato fiorente Siciliano, ma il quartiere una volta caotico, pieno di centinaia di negozi di cibo che fuoriuscivano dalle strade, è diventato niente di più di una piccola striscia di negozi che mantengono i mercati storici a malapena aperti per i turisti.

Sicilian antique gramophone
Gli Italiani credono nello slow food e nel viaggio, dove ti prendi il tempo di immergerti nel carattere di un posto, felicemente godendoti il momento. In un paese dove le persone e la cultura sono così colorati come la scenografia stessa è giustificabile cercare una più autentica connessione con la vita di ogni giorno.

I mercati alimentari sono pieni della vista, dei suoni e del sapore di un’ Italia che assapora il suo cibo. In un periodo di recessione economica gli Italiani tagliano su tutto eccetto per quello che c’e sulla tavola.

Grazie alla bontà dei prodotti la domanda dei Palermitani per il cibo buono persiste, è questo che mantiene gli altri mercati dei quartieri fiorenti.

I mercati de il Capo, Ballarò e Borgo Vecchio mantengano le tradizioni vive con le loro trattorie e i venditori di cibo di strada.

Tu puoi ancora vivere un’ esperienza autentica al mercato Siciliano di Ballarò,che si estende da Piazza Ballarò nel distretto Albergheria (vicino la chiesa di San Nicolò) lungo via Ballarò dopo Piazza Carmine verso Corso Tukory approssimativamente parallelo a Via Maqueda verso la stazione principale.

Mentre i marcati Capo sono nascosti dietro il Teatro Massimo e si estendono da Via Porta Carini seguendo Via Volturno vicino il vecchio muro della città verso Piazza Beati Paoli.

La Vucciria è a Piazza San Domenico, ma in maniera più ridotta se la paragoniamo al passato, esso ancora attraversa Via Maccheronai verso Piazza Caracciolo e Corso Vittorio Emanuele ramificandosi lungo Via Arenteria.

I mercati di Borgo Vecchio sono tra Piazza Sturzo e Piazza Ucciardone. I mercati di Palermo sono di solito aperti tutto il giorno dalle 9 alle 7 (sono chiusi domenica e sono aperti solo mezzo giorno il mercoledì.)

Scarf and jewelry at markets

Mentre a Catania i mercati principali sono in Piazza Carlo Alberto vicino Via Umberto e Corso Sicilia che è facilmente raggiungibile da Via Pacini seguendo Via Etnea vicino il parco Villa Bellini.

La pescheria (mercato del pesce) è situato seguendo Piazza Duomo vicino la Cattedrale e la Fontana dell’Amenano, fra Via Garibaldi e Via Pacini, estendendosi lungo Via Gemelli Zappalà e alcune delle strade vicine. I mercati di Catania sono chiusi le domeniche e i pomeriggi.

Tristamente i mercati intorno a me sembrano scomparire nell’insignificanza, così quando tu visiti la Sicilia sii sicuro di visitare un mercato di una grande città perchè è una parte preziosa della storia Siciliana.


Italia Ambulante é uno strumento di supporto alle tante piccole imprese individuali, come gli ambulanti, che esercitano la loro attività sulle piazze e nei mercati d’Italia. Per informazione sulle piccole mercati giornalieri in Italia vede questo sito.

 

To see this post in english click here: Disappearing Sicilian Markets

10 delle più spettacolari celebrazioni di Pasqua in Sicilia

La Santa Pasqua in Sicilia è ricca di antichi riti e tradizioni che sono tanto colorati e varigati quanto lo è l’isola stessa. La settimana che porta a Pasqua trabocca di celebrazioni religiose, preparazioni culinarie, processioni, parate guidate da antiche confraternite nei loro particolari costumi, rievocazioni del mortirio di Gesù Cristo e della resurrezione.

Ogni celebrazione fa parte di un elaborato spettacolo che mischia religione e paganesimo nelle festività che marca la fine dell’inverno e la rinascita della primavera.

Visitare ogni piccolo paese nell settimana di Pasqua sarebbe pieno di bellissime tradizioni religiose e di colore, ogni posto ha la propria versione delle stazioni della croce che richiamano i momenti finali della vita di Gesù e ci sono molte variazioni delle processioni religiose e delle celebrazioni. La settimana inizia con l’intreccio delle fronde delle palme che vengano benedette la domenica delle Palme, la settimana raggiunge un climax drammatico con le rappresentazioni della passione e finisce con il consumo delle delicate sculture di marzapane che raffigurano gli agnelli o ‘picureddi’, pane o biscotti decorati con uova dipinte, molti piatti tradizionali e infiniti desserts nell’usuale abbondanza della tavola Siciliana.

Se stai pianificando un viaggio in Sicilia proprio per provare le festività, qui ć è una lista delle 10 più spettacolari.

Pasqua in Sicilia

Diavoluzzi di Pasqua ad Adrano

Il riflettore di Pasqua ad Adrano in provincia di Catania è la Diavolata, la rappresentazione di un antica ‘commedia’ religiosa. Scritta nel 1728, da un frate locale, viene messa in scena la sera della Domenica di Pasqua. La Diavolata rappresenta l’eterna battaglia fra bene e male. La parte principale della tragedia si focalizza sulla lotta fra diversi diavoli e San Michele Arcangelo, che non solo riesce a sconfiggere i procacciatori del male ma anche a fargli lodare Dio.

La sera prima Pasqua, c’e il volo dell’Angelo, dove una ragazza “terrorizzata” viene legata e issata lungo una corda tesa attraverso la piazza per incontrare la statua di Cristo appena risorto, dandogli il benvenuto e lodandolo. L’uso dei bambini è una parte essenziale dello spettacolo di Pasqua in Sicilia, essi infatti rappresentano la purezza in contrasto con la cattiveria dell’umanità.

 

Adrano I Diavulazzi di Pasqua

 

Gli Incappucciati ad Enna

Goethe una volta disse che aver visto l’Italia senza aver visto la Sicilia non è aver visto tutta l’Italia, perchè la Sicilia è la chiave di tutto. Ma per capire la Sicilia bisogna andare nel suo centro geografico, perchè incarna l’identità dell’isola .

La provincia di Enna è conosciuta come l’ombelico di Sicilia, ed è la casa delle più antiche tradizioni. I sinistri incappucciati sono i personaggi centrali della celebrazione di Pasqua di Enna già dal periodo Spagnolo, dal 15° al 17° secolo. Soli i maschi membri delle quindici confraternite locali partecipavano ad una serie di ben organizzate processioni, preghiere nella Cattedrale.

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 Pashkët alla Piana degli Albanesi nella provincia di Palermo

A Piana degli Albanesi e nei paesi vicini nella provincia di Palermo, Pasqua prende elementi dalla fede Greca Ortodossa. Le celebrazioni si ispirano all’antica chiesa Bizantina, infatti in molti riti religiosi rappresentati durante la settimana Santa si usano il linguaggio Greco e Albanese. Anche le città di Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso e Palazzo Adriano donano questa particolare caratteristica etnica alle loro celebrazioni Pasquale.

I riti religiosi a Piana degli Albanesi finiscono con il Pontificale, una splendida parata di donne in sontuosi abiti tradizionali che attraversa le strade principali della città terminando alla Cattedrale. Alla fine della parata, delle colombe bianche vengono liberate tra le canzoni in dialetto e la distribuzione di uova colorate di rosso che sono simbolo di nuova vita e del sangue di Cristo.

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 Il ballo dei diavoli a Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo

A Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo diversi diavoli e la morte stessa disturbano le celebrazioni la Domenica di Pasqua con le loro macabre danze, finchè non vengono sconfitti da personaggi angelici che permettono alle celebrazioni di continuare. I diavoli  dai costumi sgargianti rossi e gialli e le maschere pagane celebrano la resurrezione in una delle più colorate e caratteristiche celebrazioni in Sicilia, indossano una tuta rossa, con una maschera rotonda e schiacciata completata da una lunga lingua di tessuto, coperta da pelle di capra e con una catena nelle mani. Mentre la morte è vestita di giallo con una balestra in mano. La loro turbolenta danza disturba le celebrazioni religiose, finchè non comprendono   che la resurrezione li ha sconfitti.

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I giudei a San Fratello in provincia di Messina

In cima ai personaggi grotteschi nella Santa Pasqua in Sicilia ci sono i Guidei di San Fratello. Il branco di uomini incappucciati vengono fuori dal paese e disturbano la solenne processione funebre la mattina di venerdì Santo e le altre processioni durante la settimana santa in generale.

Questi personaggi vengono dalla storia della Sicilia, con tutti i loro colori, i loro scherzi e le trombe rumorose. I costumi sono tramandati da padre in figlio,simili ad un’armatura,  sono caratterizzati da un color rosso accesso, completati da elaborati elmi, strisce gialle e intricati lavori di perline, sono dei capolavori ‘viventi’ dell’arte folkloristica che rimandano allo stile del carretto siciliano.

La colonia Normanna di San Fratello è la casa di questi uomini che legano insieme i fili della storia in tutti i loro colori. L’assordante confusione che creano sembra spaventosa, ma questo pandemonio è un’affermazione della vita. Questa tradizione è ininterrotta da   generazioni è continuata perfino durante le due guerre mondiali. Grazie a questi Giudei i Sanfratellani sono stati chiamati ‘non cattolici’ e ‘diavoli’ , ma questi personaggi sono una parte importante dell’ identità di San Fratello.

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I misteri di Trapani

La processione di Trapani dei Misteri ricostruisce scene della passione di Cristo con una processione di statue di legno che raffigurano differenti scene di questa eterna storia. L’interpretazione dei Misteri di Trapani è la più conosciuta delle celebrazioni dei Misteri, semplicemente grazie alla dimensioni delle statue ed alla grande abilità artistica espressa nelle figure che sono estremamente emotive e dettagliate.

I Misteri rappresentano la passione di Cristo e gli elementi simbolici associati alla storia. A fianco le opere d’arte troviamo oggetti come, lance, martelli e corone di spine in una estesa metafora religiosa.

Le festività iniziano il Martedì dopo la domenica delle Palme con la processione della Madonna delle Pietà, conosciuta localmente come Massari. Un’ opera d’arte che risale al 16° secolo che è racchiusa in una cornice dorata. La tela mostra la Maria Addolorata, rivolta verso sinistra, su uno sfondo scuro circondata da varie reliquie sante.

 

San Biagio PalataniGli archi di Pasqua

 

Gli archi di Pasqua di San Biagio Palatani in provincia di Agrigento

Oltre gli elementi religiosi e pagani, a Pasqua si rivolge particolare attenzione alla decorazione e all’abilità artistica. A San Biagio Palatani nelle vie della città, prendono il sopravvento  archi, cupole e campane  che fanno da sfondo alle celebrazioni pasquali.

I mesi precedenti infatti, le due principali confraternite storiche di San Biagio lavorano per creare queste grandiose opere d’arte folkloristica senza dimenticare il simbolismo religioso. Vengono impiegati solo materiali naturali come bamboo, salice piangente, asparagi, foglie d’alloro, rosmarino, cereali, datteri e pane.

Gli archi vengono disposti in successione, diventando più elaborati man mano che ci si avvicina al centro della città, punto in cui durante la processione della domenica di Pasqua  la Madonna e il Cristo risorto si incontrano.

Pietraperzia_ EnnaIl Signore delle Fasce

Lu Signuri delle Fasci a Pietraperzia in provincia di Enna.

Una delle più complesse processioni dell’isola è quella di Pietreperzia, dove il ‘Signuri di li fasci’ è il protagonista di un elaborata rappresentazione liturgica.

Dopo la proclamazione della morte di Gesù il Venerdì Santo, un antico crocifisso viene fissato su un lungo tronco da cui una complessa serie di lunghe tele di lino vengono sciolte lungo le vie, accompagnate da preghiere in dialetto. Le strisce di tessuto sono resti di usanza medievale, ma l’esibizione è unica in Sicilia.

Di solito coloro che tengono le strisce di tessuto,lunghe 40 metri, stanno chiedendo una grazia, ringraziano Dio per un miracolo che è già successo o mantengono una tradizione di famiglia che li collega a Pietraperzia.

Il corteo è anche accompagnato dalla confraternita locale nei loro costumi da frati incappucciati, ć è chi porta la statua della Madonna Addolorata, chi piange la morte di Gesù  tutti accompagnati dalla banda del paese.

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La Settimana Santa a Caltanissetta

La settimana santa a Caltanissetta è veramente bellissima, dalla Domenica delle Palme alla Domenica di Pasqua c’è una settimana piena esibizioni, processioni Barocche, rievocazioni dell’ultima cena, le stazioni della croce e riti tradizionali che riflettono l’antico e a volte aristocratico passato della Sicilia.

La Domenica delle Palme vede la processione di Gesù Nazareno, una statua di Cristo è posizionata dentro una barca decorata con fiori e portata per la città per ricreare il trionfante arrivo di Gesù a Nazareth. Il lunedì di Pasqua si può assistere ad una rievocazione dell’ultima Cena.

Mentre mercoledì si tiene una parata militare,la processione della Maestrina, le famiglie nobili e un’associazione di artigiani della città creano un miscuglio di elementi civili e religiosi. La sera poi avviene la processione della Varicedde, piccole statue fatte di argilla e terracotta che raffigurano le varie stazioni della croce.

Nel triste giorno del funerale del venerdì Santo la città è in lutto e il Cristo Nero diventa il centro di una profonda processione religiosa. La statua del Cristo crocifisso utilizzata per il corteo è un’opera molto antica che viene conservata dal 14° secolo nella chiesa di San Francesco.

Mentre il corteo della via Dolorosa e della Resurrezione, che si tiene la Domenica di Pasqua, proclama la resurrezione di Cristo in una colorata parata attraverso le strade.

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La corsa di San Leone a Sinagra in provincia di Messina

Non posso fare una lista delle usanze di Pasqua senza includere la caratteristica festa del mio piccolo paese, Sinagra, che comprende l’amore per il santo patrono San Leone e la gioia della Domenica di Pasqua.

Il giorno di Pasqua,la statua di San Leone parte dalla sua chiesa di campagna in cui trascorre l’inverno, per arrivare alla chiesa madre San Michele Arcangelo nel cuore del paese dove trascorre la restante parte dell’anno. La grande statua di legno è montata su una pesante struttura di legno (la vara) portata dai devoti della commissione di San Leone.

La sera quando il Santo arriva sul ponte all’inizio del paese, i fedeli iniziano a correre  portando la statua,accompagnando la corsa con grida e preghiere, il tutto incorniciato da suggestivi fuochi d’artificio. La corsa del santo ha lo scopo di celebrare uno dei miracoli  del Santo. Si narra infatti che quando era vescovo di Catania San Leone per  sconfiggere uno stregone che affermava di essere più potente di Dio, decise di sfidarlo proponendogli di attraversare il fuoco, la sfida vide il mago morire bruciato mentre San Leo rimanere  illeso attraversando le fiamme.

EASTER in Sicily

Per una lista più completa dei posti da visitare vedi la pagina Pasqua in Sicilia 2018, ć è una meravigliosa lista che puoi usare come riferimento per qualsiasi parte dell’isola tu voglia esplorare.

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See the english version of the post here:

10 of the most spectacular Easter celebrations in Sicily

10 of the most spectacular Easter celebrations in Sicily

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Santa Pasqua in Sicily is filled with ancient rites and traditions which are as colourful and variegated as the island itself.  The week leading up to Easter is brimming with religious celebrations, food preparations, processions and parades. Each celebration is part of an elaborate pageant mixing religion and paganism in the festivities which mark the end of Winter and the rebirth of Spring.

A visit to any small town has its own versions of the Sicilian religious traditions. The week begining with intricately woven palm fronds which are blessed for Palm Sunday, reaching a dramatic climax with passion performances and ends with the consumption of delicate marzipan sculptured lambs or picureddi, breads or biscuits decorated with dyed eggs, many traditional dishes and endless desserts in the usual abundance of Sicily’s table.

If you are planning a trip to Sicilia specifically to experience the festivities, here is a list of the ten most spectacular celebrations of the island.

Pasqua in Sicilia

I Diavulazzi di Pasqua at Adrano, Catania

Easter at Adrano in the province of Catania is focused around the Diavolata a performance of an ancient religious play. Written in 1728 by a local religious brother it is performed on the evening of Easter Sunday. The Diavolata acts out the eternal battle between good and evil. The main part of the drama focuses on the struggle between several devils and St Michael the Archangel, who not only manages to defeat the evil doers but also gets them to praise God.

On the evening before Easter, there is the flight of the Angel, where a terrified looking girl is strapped in and hoisted along a tightrope across the local square to meet the statue of the freshly resurrected Christ and recites a piece of text welcoming and praising him.

Gli Incappucciati at Enna

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  the geographical centre, because the island’s true identity is to be found there. The province of Enna is known as the belly button of Sicily and is the home to Sicily’s most ancient traditions.

The sinister hooded Incappuciati are the central characters of Enna’s Easter celebrations which dates back to the Spanish period from the 15th and 17th centuries. The male only members of the fifteen various local confraternities participate in a well organised series of processions, prayers and worship in the local Cathedral.

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Pashkët at Piana degli Albanesi in the province of Palermo

At Piana degli Albanesi and nearby towns in the province of Palermo Easter takes on elements of the Greek Orthodox faith. The celebrations are based on the ancient Byzantine church, in fact many of the rites performed use the Greek and Albanian languages. The towns of Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso and Palazzo Adriano also share this particular ethnic characteristic to their Easter festivities.

The religious rites at Piano degli Albanesi end with the Pontificale, a splendid parade of women in sumptuous traditional dress which weaves its way through the main streets of the town, ending at the Cathedral. White doves are released at the end of the parade in amongst the songs of the local dialect and the distribution of red coloured eggs which are symbolic of new life and of the blood shed during the crucifixion.

 Il ballo dei diavoli at Prizzi in the province of Palermo

At Prizzi in the province of Palermo several devils and death itself disturb the celebrations on Easter day with their macabre dance, until they are eventually defeated by other angelic characters.

The devils are dressed in one piece red jump suits, with a large round flat faced masks complete with a long fabric tongue, covered in a goat skin and with a chain in their hands. While death is dressed in yellow with crossbow in hand.

I giudei at San Fratello in Messina province

The apex of the grotesque characters in Sicily’s Santa Pasqua are the Giudei of San Fratello. The flocks of hooded brightly dressed men take over the village and disturb the solemn funeral procession on the morning of Good Friday and other processions during the week.

These characters come out of Sicily’s history, with all of their colour, practical jokes and loud trumpeting. The costumes are handed down from father to son, are in a bright red pseudo military style, complete with elaborate helmets, bright yellow striped lapels and intricate beading work, which make them like living breathing works of folk art echoing the vibrant designs of the traditional carretto Siciliano.

The Medieval Norman colony of San Fratello is the home to these strangely dressed men who gather out of the ether and tie together many strands of history. The deafening confusion they create seems frightening, but this pandemonium is a life affirming chaos. This celebration has gone on uninterrupted for generations, it went on during both world wars. Thanks to these Giudei the Sanfratellani have been called ‘non catholic’ and ‘devils,’ , yet these characters are a central part of San Fratello’s identity.

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 I misteri of Trapani

Trapani’s Misteri procession re-enacts scenes from the passion of Christ, with a procession of detailed heavy wooden statues depicting different scenes from this eternal story. The celebration at Trapani is probably the most well known of the Misteri based festivities, which occur through out the island, simply because of the dimensiona of the statues and the amazing artistry of the figures which are extremely emotive and detailed.

The Misteri, depict the passion of Christ and the symbolic elements also associated with the story. Side by side with the artworks are objects like spears, hammers and a crown of thorns in an extended religious metaphor, like an elaborate Mystery play from the Middle Ages.

The festivities in Trapani begin on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday with the procession of the Modonna of the Pieta’ known locally as the Massari. An artwork which dates back to the sixteenth century which is displayed within an ornate golden frame. The canvas depicts the Maria Addolorata who is looking to her left on a dark background with many holy relics.

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 Gli archi di Pasqua of San Biagio Palatani in the province of Agrigento

Apart from the religious and pagan elements to Easter there is also an immense dedication to decoration and artistry. At San Biagio Platani the city’s streets are taken over by elaborately constructed archways, domes, bells and religious artworks.

In the months before Easter the two major historical confraternities of San Biagio work to create a gigantic piece of public folk art. Using only natural materials to decorate the streets with arches, all with religious and natural symbolism like bamboo, weeping willow, asparagus, laurel leaves, rosemary, cereals, dates and bread.

The series of decorated archways, become increasingly elaborate as they reach the central part of the town, which becomes the focal point of the Easter Sunday procession as the Madonna and the resurrected Christ meet at precisely at the centre of the decorations.

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 Lu Signuri delle Fasci at Pietraperzia in Enna province

One of the most elaborate and complex processions on the island is that of Pietraperzia near the centre of the island where the Signuri di li fasci creates an elaborate piece of liturgical performance.

On Good Friday, an historical crucifix is fixed to a tall log and a complex series of linen strips are wrapped around its base. The white strands are held by devout followers as the procession makes its way delicately through the streets, accompanied by prayers in the local dialect. The fabric strands are reminiscent of medieval Maypoles but the performance is unique to Sicily.

Usually those who hold onto the forty meter long fabric strips are either asking for a miracle, or are giving thanks to God for a divine intervention which has already occurred or are maintaining a family tradition. The cavalcade is accompanied by the local confraternity in their hooded monk costumes, who carry the statue of the Madonna dell’Addolorata.

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 La Settimana Santa at Caltanissetta

Easter week at Caltanissetta is truly amazing, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is a week filled with elaborate performances, baroque processions, renactments of the last supper, the stations of the cross and traditional rites which reflect Sicily’s ancient and at times aristocratic past.

Palm Sunday sees the Processione of Gesù Nazareno, where a statue of Christ is placed within an elaborate boat shaped flower decorated float and carried around the city in a recreation of Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Nazareth. Easter Monday there is a performance of the Last Supper.

While on Wednesday the procession of the Maestranza sees a parade of local military, nobel families and artisan guilds of the city in a blend of civic and religious elements.

On the sombre funeral day of Good Friday while the city is in mourning and the Cristo Nero (or darkened Christ- because of its colour) becomes the focus of a deeply religious procession.

 

La corsa di San Leone at Sinagra in Messina province

I cannot possibly make up a list of suggestive Easter celebrations without mentioning my own little Sicilian village which combines the love of the local patron saint San Leone with the joy of Easter.

San Leone is taken on an elaborate procession from his country church, of the same name, to the main parish church of San Michele Archangelo in the heart of the town. As the large wooden statue is mounted on a heavy wooden float carried by the confraternity of San Leone.

When the Saint arrives at the bridge at the beginning of the town, the statue runs over the bridge accompanied by suggestive fireworks. The running of the Saint recalls one of his miracles. While San Leone was the Bishop of Catania he confronted a magician who claimed to be more powerful than God. The Saint challenged him to a literal baptism of fire, which saw the magician burnt to death while Saint Leo remained unscathed by the flames of a bomb fire.

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For a more complete list of places to visit see the page Pasqua in Sicilia 2018, (in Italian) it has a wonderful list you can use as a reference according to which part of the island you would like to visit.

Click on image of Santo Leo above to see a video of his celebrations at Sinagra on Facebook.

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Se preferisce in Italiano clicca qui:

10 delle piu’ spettacolari celebrazioni di Pasqua in Sicilia

Yuletide Sicily

The festive season is always a beautiful time of the year to visit Sicily as it is filled with the colours, tastes and sensations of a traditional Sicilian Christmas.

A Yuletide Sicily offers visitors a unique way of experiencing the island which is inhabited by less tourists and is ultimately a more authentically Italian celebration.

December in Sicily is about traditions based around the nativity, Christmas markets with a little decadence thrown in.

These events are regular features of the Christmas season on the island, dates and times may vary.

I Presepi di Acireale (The art of the Nativity)  3rd December – 6th January Acireale (Catania)

The Christmas Nativity has always been a font of inspiration for folk artists who choose to represent the manger scene every year as part of the festive celebrations. Italian’s often put up their Christmas trees together with a home-made nativity and this art form is also reflected in the ancient art of the nativity construction in every form (from ceramics, papier-mâché, to theatrical representations of the scenes surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ)

Every year at Acireale there is the Itinerary of the Nativity in the Chiesetta della Madonna della Neve, which is an exhibition dedicated to depictions of the nativity dating back to the 1700’s. A series of churches display these traditional pieces of art, the nativities are displayed in the Church of San Rocco, the elaborate Neapolitan Nativities and high art nativities are in the Basilica Collegiata di San Sebastiano.

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The feast day celebration of Santa Barbara Paternó (Catania) 3rd, 4th and 5th December and 11th December

This colorful Saint day celebration begins gradually over the month of November and reaches its climax over a three day pageant celebration filled with formal ceremonies, processions and fireworks over the 3rd,4th and 5th of December, officially coming to an end on the 11th of December with the procession of the Saint’s relics around the town.

The style of the Santa Barbara celebrations at Paternó is reminiscent of the bigger celebration of Sant Agata at Catania in February, in fact, both Saints are loved by the locals and both have saved their cities from a major eruption of lava from the Mount Etna volcano in 1780.

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Teatro Messina Catania Image from Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mandarx/3173195407)

Natale a Catania 8th December – 31st January

The festive season brings the best out of the major cities, for example, the historical centre and squares of Catania are filled with the vibrancy and colours of many events including Christmas markets, theatrical shows, art exhibitions, street performances and nativity displays.

The 8th of December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione), the Madonna is also a patron of the city and the main celebrations in the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi is filled with pomp and ancient religious traditions.

Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione: Termini Immerse (Palermo) 8th December

The celebration of the Immaculate Conception is an important celebration throughout Italy and other predominantly Roman Catholic countries, here in Sicily it is a public holiday and is filled with suggestive religious celebrations.

The most elaborate celebrations happen in towns where the Madonna of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint, for example at Termine Immerse in Palermo province the Concezione della SS.Vergine Madre di Dio Maria has been worshipped since 1624. In almost all the churches of the city, the icon of the Madonna is decorated with floral offerings including the first known wooden sculpture in the city dedicated to the Madonna, made in 1799 by Palermitano sculpture Francesco Quattrocchi. The sculpture is housed in the main church in the piazza Duomo and is the focus of religious processions and celebrations all around Termini.

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Image of Catania from Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/leandrociuffo/4200097689

Presepe Vivente Termini Immerse (Palermo) 25th – 6th January

Also at Termini Immerse there is the performance of the Nativity where the whole town participates to recreate biblical times and scenes from the birth of Jesus. It is a suggestive tradition which sees the entire community celebrate the central story at the heart of a Catholic Christmas. It also sees many old houses and palaces which are usually close, open up to display many folk traditions such as music and art.

Festa Immacolata Concezione: Caltagirone (Catania) 8th December

Another big celebration dedicated to the Immaculate Conception is in the famous ceramics city of Caltagirone which hosts a colourful Medieval procession and a Sagra food festival (dedicated to the Muffuletta a traditional bread made with fennel seeds), besides the usual religious celebrations.

The Corteo Storico del Senato Civico dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries and includes a procession in traditional costumes, flag throwing and drumming.

Longi in the province of Messina
Longi in the province of Messina

Natale a Longi e Sagra del Suino Nero: Longi (Messina) December 8 – 5th January

Christmas in Sicily is also dedicated to food, so the usual succession of Sagra food festivals are filled with the Sicilian’s rich source of culinary delights which are indeed never-ending.

One suggestive mountain town in the province of Messina organises a series of traditional and fun wintertime events over December. There is something magical about celebrating Christmas up in the mountains, around bonfires, surrounded by the sounds of traditional music, church services, processions, christmas carols and the promise of sipping a warming grappa liquor after a rich meal in a local Trattoria.

The Suino Nero dei Nebrodi, is a famous breed of pig which is perfect to taste in a hearty sauce in home-made pasta but also in hand-made salami hence making it perfect as the focus of this little village’s annual Sagra celebration.

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ChocoModica : Modica (Ragusa) 8th – 11th December

For lovers of fine chocolate the series of stands dedicated to the delicate preparation of the ancient recipe of Modican chocolatiers in the splendid historical centre of this Baroque town.

This world-famous high-quality chocolate is showcased in this celebration organized by the town of Modica and is filled with many events including guided tasting tours, demonstrations, exhibitions and other cultural events.

This Chocolate Show is dedicated to local chocolate artisans and seeks to showcase this local Sicilian product and the entire culture of the town. Many of the museums are opened during extended visiting hours, special concerts and shows are organised and local restaurants prepare special dishes and menus which show off the taste of their special chocolate.

Festa di Santa Lucia: Syracuse 13th – 20th December

The feast day of Santa Lucia is one of the biggest saint day celebrations in Sicily, along with St Agata of Catania, St Lucy is a native of Sicily which makes her a focal point in the local historic and religious culture.

The celebrations for Santa Lucia patron Saint of Syracuse (Siracusa) with the traditions honouring the celebration of lights associated with other northern European celebrations for St Lucy day together with the  Fiera di Santa Lucia (markets of St Lucy).

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse at the end of the third century and her celebrations include processions of her holy icon from the Cathedral (Duomo) to the Church of Saint Lucy’s tomb (Sepolcro), the procession is made up of a carriage from the 17th century, with people in traditional dress.

The celebrations in honour of Santa Lucia are one of the most ancient on the island, so seeing and participating in these rituals you are witnessing a truly unique and authentic piece of islander heritage and tradition.

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Bones and fruit of the dead

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My son has recently begun the school year in Sicily, which is proving to be quite an experience for both of us. I like how school life in a small town is wonderfully protective and comforting for young boys and girls who are literally smothered by the community.

While at the same time I am frustrated by the posturing of the local mothers who seem more concerned about putting their children on display rather than bettering their education and the closed-minded teachers who are stuck in the habits of their traditions which sees my son being tortured by attempting long-winded old-fashioned handwriting exercises from the first week of first grade.

Now he’s in second grade and does cursive better than me! I will bumble my way through the rest of the school year avoiding conflicts, ignoring frustrations and deep breathing through all the difficulties.

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My son’s homework for the first of November is to copy these lines:

Novembre é il mese delle morte

Abbiamo pregato per loro

I morti dormano nei cemeteri.

(November is the month of the dead.

We have prayed for them

The dead sleep in the cemeteries)

I found this to be an interesting type of homework to give a six-year-old, it reflects the importance of the major religious holiday of All Souls day on the second of November, which sees people paying tributes to their ancestors on and seems to run over through into the whole month.

While part of the world is trick or treating, others are visiting their ancestors in the cemeteries, lovingly cleaning and maintaining the tombs and decorating them with lights and bouquets of flowers for the feast day of the defunti.

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I’ve never celebrated Halloween, it’s always been foreign to me even though the entire world seems to love to celebrate this holiday with all of its colour and masquerade. Instead of doing Halloween, I’ve been celebrating I morti and tutti Santi (all souls and all saints) which are distinctly religious celebrations yet are more sombre and have become a part of my annual routine.

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When I first came to Sicily I thought All souls was macabre, yet there is a subtle underlying affection to it all, everyone visits the tombs of their families deceased bringing flowers and lighting up the cemetery with hundreds of little light globes. It is about honouring your ancestors, remembering where you came from, the stepping stones which led to you and it feels like an honourable ritual to follow.

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The connection to families dearly departed used to be more intense, bordering on fanatical. in the past, the living used to prepare special treats and leave them at the resting places of their family. At the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo up until the early twentieth century people used to visit their mummified relatives, to talk to them and bring them elaborate treats.

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Ossa di morto

These days the only thing that remains of this macabre tradition in Sicily is the preparation of biscuits called Ossa di morto (bones of the dead) and delicate little artful marzipan fruits called Frutta Martorana which are often given as gifts to children, who are left little sweets as presents, which the souls of their departed grandparents leave for them on the night between the first All Saints (Ogni Sante) and All Souls (defunti) on the second of  November. 

Ossa di morto are delicate sugary biscuits flavoured with cinnamon and cloves which are left to rest and leavened for two to three days when they are finally baked delicate little biscuit mushrooms out from under the whitened bone coloured biscuit. The traditional version is very simple and sweet, often the pastry is flavoured with different aromas like orange, lemon and chocolate.

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While the traditional Frutta Martorana are sculptured out of marzipan and are often enriched further by being filled with chocolate or hazelnut Nutella. These marzipan delights are said to have originated at the Monastery of Martorana, Palermo when the nuns decorated bare fruit trees with the fruit sculptures to impress a visiting archbishop. Today these tiny works of art are found throughout the provinces of Messina and Palermo.

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Throughout the year these unique baroque sweets, made from almonds and sugar are moulded into anything imaginable and are sold to tourists visiting the island, but they are really associated with November and the many generations who populate the cities of the dead.

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Dividing Sicily into bitesize pieces

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There are many ways of exploring Sicily, from visiting the bigger cities and tourist centres, food and winery tours or seeing the major historical sites from Greek temples to endless museums.

Logistically moving around Sicily is difficult simply because of the mountainous landscape, bad infrastructure, lack of reliable public transport and really confusing or absent signage. Rather than attempting to see the entire island in one weekend (which I assure you is impossible), the best thing to do is simply break the island into smaller pieces and explore a smaller part of it.

It is easy to hire a car from any major airport and together with a reliable GPS, a guidebook, a little research and some Italian, you can easily negotiate yourself around a particular area.

One trip or vacation to a concentrated part of the island is a perfect way to soak up the culture and colours associated with each of the nine different provinces (Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento and Trapani.)

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Western Sicily  for example includes Trapani, Marsala and basically everything west of Palermo from Castellammare del Golfo around to the Aegadian islands, down the coast to Mazara del Vallo, if you want to be particularly challenged you can make it down as far as Agrigento (but I think Agriento deserves more time to be savoured and is best to be grouped together with central Sicily).

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Sicily can be sliced down the middle from Palermo into its heart to Piazza Armerina, Enna, Caltanissetta down to Agrigento which is filled with much history, archaeological sites and festivities during the year.

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Then there is North Eastern Sicily which can be done by car from Palermo along the coast towards Messina and can include visits to places like Cefalù, the Aeolian Islands, many small coastal and mountain towns around to Messina and the resort town of Taormina.

If you decide to arrive at Catania airport you can start from there and explore along the coastline as there are many fascinating fishing villages and resorts all the way down to Siracusa and Ragusa.

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A few days to explore the Val di Noto towns inland from Catania will give you the chance to experience the eight Baroque treasures of south-eastern Sicily: Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli, were all rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake and are filled with ostentatious architecture, breathtaking scenery and equally rich culinary landscape to taste.

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From Catania it is easy to catch the Circumetnea a historic railway which takes you leisurely around the base of the Mount Etna around to the picturesque seaside town of Riposto. From Catania airport it is simple to explore Etna itself and the endless small towns near and around the Mount Etna regional park, this area also boasts world-class wineries, restaurants, historical sites endless farm stay or luxury bed and breakfasts, spas and a golf course. 

Sicily is a multifaceted place with endless things to explore, simply do some research into whatever you may be interested in and see if you can explore the island through your hobbies and passions.

There is something for everyone Sicily is a paradise for people interested in hiking, mountain biking, nature photography, snorkelling/diving and windsurfing.

Sicily boasts some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean, if your family is originally from Sicily you can visit the town of your origins, foodies will have endless things to taste with a succession of Sagra food festivals throughout the year and the island has some of the best wine in the world.

There are literary parks to explore Sicily through its greatest artists, if you are after a luxury holiday there are many five star hotels and resorts, you can take a helicopter ride around the island, sail around the coast and hop around the surrounding islands, take archaeological tours around the most well preserved Greek temples outside of Magna Grecia, immerse yourself in the thousands of museums, palaces, castles, markets, religious or food festivals, squares, do an inspector Montalbano, Mafia or Caravaggio inspired tour.

The possibilities are endless simply break off a piece of Sicily and have a taste.

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The Madonna of Tindari

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Sicilian poet and Nobel Prize winner Salvatore Quasimodo immortalised the ancient town of Tindari in his poem titled: The wind at Tindari, which sketches out the timeless nature of the religious sanctuary high in the mountains of the Tyrrhenian coast in the north-eastern province of Messina.

Quasimodo’s poem is as relevant today as it was in the nineteen twenties when it was first published. Today the Basilica of Tindari still tantalizingly rests between the mountain tops above the sea drawing people’s eyes to it from kilometers, its distinctive golden dome like an exotic mirage on the horizon.

At Tindari Quasimodo finds peace from many restless spirits, secrets and lost memories of the Sicily which he left behind, his reflections bringing him back to a place immersed in the tranquillity of the classical epoch. The treacherous precipices below the town are easier to negotiate today thanks to the modern road yet same eternal wind still blows through the gracious pine trees and characteristic weeping elms which line the streets by the ancient ruins.

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Ancient Tyndaris became a Greek colony in three hundred and ninety-six B.C but had been settled during the Bronze age in approximately fifteen hundred B.C. Its strategic location looking out onto the Bay of Patti stretching up to Cape Milazzo made it a perfect to maintain control of the waters between the Eolian Islands and Messina. It was an important centre during ancient Greek times, a fertile zone high along the mountains near the coastline. The town’s early industries included the production of fine wines, precious olive oil and ceramics which made it a focus of rich trade and commerce.

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Many traces of the complex past are preserved in the town for example while climbing along the road up to the settlement, the original ancient pilgrims trail accompanies you alongside the modern road which winds its way to the top of Capo Tindari passing along-side the city’s ancient walls, built during the reign of Dionysius from three hundred and sixteen to three hundred and fifty-four A.D. The road ascends gently up to the sanctuary and the main church which is an attraction for both pilgrims and tourists alike.

Hiking up from the main car park below the church the road rises, up to the peak of Tindari. During the summer the road is closed and electric busses zip up and down every fifteen minutes. The souvenir shops begin directly after the parking area and are filled with the usual kitsch mixture of postcards, commemorative plates, ceramics, religious icons, rosary beads, beach balls, plastic toys, volcanic rock from Etna, Sicilian horse and cart models, tambourines and endless other knick-knacks.

Roadside stalls continue to present themselves up into the aptly named Piazza Salvatore Quasimodo which is directly in front of the basilica, only to resume on the other side of the square along the road at the centre of Tindari which winds its way down to the ancient amphitheatre, archaeological site and museum.

The Basilica of the Madonna of Tindari is modern construction, work beginning on it began in the late nineteen fifties after the old church was unable to cope with the influx of pilgrims to the site. The main attraction is the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna. The sculpture itself is quite modest yet history has given it a mysterious past and has bestowed upon it many colourful legends.

Source: I stock by Getty Images
Source: I stock by Getty Images

According to the tradition it was brought to Tindari by a cargo ship which was returning from the middle east filled with precious merchandise and treasures. The statuette had been salvaged from the Iconoclastic wars which saw the destruction of many religious icons which were seen as a form of idol worship by the Byzantines of the late Roman empire. As the ship sailed through the Tyrrhenian sea its journey was interrupted by a powerful storm, which forced the ship to stop in the Marinello bay under modern Tindari.

After the storm passed by the crew found they couldn’t move out of the inlet. So they lightened their load discarding cargo on the beach, including the casket with the statue of the Madonna. It is said the dark skinned Madonna chose her own sanctuary as immediately after she was offloaded the ship was able to continue its journey.

The origin of the ship and its final destination are unknown but the casket was soon discovered by local fishermen, who were obviously surprised by the discovery of such a precious artwork and took it as a miracle. The sculpture was placed in the highest and most beautiful part of Tindari, where a small Christian community was already beginning to flourish. The original church is inside the modern basilica which has been built around it leaving the original site intact inside the new construction. Many locals choose to be married in the original sandstone church with its medieval mosaics and intimate ambience, it has become quite an exclusive church.

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Inside the external church of the Madonna everything is opulent, shiny and gaudy. In the usual Baroque nature of Sicilian churches, the parade of masterpieces begins with a spectacularly intricate stain glass windows which take up most of the side walls, the most detailed found in the entrance framed with elaborate marble floors and gold details which create an exorbitant sense of extravagance.

The spectacle continues inside the church with detailed mosaics which illustrate the stations of the cross. Each mosaic is an explosion of technicolour, everyone is a life-sized panel and allows you to virtually walk right into biblical times and into Jesus’s life. The amazing detail includes the clothes, everyday objects and the natural landscape which have been carefully designed and arranged by a skilled set designer.

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Reaching the front altar of the church, bronze angels hold up a golden pedestal at their apex, framed by a protective glass case, is the statue of the Madonna.  Everything surrounding the relic has been created to glorify the Virgin Mary yet the humbleness of Madonna’s image is quite subversive when compared to the rest of the Basilica’s intricacies.

The icon is small about fifty centimetres it is quite far away yet the exotic elements of its design are obvious. This Madonna and child are in the style of an African wood carving, yet the elegant detail of the Madonna’s face and the complex design of her clothing and fine crown suggests the hand of a more refined artist. Her clothes are a tangerine colour with golden trimmings and lashings of woven gold inlays to her headdress and cloak.

 The whole church draws you towards the sculpture which is the main focus for pilgrims and its ancient quality creates an undeniable mystique. She looks out from her glass case as if she has been there for an eternity, a timeless icon of faith, motherhood and goodness. She is a mixture of pagan Goddess, nature deity and early Byzantine religious icon. 

Details of the statues origins are a little sketchy at best but most experts agree there is a mixture of oriental, African and Byzantine influences in the original design. In nineteen ninety-five the statue was presented for restoration at Palermo and after an intensive seven month period of work, many new elements of her design were discovered.

Before the restoration the statue was covered in a white silk embroidered in gold and crowned in gold, adorned in coloured stones while holding a small world globe and a crucifix. In reality under the silk covering she held the child Jesus dressed in a tunic. This additional decoration is typical of the manipulation of religious icons throughout the ages according to popular customs.

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In the eighteenth century, for example, the Madonna is described as being dressed in red with a star-shaped halo, blue mantle and golden shoes. During the restoration, the right hand was found to be covered in various materials which were wrapped around the fingers, including pieces of wire, chalk and colours. These were part of an earlier intervention in the eighteenth century which altered the statue in order for it to hold an elaborate flower arrangement.

After the cleaning of the statue, the Madonna’s eyes were found to be opened and not closed, an effect caused by layers of many centuries of dust and smoke. The form of her eyes aren’t Byzantine or Latin American, they are middle eastern, Syrian or Palestinian. The facial design is Arabic and the signs on her face replicate the energy and lines used by Egyptian or Assyrian women.

There are many contrasting elements in the statue’s dress which suggest a variety of influences during its creation. The Madonna’s headdress is a testament to the pre-existing Hellenistic traditions of the Middle East area. On the upper part of her veil, there are traces of orange-red laces which were part of an original ornamental design largely erased by repainting in gold. The mantle around the Madonna isn’t Byzantine but rather is Latin in a deep pink colour, with decorations of golden patterns in the medieval style. The clothing of the child Jesus instead is moulded by the pure Byzantine style in a typical Greek tunic with red and pink hues.

 Apart from the mixture of European and Eastern designs, there is the wooden used for the statue itself, a dark Cypress, typically found in the South of France. The origins of the statue and the artist who created it fuse elements from both Eastern and Western traditions, influenced by the Constantinople school and the traditions of the Middle East.

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The Madonna of Tindari also represents the phenomenon of the cult of the dark-skinned Madonna which has been dispersed throughout the world in the Roman Catholic Church. This unique following of this type of Virgin Mary figure is in intriguing area of anthropological and theological research. 

Olive skinned Marian statues or paintings are of mainly Medieval origin from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. There are literally hundreds of examples of these dark-skinned Madonnas venerated throughout the world because of the miraculous nature of the image.

Examples include Our Lady of Altötting (Germany), Our lady of the Hermits (Switzerland), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Jasna Gora (Poland), Our Lady of Montserrat (Spain) and of course Our Lady of Tindari (Sicily).

A notable study into the cult of the Black Madonna was made by Leonard Moss in nineteen fifty-two, in which one hundred samples of dark-skinned Madonna statues from around the world were classified into three broad categories.

The first included Madonna icons with physiognomy and skin pigmentation which match the indigenous population, as in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico).

Secondly there are artworks which have turned black through specific circumstances such as general deterioration over the ages, which is the case with Our Lady of the Hermits (Switzerland), while Our Lady of Altötting (Germany) was rescued from a burning church, leaving it smoke damaged.

Thirdly there is a residual category of Madonna statues which have no real explanation regarding their darkness, The Madonna of the Tindari falls into this final category.

One interesting theory suggests some Madonnas were blackened to illustrate a quote from the Song of Songs in the Bible, which became popular during the time of the religious Crusades. The same quote which is inscribed at the base of the Madonna at Tindari: Negra sum sed Formosa which translates to “I am black but beautiful.”  

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Comparative religionist Stephen Benko believes the ‘dark brown Madonna’ is the ancient earth goddess converted into a Christian context. Many goddesses from pagan religions were painted black to reflect a connection to the fertility of the soil, including Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Ceres and others. The Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility and the Greek equivalent, Demeter derives from Ge-meter or earth mother was worshipped throughout Sicily and Tindari was the site of a former temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele.

Some earlier portraits and statues of the Madonna are said to have been created by Saint Luke the Evangelist, who lived as a contemporary to Jesus and his Mother. So these early depictions of Mary which accentuate her ethnic appearance are considered authentic portraits of the Madonna, influencing the creation of many medieval religious icons.

Regardless of religious belief or faith, this statue is a universal symbol of unity between cultures, serenity and timelessness. Its true beauty lies in its ability to survive throughout the ages, its simplicity and its interpretive ability.

The Madonna of Tindari looks directly at you with her dark eyes and tanned skin and together with the wise adult Jesus child in her arms provokes you and invites you to look deeply into their fascinating mystery beyond the extravagant circus which plays out around her.

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The city of giants

Messina 1

Of all the major cities in Sicily, Messina is the one with which I am most familiar, simply because it is physically closer to where I live. Palermo can be too decrepit and full of crime, Catania is just plain dirty and dangerous and the others are simply too complicated to travel to for me. While Messina battles with the usual problems of a big city it is more cosmopolitan, intriguing and easy to explore.

Each of Sicily’s capitals has their particular historical appeal, for instance, Palermo with its boundless decaying palazzi and works of art, or Catania with its cacophony of sights and sounds covered in archaic lava. Messina’s intriguing mixture of mythology, legend and history is an alluring concoction which is more attractive than the usual heavily tangled histories of other Italian cities.

In Sicily, legends are often taught with the seriousness of any history lesson and historical figures become easily exchanged with characters in myths. This combination of seemingly contrasting elements creates a world of paradox, marrying together many unlikely elements.

Messina is Christian and pagan, old and new, historic and mythological, it contains many contrasts which exist side by side, spread out between the sea and the mountains, separated from the rest of Italy by a strait which seems easily traversed yet creates an immense sense of distance from the mainland.

Messina looks tranquil, the public servants are ordered enough, yet the laziness, corruption and apathy run as deep as the rest of Sicily.  Messina’s intricacies stem from the fact that the city has always controlled the marine passage between Sicily and the mainland. Its strategic importance means all invaders from Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean have passed through this port, leaving behind their imprints in the local culture.

Physically approaching Messina in every direction reveals its striking geographical layout, sandwiched between a natural harbour and the mountains. Driving down from autostrada takes you all the way through the mountain tops via a series of tunnels bored through the ancient rocks. The passageways are punctuated by strips of roads balancing themselves on cement columns hundreds of meters high like giant stilts, looking out onto breathtaking views for brief moments.

Taking the autostrada exit towards the centre of Messina and the port, the highway turns though Mount Petoritani which form the outside border of Messina producing its amphitheatre shape. The modern city is slowly climbing up into the mountains with sections cutting themselves up high into endless apartment buildings which push the city upwards away from the sea.

The slopes of Mount Peloritani are Messina’s foundation and in ancient times it was known as the hill of Neptune, the ridge to its north descended to the temple of Poseiodon, protector of sailors.

Fountain piazza duomo Messina

One of the most spectacular curves down to the city shows off the stunning panorama at the strait of Messina. Looking through a heavy steel barrier grill, the expansive city curves out in a giant semi-circle.

The tip of the Strait seems to be reaching out for Calabria’s coast on the other side of mainland Italy, which is trying to grab onto Sicily, barely out of reach. This spot is the shortest space between Sicily and Italy to the north between Capo Peloro and Torre Cavallo, it is here where the project for the Messina bridge is planned, made up of a massive suspension bridge some three kilometres long with two railway lines and a six-lane highway.

The Messina–Calabria link has been talked about and theorised upon since ancient Roman times and today it is the source of much political and environmental debate. Some want it for better connection to the mainland to improve the economy of Sicily, bringing in tourists and making it easier to transport goods. Others didn’t want it because they don’t want to destroy the natural environment, or because of a real concern for the seismic activity in the area. The Island of Sicily is moving further away from the Calabrian coast at an average of one and a half centimetres every ten years. Others want to protect the delicate economic situation between local business, ferry companies and the mafia. Whatever side you take in the debate, the fact is the work will not begin anytime soon.

Today Messina is still connected to Italy by a persistent ferry system. There once was a curious train system which saw carriages being loaded into the hulls of massive ships for them to be offloaded on the other side of the strait. A process took many hours of toing and froing and was one of the most unique train journeys in the world, sadly these trains are nearly non-existent, most mainlanders simply catching a ferry across.

Taking the ferry from Villa San Giovanni, Calabria to Messina at any time of the day still reveals the beauty of the coastline as the harbour stretches out before you in a cove off the Strait of Messina which is shaped like a sickle, in fact, ancient Greek name for Messina was Zancle or sickle city.

The ferry doesn’t make a straight journey across to Messina from the final stop of the train at Villa San Giovanni but instead, it curves in a “U” shape as is if avoiding an imaginary iceberg. This is because of the strong currents at a different point of the strait which create a powerful vortex.

There is a strong descending whirlpool in front of the Faro of Messina, caused by the conflicting currents of Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas who meet there. The two bodies of water intertwine to unite and repel one another at the same time. The currents flowing from the south to the north between Calabria and Messina change according to the position of the sun, the phases of the moon and the strength of the winds. The currents usually alternate every six hours changing course or length they are known to reach the width of a thousand meters.

These whirlpools have been easily identified and recognised since ancient Greek times. The vortexes have created the legends of the sea monsters Scylla, Charybdis and the blowhole of Cariddi. Homer’s hero Ulysses in The Odyssey recounts the dangers of crossing between the tightest part of the Strait of Messina as a life-threatening and nearly impossible endeavour, from confronting the monsters, treacherous rocks, to the songs of the Sirens.

Making it past the mythology of the world just outside of Messina another tale begins with the arrival of ships. At the entrance of the port a giant golden statue resting on a tall stone column welcomes travellers. The cities guardian the Madonna stands with open arms to greet and bless everyone who enters the city. She is more stunning than any lighthouse, a manifestation of the city’s faith.

Duomo Messina Madonna

Below the golden icon, there is a special greeting written in large white letters along the base of the grey pedestal in Latin. ‘Vo set ipsam civitatem benedicimus.’ The words of a blessing written in a letter the Madonna composed to the people of Messina, after receiving a delegation from the city in forty-two A.D. According to the traditional belief Christianity was brought to Messina by the evangelical voyage of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The letter was written to congratulate the city on its conversion to Catholicism and is still preserved at Messina. On the third of June each year a special procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to local belief was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is taken on a procession around the city during the celebration for the Madonna della Lettera.

The city has an intimate connection to the Virgin Mary, with endless churches dedicated to her. She is the focus of a special celebration in mid-August. In an elaborate float assembled in her honour. The Vara, an elaborate cart whose name means ‘coffin’ deriving from the glass casket at the base of the design which represents the body of the Virgin Mary. The construction depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels peaking with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the heavens.

The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes whilst 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.

Vintage Messina

Also in August side by side to the religious celebrations associated with the Virgin Mary, there is the pagan commemoration of the two giants Mata and Grifone the mythological founders of the modern city. From the tenth of August, the two colossal statues of the giants riding on horseback are placed on public display.

Grifone a Muslim Moor was said to have come to Messina to sack the city but instead fell in love with Mata, the blonde daughter of a wealthy merchant who lived in the town of Camaro above the city. According to the myth, Mata refused Grifone’s advances because he wasn’t Christian and so he converted to Catholicism. The legend of Mata and Grifone dates back to the ninth century when the Arabs began to conquer Sicily and are believed to refer to the Arab general Hassan Ibn-Hammar who fell in love with the daughter of a Messina nobleman Cosimo II di Coltellaccio.

The figure of Mata came from the ancient town of Camaro one of the oldest parts of Messina whose name is believed to derive from the Greek ‘Kamar’ which literally means ‘city of the dead’ which alludes to how this area was used as a cemetery for many centuries. Another hypothesis is that the word Camaro is a combination of the names Cam and Rea which are another name for the two mythological giants of Mata and Grifone.

The giants are the perfect allegory of the city’s history with particular reference to its confrontations with invaders. Messina has always been in amongst the naval traffic of the Mediterranean and as a result, every aggressor has passed through the capital. Mata is the symbol of a beautiful, civilised, Christian city who converts the pagan to Catholicism. Like the city itself under the guidance of the Madonna , Mata’s faith, in turn, assimilates the foreigner into the Catholic metropolis, adding to the ongoing prosperity of the capital.

In the August festivities, the statues of Messina’s mythological founders stand some ten meters high and are believed to have been first constructed in the sixteenth century by the Florentine artist Martino Montanino. The Giants have a caricature quality to them and sit like two large Carnival floats towed around the city on wheels. Mata has a stern almost frowning expression while sitting on her white steed, carrying a flower arrangement and the reigns in on hand and a spear in the other. She is milky white with chubby legs compete with Roman sandals. On her head, there is a fortress shaped headdress representing the city’s fortitude.

Grifone instead is a bearded, charcoal coloured warrior with sword and shield with the city’s ancient fortress designed on it. His black stallion is draped in regal red robes, its reigns held firmly by Grifone’s muscular looking hands. Both of the giants are regal in their ancient Greek noble dress with details completed in gold. They have a strength and determination which is evident from their stance and their gazes are focused firmly towards the future.

Detail quattro fontane Messina

In the early twentieth century, Messina was one of the most spectacular and populated cities of Sicily. The main streets went around the circumference of the semi-circle created by the mountains and the coastline. The city was formed by the natural landscape and built its streets running from the higher part of the city down to the harbour quay which was the focus of the economic and civic life of Messina.  Along the four main streets there were endless villas and palaces which dated back to ancient times and at the intersection of these major streets, there were four decorative water fountains. The Quattri Fontani were the source of the drinking water for the city which was gathered from the mountains and filtered down to the centre of the city. The fountains were larger than life baroque-style statues with elaborate designs of fishes, nymphs and other mythological creatures. Messina was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe full of such treasure and was spectacular seen from its harbour aboard the ships who sailed into the port.

At 5.21 am on the 28th of December 1908 Messina was literally completely destroyed by a terrible earthquake and tsunami, the most devastating in Italy’s history. An estimated 80,000 people were buried under the rubble of the city, others surviving the initial earthquake remained shocked in the ruins of the city only to be swept away by a six-meter high wave. Bodies of tidal wave victims were discovered in the Greek Islands and in the Persian Gulf in Asia, from this moment Messina changed forever.

Messina is on an earthquake-prone belt stretching from Vesuvius through to the Aeolian Island of Stromboli and then onto Mount Etna. This arch of volcanoes has been active from ancient times until the present. Italy sits astride a boundary zone where the African continental plate is thought to be pushing slabs of the sea floor underneath Europe at a rate of about three centimetres a year.

Over ninety per cent of the city was obliterated, buildings were destroyed, the very streets disappeared as the mountains slipped down on top of the city in giant landslides. Messina had gone from a bustling metropolis with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand people to a completely ruined ghost town mourning the loss of some one hundred thousand dead.

The splendid historical city of Messina has suffered many disasters and gigantic traumas apart from this earthquake of 1908. The bubonic plague was brought to Europe on a ship which arrived in Messina and the allied bombardment of 1943 earned Messina the nickname of the city of ghosts as most residents fled to safety in the outlying towns.

Messina’s mythological and metaphorical giants rather than destroying it have been absorbed into its identity. Today it is a city full of life with the vibrant nature of a bustling metropolis that continues to pay respect to its history, folklore and religion. Messina in its suffering is always redeemed by its own deeply ingrained faith and determination to rebuild and reinvent itself.

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How history shapes Sicily’s character

 (Book excerpt)

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The weight of Sicily’s history makes it an inherently sad place, like all places with long human histories she laments her past glories which in turn give her a unique melancholy. Yes, Sicilia is defiantly as feminine as her beating heart, Etna. Sicily’s infinite stories shape her own sorrowful character which are absorbed into the collective memory. It is a common characteristic of places like Turkey, Palestine and Sicily to carry the trauma, tears and testimony of the great tragedies and triumphs in their past which seem to inhabit the place’s soul.

This is an apprehensive land, savage and full of decay, rich in pagan fears and superstition which keep themselves enclosed like a firmly locked chest. Fear can capture the soul slowly suffocating it with its exotic spell. Here God and hope are forgotten as Sicily absorbs you into its ancientness. There is little movement only the stagnant ramblings of the everyday. Here people live in small towns, think of small things and talk and gossip about other people with small things.

For many centuries Sicily has been dominated by other people and the population has absorbed a certain slave mentality. Any proud Sicilian would be offended if called a slave, but it is something more subtle than this. It is a type of survival instinct which allows them to accept a certain amount of suffering without questioning.

Danilo Dolci a social activist from the nineteen sixties, known as the Italian Ghandi wrote many books about the nature of Sicily’s social problems, which then were akin to the problems of the third world countries, his observations illustrated the Sicilian’s self inflicted sadomasochistic nature.

Dolci wrote about the silent acceptance of the people of Corleone near Palermo, how they: ‘wear the habit of mourning perpetually and in the soul of this habit repose the essence and the apotheosis of Omerta. The Mafia draws strength from Omerta. This word from the local dialect means manliness or self-control and the idea of keeping oneself strictly to oneself in every circumstance; it implies the refusal to help established authority and is native to the Sicilian’s character by the time he is ten years old.’

© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Sicilians tolerate unemployment, high taxes, a complicated welfare system which tricks them, a medical system full of doctors with more political ambition than concern for patients, a public service full of incompetence, laziness and nepotism, a legal system which is slow, complex and often unethical and a political situation which is at times volatile and usually seeks to exploit the population. In short Sicilians endure all of this and much more, but they would rather suffer than abandon Sicily and even those who somehow found the strength to go never forgot their cherished Isle.

The island has been in decay for centuries and its people have lived in its ruins, forever. Through the centuries various conquerors have tried to overwhelm Sicily usually after a period of war caused by a struggle for domination. When the diverse invaders eventually came to occupy the land they struggled to live and develop according to their cultural make up. Any progress petered out as the next aggressor gradually pushed out its predecessor, leaving decay to take over what they had constructed. The layering and intermingling of the dominations of Sicily has created a complex concoction of culture. Sicily has a history influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French, Phoenician, German, Austrian and British occupations, Sicily has outlived them all.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

The strength of Sicilians to live through many centuries of invasions comes from doing very little other than surviving. The secret to overcome invaders is to have the fortitude to endure them. Sicilians have never been completely taken over or assimilated into other cultures, they have always simply outlasted them. Sicilian people have survived by being stoic and resistant focusing on day-to-day living holding their ground with a stubborn focus on their own internal world.

This passive resistance has served them well in the past but leaves behind unattractive attributes in the Sicilian culture and point of view. Many centuries of living alongside foreign invaders has left a deep sensation of mistrust in those who come from outside of Sicily. Admittedly racism is a strong word, but fear and mistrust of all things foreign is clear in the way Sicilians relate to foreigners.

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Sicilian Patron Saints

 

Good Friday Procession San Fratello

Sicilian people have a unique rapport with religion and superstition which binds the two seemingly conflicting doctrines together. The connection between the two can be traced back to the struggle the early Catholic Church in Sicily had against pagan religions. The Roman Catholic Church always had a tremendous amount of power over Sicilian’s spiritual, cultural and political lives. Yet despite this the catholic faith has had to coexist with the traditions and superstitions left behind by centuries of domination by foreign cultures, in Sicily, which has resulted in the particular phenomenon of the Santo Padrono.

The early Church battling the strong belief in superstition used the cult of the patron Saint to tap into the people’s desire for protection from illness, bad luck and disaster, it was a shrewd strategy which brought worshippers into the church. From the final part of the fourth century onwards the strength of Christianity lied in the way it created a bond between this life and the one beyond the grave. Help came from the Saints who were fellow human beings whom people could count on to be beloved and powerful figures in their own society.

© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Today each town in Sicily has its own saintly protector. Sicilian people have a connection to their town and Saint which is almost fanatical. The cult of the patron Saint is a mixture of religious fervour, superstition and faith. The patrons are protectors who are deeply connected to each place through a long history and the Saint often represents the very character of a town. Sicilians who have migrated overseas, have brought with them the celebrations associated with their Saint to their new homes, in the post world war two period celebrations were re-enacted throughout the world from Australia, to the Americas.

St Leo’s springtime procession around Sinagra begins in his main home, the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel. The elegant mildly baroque church was rebuilt in the nineteenth century after the devastating flood of eighteen hundred and twenty-five destroyed most of the town. The Saint’s effigy spends most of the year here, apart from short vacations to the country church of St Leo, which is no more than a humble chapel.

The wooden statue of Saint Leo is a true a work of art and is seen as a true personification of the Saint. San Leone is dressed in full ceremonial bishop vestments, he indicates up to the heavens with a gentle right hand, his intimate connection to God is also directed as a blessing towards Sinagra. In the nineteen eighties there was a controversy surrounding the restoration of this sculpture. After being sent away to Palermo, to be cleaned and revived, the original colour of the Saint’s vestments was discovered and after removing many layers of paint, St Leo returned to Sinagra with different coloured robes, this led to rumors the Saint had been switched.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Today St Leo tranquilly abides in the church of Saint Michael the Archangel which itself is a puzzle pieced together with the remnants of crumbled fragments from the past. The main Chiesa Madre’s interior is white washed with lots of natural golden light that bathes over the hodgepodge of what is decoupaged together inside. A series of saintly statues rest on either side of the church’s body in two rows of arched grottoes. Saint Rocco, The Virgin Mary, Saint Sebastian, Jesus of the Sacred heart, Saint Anthony, Saint Francesco di Paolo and Saint Lucia lead the way up to the church’s head.

Above the altar stands the parish priests pride and joy, a trio of statues, that form an intricate trittico panel, which he often mentions to be an original of the Gangini school of sculptor, a well-known Messinese producer of high quality works from the sixteenth century. At the centre of the precious white marble highlighted in golden details is the Virgin Mary and child flanked by Saint Michael the Archangel, the guard of heaven and Saint John the Baptist. At their feet the apostles in miniature at the last supper and above them all God is holding the earth in his hand.

Looking up at the dome above the altar, seems a little disappointing with a simple, sparse almost minimalist decorations, little angels in the corners, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a metaphor for hope and faith and elaborate curtains which seem three-dimensional even though they are painted flat on the side walls of the apex. A puzzling circular pattern at the center completes the design with a series of chubby levitating cherub heads. It is difficult to squint to make out more details and understand the motif better, but obviously there is a limit to how long you can stare at the ceiling during a religious ceremony.

Before the procession begins St Leo is mounted on a wooden frame which is supported by four thick logs and is carried on the shoulders of a group of ten to twenty men. Maneuvering the statue towards the main door with short sharp shuffling feet the men lift the Saint up and down quickly three times saluting the church and crying out ‘Eh Viva Santo Leo’ in praise of their patron.

Winding painfully slowly down the steep steps outside the church Saint Leo walks over the grey lava cobble stone streets glancing over at the ruins of Sinagra’s Castello. The bell tower clock and partial ruins are all that remain of the medieval castle fort which has been a stable part of the Sinagrese landscape for generations.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Saint Leo marches down Via Roma the main commercial hub of the old town which is now nothing by hollowed out hovels, dilapidated palaces slowly filling up with pigeon faeces and the odd newly restored building in a flurry of colours like a chameleon set in reverse. This first leg of his procession is the same taken by dearly departed Sinagrese on their final passegiata to the cemetery during their funeral.

Down Via Veneto heading towards the main square the urban-scape becomes less steep until reaching a plateau in the Piazza San Teodoro. Continuing straight ahead St Leo reaches the beginning of Via Umberto primo the old civic centre of Sinagra before the successive floods of nineteen twenty-six, nineteen nineteen, nineteen thirty-one and nineteen thirty-two.

At the beginning of the street there is the antique Church of the Crucifix with its bell tower dating back to the medieval period. This church is intriguing, much smaller than St Michael the Archangel, and ultimately more suggestive. The locals call it ‘the church of the convent,’ which indicates the existence of a former religious community, near the local cemetery there are the ruins of an old convent covered in prickly bushes and ivy.

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Exploring Taormina in five photos: Enjoying the view

The autostrada to Messina as seen from Taormina

As much as I love Taormina I never get the chance to experience it is as I wish. We are always in a rush visiting with guests, walking up and down the main streets and doing souvenir shopping as that’s what all tourists want to do.

If you have time you should be doing things like catching the train along the coast from Messina, (here in this photo we see the autostrada leading along the coast towards Messina) then take the cable car up from Mazzarò on the coast.
(Even if it is temporarily out of action thanks to a minor landslide caused by last weeks torrential rains, but it should be functioning again for next summer)

Then there are the towns of Giardini Naxos down below and Castelmola above Taormina to explore.

I’d stay in one of the many historical houses turned B&B, my favourite being Casa Cuseni the house inherited by Daphne Phelps in 1947, built by her Uncle the British painter Robert Kitson. The house and its famous artistic guests were the inspiration for Daphne’s book, A house in Sicily.

Please do wander around the side streets, get lost in the gardens, hidden art galleries. Stop to devour a sumptuous pizza, arancini rice balls or seafood meal from a secret little trattoria.

Defiantly watch a show at the Greek amphitheatre (there is everything from contemporary music to opera) and end your stay with a cocktail out on the balcony watching the sunset from an exclusive restaurant or club.

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