Considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, Castiglione di Sicilia is a medieval centre located between Mount Etna and the Alcantara River that stretches 120.41 km in the province of Catania. The territory extends as far as the summit craters of the Etna North slope, where the access path to the craters and other itineraries at lower altitudes are developed.
The Alcantara Valley differs in landscape and geomorphology and is traversed by the river of the same name, best known for the famous Alcantara Gorge, a veritable canyon that crosses a centuries-old Etna lava flow.
If on Mount Etna we find mainly ski slopes (lava areas), forests, and the renowned vineyards now known throughout the world, in the Alcantara Valley we find mainly citrus groves and various crops thanks to the presence of significant water resources that have seen some of Sicily’s first hydroelectric power stations and some paper mills established here.
The ancient Castrum Leonis has always been one of the most important medieval centres in eastern Sicily, where the castle together with three other fortresses formed the defensive system of the city, but at the same time were visually communicating with the castles of Francavilla, Randazzo, Motta Camastra and Calatabiano.
Archaeological excavations show that the entire valley was certainly populated in the Neolithic and especially in the Copper and Bronze Ages.
The present town arose in the Middle Ages (12th century) following the expulsion of the Arabs by the Normans, who began a demographic expansion and founded numerous towns and monasteries.
The 13th century was a prosperous period, so much so that in 1233 Frederick II of Swabia granted Castiglione the name ‘Animosa’ and confirmed its privilege of minting money.
The Normans were replaced by the Angevins, who, with their exorbitant taxes and the transfer of the capital from Palermo to Naples, aroused much discontent among the islanders, so much so that with the Vespers War, which began in 1282, they were driven out of the island with the help of Admiral Ruggero di Lauria, who supported Peter of Aragon.
As a reward, Lauria obtained several fiefs, including Castiglione, which he often chose as his summer residence. Shortly after Lauria’s power declined, so did the importance of Castiglione, which thus lost its demaniality and was assigned as a fief to the Infans Giovanni, Duke of Randazzo.
The feudal system, back in vogue again with the Spanish domination, led to a slow but inexorable decline of the town, until the proud and enterprising spirit of its inhabitants regained their civic freedoms in 1612.
The ancient mediaeval city was characterised by a city wall with nine gates named: del Re, dello Speziale, del Castello, della Pagana, della Giudecca, del Portello, della Bucceria, di San Pietro, di San Martino – burgum or porta Priolo, while outside were the boroughs.
The historical centre proper is overlaid by the more recent settlement, in a succession of more modern streets and squares. Very little remains of the nine gates and a few rare traces of the city walls.
The neighbourhoods that historically represent the main core of the settlement are: Santa Barbara, Fontana Vecchia, San Marco, Santa Caterina, Cameni, Sant’Antonio abate, San Basilio, Borgo della Pattina and Cittadella, Santa Maria, Santi Pietro e Paolo, San Vincenzo, San Giuseppe, Sant’Antonio Vecchio, San Martino, San Giacomo, Piano Fiera.
Due to its strategic position both militarily and commercially, Castiglione was, until more recent times, a centre of encounter but also of tensions, of coexistence between different peoples, cultures and religions.
Browsing around the historical centre, the presence of ancient noble palaces is significant, where the alternation of architectural and construction elements in lava stone and sandstone is evident, as in the churches.
Churches and Monuments
Lauria Castle: probably built during the Norman-Swabian period, there is no certain information on its origin. Castiglione Castle, in the past called Castello Grande or Castel Leone, also gave rise to the toponym of today’s town derived from castrum leonis. An augmentative suffix was added to the medieval Latin castellum, making it become Castellione, which the Aragonese first and then the Spanish pronounced Castiglione.
The term was soon however interpreted as Castle of the Lion to give the town a mark of royalty, also giving rise to the coat of arms: a castle and two crouching lions. The castle in the Middle Ages was connected to the stronghold of Castelluccio and an outpost identifiable with the church of San Pietro by underground passages, which reached, it is assumed, as far as Cannizzo. They constituted a true architectural and defensive complex, and an old 16th-century coat of arms of the city, with three towers, highlights their importance.
Castelluccio: represents the most strategic site of the entire defence system. What remains today are the walled remains of the ancient watchtower. It is assumed that there was already a defensive site here in prehistoric times.
U Cannizzu Tower: It is one of the symbols of Castiglione. About six metres high, with a radius of about three metres, made of squared local sandstone, it has stood the test of time. Its origin dates back to between the 12th and 14th centuries. The fortress stood outside the city walls and was the first stronghold to be conquered by Frederick II, King of Sicily, when he regained the fiefdom in 1301, taking it away from Ruggiero di Lauria. Itwasmostprobably part of a more complex fortification, known as the Cittadella, and was certainly a lookout post. From that position it dominated, in fact, the entire upper Alcantara valley. Probably in times of peace and tranquillity it was used to store wheat or other provisions, thus assuming the name ‘cannizzu’, which in Sicilian culture and language represents a cylindrical container of reeds with precisely the same shape as the tower in question.
Byzantine Cuba: Approximately 3 kilometers from the historical centre is the beautiful 7th century A.D. Cuba, the Church of Santa Domenica. The structure is in the shape of a Greek cross with a square plan, but divided by four pillars into three naves. The characteristic façade gives the impression of a Basilian chapel and, like that of St Nicholas, has the apse facing east and the central door facing west. Recently, various hypotheses have been put forward regarding the official dating, with several historians pointing to origins after the Byzantine period. Cuba was already declared a national monument in 1909.
Basilica Madonna Maria SS della Catena:
Its construction began in 1655, following a landslide that affected the ancient church of San Giacomo dedicated to the same Saint and located just outside the village along the stream of the same name. Devotion to the Madonna della Catena had flourished in this small church since the 11th century, which came to Castiglione almost immediately after the miracle in Palermo in 1392. But it was only from 1612 onwards, following the miraculous sweating of the statue, which occurred while the citizens were striving for the redemption of the mere and mixed empire, that its devotion was consolidated.
Given its great importance for several centuries for the popular devotion to Our Lady, it was elevated to the status of minor basilica in 1986. Inside, there are valuable works of art, such as the statue of the Madonna of the Chain, made of white marble, weighing about seven quintals. The stuccoes are also valuable, due to Giovanni Pannucci of Bronte who created them between 1886 and 1889.
Saints Peter and Paul Church:
A structure consisting of two buildings, the bell tower and the church proper. This was once a fortress before being transformed into a place of worship. Many benefactors did their utmost over the centuries to enrich the Matrix with precious objects, sacred furnishings, vestments and works of art.
Above the nave arch, however, a large fresco was painted in 1951 by G. Licata and F. Contraffatto, depicting Jesus Christ in the act of handing over the keys to St. Peter, while the apostles, including St. Paul, circle him.
Saint Nicolas Church:
Built in Norman times, it was the chapel of the monastery of the Cassinese
monks who had settled here. It stands right on the banks of the Alcantara River, next to the ancient royal road that connected Messina to Palermo through the interior of the island.
Church of St Benedict:
Next to the church of San Pietro stands the church of San Benedetto aggregated to the monastic building. The
present building, which is also among the largest in Castiglione, was the work of the priest Giuseppe Coniglio.
Church of St. Anthony Abbot (Saints Peter and PaulMuseum).
It stands in one of the most characteristic and oldest quarters, that of Cameni. Construction began in 1601, when the old church, which stood near the San Giacomo stream, had been ruined by a landslide. At the end of the 17th century, the church was embellished and enriched mainly with marble mosaics. The interior of the church, with a single nave and a side chapel, is characterised by polychrome mosaics. Expressive is the high altar, in which the medallion of the antependium depicting St. Anthony Abbot, the beautiful tabernacle, the twisted columns, two small corbels placed at its sides depicting, the one on the left a parrot devouring fruit, the one on the right a 23rd hunting scene. The wooden confessional pulpit adorned with many friezes and carvings is also valuable.
Food and wine
Castiglione is known around the world as the City of Wine. Here numerous wineries now export wine all over the world. Nevertheless, there are several culinary traditions that are preserved and handed down over time thanks to the local products. A rich and varied local confectionery has always made use of hazelnuts, one of the main products of the area for many centuries. Those who come here, however, have reference dishes that are now well-known in the area and to tourists, such as homemade macaroni served with pork ragout and baked ricotta, ‘tagghiarini’, and ‘fave a maccu’.
The barbecues of pork, mutton, lamb and kid are very popular. Typical are the preserves, mostarda, cheeses and sausages. Worth mentioning are the characteristic ‘cuddureddi’, typical Christmas sweets filled with hazelnuts and honey, also local, as well as provole, Sicilian pecorino and ricotta.
– The most beautiful Carnival in the Alcantara Valley (February)
– Feast of the patron saint Maria SS della Catena (May, first week). The votive feasttakes place every year, although the marble sculpture is carried in procession every five years. During the festivities, devotees come on pilgrimage on foot; these are intense days that the community experiences with particular involvement.
– Romantic Night in Italy’s most beautiful villages (June)
– SummerEvents (July-August-September)
– Goblets of stars(10 August): this is one of the most popular events in Sicily. Organised in the context of the Città del Vino (Wine Cities), it represents a valuable promotional showcase for local wineries and beyond. The Night of San Lorenzo thus becomes an opportunity to discover the wines but also the characteristic historic village transformed into a location for open-air events in the most evocative corners of the historic centre, with music, jugglers, entertainment, tastings, and cultural initiatives. Each edition attracts thousands and thousands of visitors and involves over 50 wineries.
-Food and wine festival (first week of August)
-Sacred Night (August) – A journey through art, music and prayer. Cycle of evening and night events in the main churches, with moments of reflection and prayer, musical concerts, cultural initiatives
– The wines ofEtna’s Gold Coast (September): in the hamlet of Passopisciaro, wineries from the Etna region present their products. Tastings, shows, typical products.
-Christmas For several years now, the Living Crib has been held in the Giudecca quarter, a representation involving a hundred or so characters in one of Castiglione’s most picturesque neighbourhoods.
– National and international golf tournaments
Saints Peter and Paul Museum – Church of St. Anthony Abbot
Museum of sacred art and local traditions, such as the characteristic English stitch embroidery, with a display of sacred vestments and objects related to religious worship. The exhibition is housed inside the Church of St. Anthony Abbot, a truelocal architectural gem, embellished with marble inlays and featuring a Baroque-style façade with a Gothic-Byzantine bell tower.
Museum opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact details: 340 0981712 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org www.museocastiglione.it
Regional Wine Shop for EasternSicily – Lauria Castle: In addition to organising thematic events related to the world of wine, it hosts an exhibition of wines from Etna and other Sicilian territories. The same premises also host a photographic exhibition on local people and traditions.
MunicipalExhibition Centre via abate Coniglio: le Sanguigne exhibition of paintings by Giorgio Bertone, dedicated to the Nazi massacre of Castiglione on 12 August 1943.
Villadican Library: A place of culture and history where some 12,000 books are kept, including two precious Incunabula dating back to 1498 and several hundred ancient books from 1500 to the present day. The archpriest of the village, Calì, in 1832, after purchasing numerous texts, created the library, to which he gave the name ‘Villadicanense’ in honour of the then bishop of Messina Villadicane. Most of the volumes deal with topics of history and in particular the history of Sicily. There is also a rich period cartography.
The area lends itself to various types of hiking and sports activities. Its proximity to Mount Etna and its ski slopes also attracts many winter sports enthusiasts. Trekking is very popular both in the Etnean areas and along the Alcantara river. Numerous tourists and hikers stop in Castiglione to then reach the nature trails on Etna where they can also visit the pine forests or the numerous caves. Several hippos feed the passion for horseback riding, starting from the river and then going up to the volcano or to the nearby Nebrodi. Among the trails are
-The Broom and Vineyard Trail
-The Stone Trail
-Nature Trail on the Alcantara River
The Wine City
Castiglione is known around the world as the City of Wine. Here numerous wineries now export wine all over the world. Nevertheless, there are several culinary traditions that are preserved and handed down over time thanks to local products. A rich and varied local confectionery has always made use of hazelnuts, one of the main products of the area for many centuries. Those who come here, however, have reference dishes that are now well-known in the area and to tourists, such as homemade macaroni served with pork ragout and baked ricotta, ‘tagghiarini’, and ‘fave a maccu’.
The barbecues of pork, mutton, lamb and kid are very popular. Typical are the preserves, mustard,
cheeses and sausages. Worth mentioning are the characteristic ‘cuddureddi’, typical Christmas sweets filled with hazelnuts and honey, also local, as well as provole, Sicilian pecorino and ricotta.
(text edited by Michele La Rosa)