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.

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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Novembrando in Sicily

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It’s already November in Sicily but this doesn’t mean things have slowed down on the island there are always many events and festivals going on in every province throughout the year. I thought I’d share some of the most colourful for visitors to experience this month. 

The events mentioned here are annual events, times and dates may change from year to year so be sure to check information online.

Festival di Morgana 3rd – 13th November

The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino is a Palermo based museum which is dedicated to traditional Sicilian marionette puppet theatre which narrated the history of the Crusades, the Norman period and featured some masters of Italian Literature from Ludovico Ariosto, Matteo Maria Boiardo to Torquato Tasso.

The International Puppet Museum also collects objects from puppet theatres from all over Europe and the world including puppets from France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma.

The Morgana Festival features artistic performers from all over the world – as well as cultural exchanges with similar associations in the five continents and helps the Museum to safeguard this form of theatre which is seen as a prized part of Sicilian history.

The annual Festival has given the museum the opportunity to acquire new objects and expand research into non-European traditions and theatrical practices through collaboration with other major national and international cultural institutions.

Ortigia Antiquaria a Syracuse (Siracusa) 7th to the 9th November

Sicily is a wonderful place for lovers of antiques and art such as ceramics. In November Syracuse hosts the largest antique fair in southern Italy in one of it’s most suggestive neighbourhoods. Ortigia is a small island which is considered the heart of the most ancient part of the city and hosts the Antico Mercato (antique markets) on via Trento at various times of the year, including this November.

Collectors and those passionate about antiques can browse through furniture, prints, books and other objects which make up the rich collection of antiques collected from six different Sicilian provinces (Palermo, Trapani, Catania, Messina, Ragusa and Siracusa)

Ortigia Antiquaria – Antico Mercato, Via De Benedicts angolo Via Trento

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San Martino

The feast day of San Martino is usually where the new wines are first tasted, this year wineries all over Italy host Cantine Aperte a San Martino a regular autumnal appointment organised by the Movimento Turismo del Vino on Sunday the 13th of November which invites everyone to visit and taste the new fruits of the fall. For a list of participating wineries throughout Italy see the Movimento Truism del Vino’s web page for details.

The actual feast day celebration for Saint Martin is the 11th of November which celebrates the Saint’s miracle of a brief reprieve from the once harsh European winters.

There are literally hundreds of San Martino parties throughout Sicily to celebrate the wine season as they say: ‘a San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino’ (for Saint Martian every grape juice becomes wine) so there are many Sagra food festivals dedicated to wine and pork based products such as salami and other traditional luncheon meat’s made throughout Italy.

Some typical events organized every year in Sicily for San Martino include:

Festa di San Martino at Linguaglossa (Catania): with traditional Sicilian folk music performances and stalls offering a taste of typical regional food.

Festa di San Martino at Ragalna (Catania): with the Sagra of the Salsiccia e vino. 

San Martino Odori e Sapori at Valle del Ghiodaro at Mongiuffi Melia (Messina)

Festa di San Martino at Aci Bonaccorsi (Catania): with sampling of the traditional fruit of the prickly pear which is considered a special delicacy.

San Martino funghi, salsiccia, castagne… e vino (mushrooms, salami and chestnuts) at Castell’Umberto (Messina).

Festa di San Martino at Palazzo Adriano (Palermo): a unique folk celebration dedicated to married couples who have celebrated their wedding over the last year.

Festa di San Martino at the L’Osteria in Piazza a Villarosa (Enna): which is a traditional mixture of stalls offering typical products, music and folk music.

The opportunities to make the most of the new wine are literally never-ending.

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Expo Food and Wine 26th to 28th November, Tremestieri Etneo (Catania)

This food expo showcases the best of Italian food and wine with a particular focus on Sicilian producers.

 The three-day event is packed with training workshops, taste itineraries: which show off various combinations between wine, oil and food, alcohol, chocolate,
cheese, cured meats and sausages, seminars and company presentations, demonstrations from well known Italian chefs and pastry chefs, book presentations and a focus on digital marketing in the food & beverage industry.

For more information email: info@expofoodandwine.com. Tel: 095 497008. Cell: 328 4312629. Address: Via Idria 54/A, Tremestieri Etneo (CT). 

Patron Saint celebrations at Salemi 29th of November to the 8th of December (Trapani)

This big celebration celebrates the two patron saints of the city, San Nicola di Bari and the Maria S.S. Immacolata (also celebrated on the 9th of May). San Nicola has been the patron and protector of the city since 1290 and so the celebrations are filled with traditional processions, church services and local colour. While the celebration of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December is dedicated to the city’s other patroness who has been associated with the city since 1740.

For the ultimate list of events in Sicily see Sicilia in Festa an Italian website where you can search for events by location throughout the year.

N.B: All information updated as of November 2017)

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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 Stone Garden of Noto

 

Typical products on sale at markets Piazzale Marconi, Noto Syracuse

Shaking off the car sickness brought on by the endless curves of the drive I stretch my legs. The bus drops me off near the public gardens on front of Piazzale Marconi a few minutes walk from the centre of Noto, Syracuse.

The late May springtime is usually a spectacular prelude to a long hot Sicilian summer, but this year the spring is flirting heavily with the rains, baptizing my day at Noto with a constant drizzle. Sheltering from the shower I weave my way through the stalls of an antique fair in the square which is gratefully covered by heavily foliaged trees.

Noto is an easy place to navigate once you drive up into the hills from Noto Marina, the main historical sights start directly in front of Piazzale Marconi, straight down the main street from the Porta Reale archway all the way to the end of the Corsa Vittorio Emanuele. One after the other there is a succession of Baroque churches and palaces from San Francesco all’ Immaculate, to Santa Chiara, the monastery of SS Salvatore, the Cathedral of San Nicolo (which has been lovingly reconstructed after its destruction in the 1996 earthquake), Palazzo Ducezio the town hall of Noto is directly in front, San Carlo, San Domenico and the Theatre Comunale Vittorio Emanuele. 

The main road of Noto is comfortable to walk and then it is a case of simply crisscrossing above and bellow to discover many more sumptuous palaces, churches, squares and gardens. The city is built on different levels so going down or up the side streets, either side of the Corsa Vittorio Emanuele will reveal the city.

 

A drizzly Corsa Vittorio Emanuele. Noto Syracuse.

Entering the mythological gate of the Porta Reale is like stepping into the set of a period film, the grandiose facades of each building are in a sandy coloured Sicilian limestone sketch out in the eighteenth-century Baroque architectural style. If it wasn’t for all those fashionable Sicilians walking around, the trendy cafes, gelaterie, restaurants, wine shops and fashion outlets, I’d forget we were in this century.

I now see why they call Noto ‘the stone garden,’ it is an endless flourish of architectural details which seeks to outdo itself along every possible step. Each individual window and balcony is decorated with embellished details. Far from being cold and stagnant, the city’s stonework is alive in a vibrant diluted cadmium yellow ornamentation.

The apex of Noto’s Baroque heart is at its civic and religious core. The historical nucleus reserves its two greatest treasures the Palazzo Ducezio the civic hub which is directly across from the Cathedral of San Nicolo. The two edifices are united in a classical Romanesque forum, which unites church and state in a succession of palatial archways like the backdrop to Raphael’s School of Athens.

Palazzo Ducezio

I am here for the Infiorata spring flower festival which is Noto’s biggest tourist attraction, three days of chaos over the weekend on the third Sunday of May. The celebration sees people shuffle through Via Nicolasi, past the palatial Palazzo Nicolasi which is filled with lavish details and grotesque balconies, below it along the street a decorative carpet of flowers in an expression of bountiful creativity overshadows everything else up to the end of the street which meets the church of the Montevergine .

Via Nicolasi during the Infiorata in front of Palazzo Nicolasi.

This year the Infiorata is a cultural exchange with Russia. The designs for the flower carpets have been provided by Muscovite art students while the city also hosts ‘Casa Russia’ in the nearby Ragusa Convent, with exhibitions of Russian artists and artisan market stalls.

Florists are selected by the local government to reproduce original artworks using flower petals and natural materials. Each image is six meters by four meters in sixteen individual canvases spreads along the upward sloping street. Traditionally the beginning of the decorated thoroughfare is the city’s coat of arms, realized by Noto’s Institute of art, while the theme changes every year.

To ‘infiorare’ the length of the one hundred and twenty-two-meter street, more than four hundred thousand individual flowers are used including daisies, carnations, gerbera daisies, roses, and wildflowers which are native to rural Noto. For the shades, shadows and visual effects needed in each image other natural materials are used including foliage from the Mediterranean scrub like myrtle leaves, fennel, mastic tree, carnation stems, millers bran, ground carob, carob seeds and used ground coffee beans.

Clever girls not getting wet in line at the Infiorata, Noto 2014.

Plodding along the interminable line, I am soaked and hawkers are charging ten euro for small umbrellas. I try to subtly sneak behind other people’s umbrellas as everyone pushes one another along. 

The bells chime in a nearby church and I think of Noto’s patron Saint Corrado who miraculously made all the city’s church bells sound out by themselves on his death, proclaiming himself saint for the Netini before his canonization in sixteen fifteen. We certainly need a big push from St Corrado to get to the beginning of this queue.

It is the final day of the Infiorata so the crowds are at their peak, busloads of people keep arriving despite the rain and later they will all try to leave all at the same time creating evermore mayhem. There is a whiff of decomposing flowers as people successfully push in front, sneaking ahead from a side square in the middle of Via Nicolai bringing progression along the sidewalk to a standstill.

I dawdle along the footpath beside the images which include: a stylized skyline of Moscow, an exploding golden Arabic Phoenix, solemn San Sergio in the Greek Orthodox style, the divine domes of Russian architecture, the music of a Russian tea party, the Bolshoi Theatre, a modern portrait of the futuristic poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, an ode to the first man in space Yury Gagarin, a tribute to the music of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, a folklore princess, Russian ballet dancers, adorable Martryoska Russian dolls, a homage to Chagall’s green violinist, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the Balalaika a traditional folk instrument and the Orthodox icon of the Our Lady of Vladimir.

A collage of the 2014 Russian inspired designs.

Trying to take photo’s of the images from directly beside them is a frustrating exercise apart from the pandemonium and lack of perspective, the light is terrible. No doubt the crowd on top of the San Carlo church terrace directly across from Via Nicolaci would be getting a better view but it still would be dull without the Sicilian sunshine.

I find Noto a little less magical and more decrepit than on my first visit seven years ago. The economic crisis is clear with many empty stores and dirty crumbling edifices who are obviously dressed up for the ‘festa’ and mostly abandoned during the year. What is the good of being a UNESCO world heritage site if nothing is maintained? Yet there is some hope in the spectacular Duomo which has been pristinely restored and is lovingly maintained.

The evident decadence of Noto.

As my day progressed I became aware of the cities many faces. There are many Noto’s, one is the Baroque city we see today, the other is in the ruins of the old city destroyed by the earthquake of sixteen ninety-three, about thirty-five kilometres southwest of Syracuse. Today Noto Antica can be visited as an archaeological site, a ghostly homage to an ancient city which was an important centre in the Arab period of Sicily. 

Then there is the Noto during and after the Infiorata festival. The town puts on its best face for the tourists and the locals grit their teeth, put up with the disruption and try to make a profit from the extra clientele. To use a vernacular phrase, I bet the Netini have their ‘marrone gonfie’ that is they are terribly exasperated to the point of wanting to explode.

Tired out after a day of being on my feet I wonder if it would be best to visit Noto far away from this time of year, to experience it all without this sea of tourists. As if confirming my belief in an authentic Noto experience I begin to see the character of the locals who finally come out in all of their fineries during the afternoon’s medieval procession.

Medieval procession during the Infiorata of Noto.

The residents step back and let the crowd push forward, but quip under their breath. One simpatico Netino mutters to his girlfriend: ‘io sono buono e’ caro ma non posso finire nella mundizia!’ A single-minded German Lady asked permission to push in to get a photo of the parade and them promptly she pushed him into a rubbish bin. Smiling and giggling together with them I respond, of course, you won’t fit, you’re way too good for that!

Gorgeous blonde haired boys and young women pass by drumming and throwing flags in the parade. The gifts of spring file by followed by a succession of historical figures from the military (complete with a round of cannon fire), religious brothers and Nobel families from the city’s aristocratic history, the most important all riding in a horse and carriage. 

Elaborate carriage preparing for the medieval procession at Noto.

One elaborately dressed Netino discretely bows while the parade pauses. Proudly not breaking character he salutes someone he knows on a nearby balcony. This subtle moment reveals the character of the people, the innate pride they have for their history and the intimacy within this community. The personality of the Netini is more appealing than the cities monuments.

Perhaps my next visit could be during the final night of the Infiorata when the designs are suggestively lit up with artificial lighting or perhaps the following day after all the tourists have gone and the local children are left to walk through and destroy the wilting petals. Even better still to visit when everything goes back to normal and you can enjoy a lunch at a local ‘trattoria’ in peace or buy a giant gelato and eat it on the Duomo’s steps without the busloads of bedlam.

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For more tourist information see Noto, Sicily: a cultural city guide  by Fiona Duncan from the Telegraph in the UK.

On the road to Syracuse

 

Ficarra, Messina. One of the many towns happily balancing itself on the mountains.

 

The golden moment of the early Sicilian early morning overwhelms me, church steeples from the cramped towns hanging off the Nebrodi Mountains for dear life are lit up with a distinctly auburn glow. I rolled out of bed this morning at four am for a day trip by bus to Noto, Syracuse, so things are still a little groggy but the splendid morning is making me appreciate the effort.

 

It is a privilege to salute the mystic Aeolian Islands in the hues of a misty sunrise deep in the province of Messina as the sun begins to shine out from under its bed covers. The bus is filled with loud slightly hyperactive Sicilians who guffaw and happily proclaim: ‘Ogni tantu dovemu alargari’ – literally we need to let ourselves go occasionally.

 

As we climb onto the Consorzio delle Autostrade superhighway, a nattering group of fifty-somethings start to peel off layers of clothes to reveal freshly varnished nails and dressed hair. I put my headphones on to shut drown out the chatter.

 

At Messina the strait is like a sheet of ice as if Calabria is only a brief sledge ride away. Quaint Sicilian villages are littered like discarded building blocks and look out from the shifting mountains who appear to heave a sigh of restlessness. Autostrada tunnels create the illusion night time is close despite the evasive morning light. I don’t know whether to sleep or rejoice for the pristine lustre before me.

 

Those yelping hyenas who dominate the bus have settled down and we sneak under the bustling tourist Mecca of Taormina, briefly snatching a glance down at the ancient Greek seaside colony of Giardini Naxos, a respite from the darkness of the underworld beneath the ranges.

 

© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

Heading towards Catania a dark lady reveals her splendid silhouette, even if she normally hides like a coquette seductively behind a feathered boa stole. Etna’s jagged outline sketches itself out despite the dreary clouds, wearing only a tuft of white as if gently pulling on a cigarette above the Messina – Catania highway. For Sicilian’s Etna is defiantly female alluding to the fertility of the goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology who create the gifts of agriculture and the seasons.

 

Palm trees and palazzi give way to a mélange of apartments, industrial warehouses, truck deposits and abandoned boarded up houses near Giarre. The foothills of Etna become a harsh and ugly juxtaposition of factories with an infestation of overgrown prickly pear cactus, rubbish tips, recycling plants and lava stone homes with names like Villa Corallo dell’Etna.

 

We stop at a tired Acireale autogrill gas station and I wistfully day-dream about Carnival parades while studying a solitary broken down campanile just behind the depot. The slate coloured steeple is covered in ‘edera’ vines adorned with white flowers called the ‘calice della Madonna,’ elongated chalices in which according to Sicilian folklore the infant Jesus drank.

 

Travelling in the bus again I can see into the windows of peoples high-rise apartments beside the highway as we creep around the back of Etna and through densely populated towns. Misterbianco is filled with mega shopping complexes and an IKEA superstore, while old lava deposits are piled up in between condominiums outside of Paternò.

 

As we reach Sicula Occidentale, it begins pelting with rain which blurs together the olive groves of Priolo, with the blockheaded limestone mountains of Gargallo and blankets the solar panels near Solarino.

 

Etna has mysteriously disappeared and more plains appear dotted by irrigated orchids of oranges, lemons, golden meadows, greenhouses and pleasant hills.

 

Rain comes streaming down the buses generous side windows as we reach Avola the town nearest to Noto, famous for its fruity red wine with a punch.

 

I’m contemplating the prospect of having to shut myself inside a little bar for the whole day to shield from the downpour, perhaps I could drown my disappointment in a few glasses of ‘Nero d’avola.’

 

Piazzale Marconi, Noto Syracuse

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