The Capuchin catacombs: the dark side of Palermo.

Palermo is the place par excellence of the sun, of the beautiful landscapes, of the most suggestive coasts of Sicily that mix together with the refined artistic taste of the urban center.

Do you know, however, the darker and macabre side? SicilianMagpie shows you the basements of the Capuccini catacombs.

The complex stands in the basement of the church of Santa Maria della Pace, in the heart of the Cuba district.

A steep and dark staircase leads the visitor to a narrow underground cemetery characterized by a mystical and gloomy aura. Inside, more than 8000 mummified corpses are exhibited according to the order of class, sex and social role.

It was probably designed in the 16th century to preserve the bodies of the Capuchin friars. Over the years, however, even the Palermo bourgeoisie was attracted by the charm of making the glory of the dead immortal, but the huge cost of the embalming processes makes the practice a status symbol.

Monks, wealthy merchants, officers in uniform, virgins in wedding dresses, children in party dresses are exposed with disparate poses trying to escape the oblivion and decay of the material.

Mummies have different states of conservation: some perfectly intact seem to evade time, others are now deformed bodies in dusty clothes of past years.

Among these, the best known is the body of little Rosalia Lombardo. Died in 1920 at the age of two due to bad pneumonia. The father decided to fill the pain of absence by making the child’s candid beauty eternal. Alfredo Salafia was very skilled in his work to make the girl eternal, absorbed in a long sleep.

Later the little baby with the pink bow on her head, nicknamed “the sleeping beauty”, is locked up in a nitrogen-saturated case to avoid the progress of the signs of decomposition.

In the 17th century the place became a stage of the Grand Tour as not only a fundamental piece of Palermo’s history, but a place of reflection on the ephemeral permanence of man on earth.

The place inspired not only the considerations of great visitors such as Thomas Mann, but also the inspiration of some famous artists: Calcedonio Reina, for example, created the painting “Love and Death“, currently preserved in Catania in the art gallery of Castello Ursino. The representation of the two lovers inside the Capuchin catacombs echoes the mythological struggle between “Eros and Thanatos” or Love and Death, the power of life in conflict with the unequivocal human destiny.

We recommend visiting the place for curious and thrill-seeking visitors, but also for those who simply want to reflect on life and time.

Martina Spampinato

Marsala: land of salt pans and emotional sunsets.

Western Sicily is famous for the rarest landscapes that can exist in the entire territory. The beauty and uniqueness of its environment is suitable for those who love being in nature and for having primitive and intoxicating sensations.

SicilianMagpie will take you to Marsala to discover the history of its salt pans.

The “stagnone” of Marsala

A few kilometers away from the inhabited center of Marsala, the land that produces one of the most well-known liqueurs in Italy, there is a nature reserve incorporated between the four islands of Mozia, Isola Grande, Schola and Santa Maria. Inside, the sea draws a large pond or “stagnone” characterized by shallow waters and temperatures above normal.

The territory, which based its economy on fishing and trade, since ancient times, was exploited for the production of salt. Just in the fifteenth century, the Spaniards, present in the region, had mills built for pumping water and grinding salt.

Even today, large salt producers, such as the Sosalt company, operate in the area making it unique in the sector.

The big pond of Marsala, however, stands out for its amazing landscape, at times ethereal. A pleasant walk at sunset can turn into a real sensorial experience. The colors are the main elements that inebriate the visitor’s gaze: the bright white of the heaps of salt mixes with the red of the waters that reflect the rays of the sun that is leaving for the evening.

In honor of Expo2015, the salt marshes of Marsala were declared the most beautiful landscape in Italy. The uniqueness of its nature, therefore, makes this territory a fundamental stop for those interested in the primordial beauty of Sicily.

Martina Spampinato

The castle of Donnafugata: history and enchantment.

Everyone, from an early age, imagined to be the prince or princess of a luxurious castle, surrounded by wealth and splendor. SicilianMagpie will realize this dream and lets you discover the wonders of the castle of Donnafugata.

History and myth

The castle of Donnafugata is about 15 km away from the city of Ragusa and charms the observer with the grandeur and beauty of its neo-gothic structure.

The origin of his name is not very clear, the hypotheses are different: it is said to be connected to the vicissitudes of Queen Bianca of Navarre who, widow of King Martino I of Aragon, was imprisoned by count Bernardo Cabrera, obsessed by her beauty and the possibility of aspiring to the throne of Sicily. The woman managed to escape from the clutches of the oppressor and the stories of the “ronna fuata” or “escped woman” gave the name to this place.

Also the story tell that derives from the arabic “ عين الصحة” or Ayn al-Ṣiḥḥat that means “source of health” that in sicilian dialects it becames “ronnafuata” from which the name is inspired.

The construction can be dated to the 14th century at the behest of Chiaramonte family, counts of Modica. Until the 18th century, historical information is uncertain, all based on local folk legends about Queen Bianca of Navarra and Count Bernardo Cabrera.

Later, in 1648, it became the fortified farm of Vincenzo Arezzo-La Rocca, baron of Serri. The most beautiful changes occurred in the 19th century at the behest of Baron Corrado Arezzo, an eclectic man with a refined artistic taste.

Years of neglect followed in which the building remained totally abandoned to itself. Only in 1982 the municipality of Ragusa bought it and, after numerous works, allowed the usability to visitors.

The structure of the castle of Donnafugata

The magnificence of Donnafugata Castle can be perceived from the majestic garden. In fact, it covers over 8 hectares and it is thought that, in the past, it was characterized by numerous species of plants from all over the world. The peculiarity of this consists in the “distractions” scattered among the green: artificial caves with fake stalactites, a circular temple, a coffee house for the refreshment of the guests and the very particular stone labyrinth.

The structure with neo-Gothic features, has an entrance enriched with battlements and small columns with decorated capitals. Through this, one can access the sumptuous interiors: three floors with 120 rooms with luxurious furnishings.

The architectural context and the majesty of the interiors have inspired numerous writers and filmmaker: Luchino Visconti shot some scenes of the film “Il Gattopardo” (taken from the famous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa), the famous billiard hall was home to some frames of the film “I Vicerè” (taken from the homonymous novel by De Roberto), the terrace was used as the setting for an episode of the series “L’ispettore Montalbano” which draws inspiration from the pen of the master Camilleri, etc.

The visitor who sees this magnificent place will have the opportunity to live an anachronistic experience and will be able to immerse themselves in the culture and artistic taste of the ancient Sicilian nobility. For this reason, this place becomes a must for those who have the opportunity to visit Ragusa.

Martina Spampinato

What to see in Catania in 60 minutes

What to see in Catania in 60 minutes wants to help all those people who for one reason or another are in Catania and don’t have much time.

Before starting with the itinerary recommended by SicilianMagpie, an important aspect must be emphasized. The route includes very short stops in the monuments (between 3 and 5 minutes). 

Ready? Let’s go!!!

Departure from Piazza Duomo

La The most important square in the city where it is located find The Elephant, symbol of Catania and beauty of the Duomo. If we place ourselves facing the Duomo (Cathedral), with Palazzo dei Chierici at our right hand and the Palazzo degli Elefanti on the left side.

Walking along Via Etnea, the main artery of the city, we will find at 120 meters  from our departure point Piazza Università and we will see the Palazzo Università on the left.

Continuing with “What to see in Catania in 60 minutes” continuing along Via Etnea, 75 meters further on the left, we will find the Collegiate Basilica.

Walking straight the same street, at 250 meters we can see the Church of San Michele Arcangelo ai Minoriti on the left side.

Still on Via Etnea, going up another 250 meters, you’ll reach Piazza Stesicoro and on your left you will find the Roman amphitheater.

Going up the square, with the amphitheater on the right, in front you will see the church of San Biagio.

With the church at the back going down towards Via Etnea we find ourselves immediately on the right Via Manzoni. Walking a short distance, we must take the second street on the right, Via Penninello, a small street full of clubs, at the top of this we find the stairs that will lead to via Crociferi. (It seems difficult but in reality it takes about 5 minutes 300 meters).

Via Crociferi, the street of the baroque, full of wonderful monuments. Going through it we will find ourselves in Via Vittorio Emanuele, 100 meters from the Duomo located on our left.

We end the tour of So we returned to the starting point.

We hope you enjoyed the ride !!!

Leave us a comment !!

Finiamo così il tour di Cosa vedere a Catania in 60 minuti Così siamo tornati al punto di partenza.

Speriamo vi sia piaciuto il giro!!! 

Lasciateci un commento!!

Culinary tradition and folklore: the markets of Palermo.

Since ancient times, Palermo has based its economy on trade and on the exploitation of territorial resources. The markets of Palermo, in fact, can be considered the true heart of the city, a dip in the history and tradition of the Sicilian chief town.

SicilianMagpie will guide you on this journey, through voices, smells and tastes.

Vucciria

It is the most famous of the Palermo markets. Not surprisingly, due to its ancient and constant activity, the popular voices state that “i balati ra Vucciria ‘un s’asciucanu mai” (from the dialect “the street of Vucciria are always wet”)
Its name has its roots in the Palermo dialect: “vucciria“, in fact, means “screams”.

It is one of the closest shopping centers to the port and, since the 12th century, it has been a place of interest for Pisan, Genoese and Venetian mercenaries. The concentration of small shops of artisans, stalls, butchers and fish stalls have attracted visitors since very ancient times.

Cucuzzeddi, pisci friscu, stigghiole, frutta di tutti i tipi” (which means “zucchini, fresh fish, goat entrails, all kinds of fruitare”) still advertised loudly by local merchants. The gastronomic development has also allowed the opening of many restaurants who allow tourists to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the place.
Vucciria, however, changes its face at sunset. In the evening, in fact, bars and pubs, becoming a reference point for the Palermo nightlife.

Ballarò

It is the oldest of the Palermo markets. It is located between the ramparts of Corso Tukory and Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda.

His “buciari“, or merchants, are the best known for the sale of typical fruit deriving from the neighboring countryside of Palermo and for the traditional foods cooked inside their own shops or stalls.

In antiquity it was the favorite place for Arab traders. In fact, it was possible to find spices and precious silks from the Middle Eastern countries.

But Ballarò is not just culinary tradition. In recent years it has become an important place for contemporary art. Thanks to the “Cartoline da Ballarò” project, the market area has become one of the most famous centers of Sicilian street art. Artists like Igor Scalisi Palminteri, Andrea Buglisi, Alessandro Bazan, Angelo Crazyone, Fulvio di Piazza have embellished the area of Ballarò/Albergheria with sensational murals that make this stage unique and important in the touristic tours.

The Capo

From Porta Carini to Via Beati Paoli we can find one of the most popular markets in Palermo: the Capo. It has Muslim origin and, later, it becomes one of the most important market for the Augustinian monks who resided in the homonymous church in the neighborhood. The long street full of stalls and small shops, making this place folk and useful for the purchase of traditional Palermo products.

Borgo Vecchio

Also one of the typical Palermo markets. Its numerous stalls are located between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone.
It is the only market that remains open until the evening hours, allowing visitors to take advantage of typical products whenever they want. Because of this peculiarity, it is the point of reference for many young people who meet here for dinner and organize their evenings.

The flea market

Born in the post-war period, the flea market becomes the flagship and the direct testimony of Palermo’s history.
In Piazza del Papireto, the small and permanent shops in sheet metal with their very special ancient memorabilia making this place a fundamental stop for tourists in Palermo.
In it, also, we can find manufacturing works from the Sixties and Seventies and small stalls with jewels and other handmade items.

Santa Maria dello Spasimo: at the adge of the sky

Have you ever seen a church without the roof? Don’t be surprised, you are in “Santa Maria dello Spasimo”, a sanctuary in the old jewish quarter of “Kalsa” in Palermo.

Its history dates back to 1509 when Giacomo Basilicò, devoted to the Virgin, returned from a trip in Jerusalem, he finances the construction of a church dedicated to the pain of Our Lady after the death of Jesus. It is built in a Basilicò’s land next to the gates of the city.

According to the project, the church, the cloister, the bell tower, the dormitory, the cemetery and the vegetable garden had to be ready in 6 years. In reality, due to the ambitious project and the lack of funds, the works aren’t completed and, until today, it is a big unfinished architectural work.

A legend tells that Basilicò commissions to Raffaello Sanzio the famous painting called “Spasm of Sicily”. At the end of the work, it is packed and embarked in a ship that, during the journey, sinks. Inexplicably, however, it is found in the coast of Genova in perfect condition. In Palermo it is exposed until 1661 when, due to the neglect and abandonment of the church, the Viceroy Don Ferdinando D’Ayala decide to donate the painting to the King of Spain. Now it is displayed in the museum of Prado in Madrid. A faithful copy, painted by the sicilian artist Jacopo Vignerio, it can be seen in the chuch of San Francesco D’Assisi all’Immacolata in Catania.

In 1537, a violent Arab invasion, forced the people of Palermo to save themselves and fortify the city. Even the monks, residing in the structure, are forced to find another accommodation, leaving the church at the mercy of events.

Then, the place is reused in different ways: in 1582 it is used for theatrical performances; in 1634, due the plague epidemic, it becomes a lazaret; in the 800’s it is hospice and subsequently a hospital; at the end of the Second World War it is one of the largest deposits of works of art.

In 1997 it becomes the seat of BRASS, an important jazz school.

The visitor, who will have the opportunity to visit the structure, will surely be overwhelmed by the astonishment, not only for the architectural magnificence, but for the possibility of observing the interpenetration of human work and nature. Inside the main nave, in fact, trees stretch their branches towards the upper part of the structure, creating a close connection between the earth and the sky. The vibrations that the place emanates seem to generate a connection between an earthly reality and an ethereal spirituality.

 

Martina Spampinato

 

The “nobilissima civitas” of Tindari

tindari

In a small promontory on the Tyrrhenian Sea, near Patti (a small town in Messina), is Tindari.

The nature that frames the inhabited village is particular and unique. In the lower part of the the hill we find the Marinello beach which widens and narrows, influenced by the tides. Not far from the crystalline waters, on a ridge, there is a cave which, according to a legend, was inhabited by a sorceress who vented her anger by sinking her fingers into the rocks and the numerous holes present are connected to this.

The birth of Tindari is ancient: it became a Greek colony in 396 BC, is built according to the will of Dionisio I and takes its name from Tindaro, king of Sparta.

In 256 BC, during the battle of Tindarys, the Romans conquered the territory sanctioning the end of Carthaginian hegemony. It become a Roman colony in 36 BC and Cicerone describes it as a “nobilissima civitas“.

Its appearance changes in 535 becoming a majestic Byzantine seat, completely destroyed in the 836 by the Arabs.

Walking through the narrow streets, at the highest point of the promontory, the old seat of the acropolis, stands the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Tindari. Inside, carved in cedar wood, is a very peculiar black Virgin seated on a throne with the Child in her lap. At the foot of the statue there is an inscription, based on “Il Cantico dei cantici”, that say “Nigra sum sed formosa” and justifies the particular artistic and stylistic choice that makes it amazing. According to maritime and Catholic traditions, the Virgin or “Matri ‘u tinnaru” is celebrated between 7 and 8 September.

The ancient city is enclosed in an archaeological area that is still well preserved. The city walls, dating back to the 3rd century BC, extend for almost 3 km in a double sandstone curtain.

The majestic Greek Theater of Tindari, however, dates back to the 4th century BC. It exploits the large basin in the hill, its audience can accommodate more than 3000 spectators. In Roman times it was modified in order to host the Amphitheater games.

Tindari was the muse of some writers: Andrea Camilleri sets an adventure of Montalbano in this land. “The trip to Tindari” is also one of the most famous episodes of the homonymous television series. It is a happy childhood place for Salvatore Quasimodo who in “Wind in Tindari” remembers it with homesickness and sadness.

Myth, culture, art and scenic beauty make this small village unique and picturesque, a must for those traveling near the Tyrrhenian coast.

Martina Spampinato


The “Great Cretto”: Burri’s work in Gibellina

Gibellina is a small town next to Trapani, its city center is located in a limeted area called “New Gibellina” that was born after the belice earthquake that destroyed all the town in 1968. In the “Old” zone, uninhabited, we can find one of the most big land art work in the world: the “Great Cretto” or “Cretto of Gibellina” made by the contemporary artist Alberto Burri.

But, before telling this amazing story of environmental recovery, it’s important to make some concepts clear: what is a “Cretto”?

Burri approches this artistic trend in the 70s with the intention of showing how the artist’s hand is an accessory in comparison to fatalism and process of time that irremediably changes the work, making it unique. In fact, he mixes products such as cellotex, glue, white and colored powders and let time do the rest.

The mixtures, then, will take particular forms, simulating the arid and uncultivated lands. Art becomes a natural process, a projection of what happens every day and that the distracted eye of man doesn’t see.

Gibellina promotes this message of awareness: the rubble compacted and reused in the “Big Cretto” are the metaphor of a shattered nature, destroyed and remained dry but which, however, can become a symbol of rebirth.

The gigantic monument in honor of the “Old Gibellina” is promoted by the mayor Ludovico Corrao with the intention of seeking a post-earthquake redemption that could restore luster and beauty to the territory. Burri went to Sicily on his own, he finances the trip and the project.

Work began in 1984 and lasted until 1989 (although it’s estimated that some completion works ended in 2015 in honor of the centenary of Burri’s birth).

Currently the work appears as a series of fractures on a cemented ground, symbol of the freezing of historical memory and, in particular, of the sad events of the belice earthquake.

The surface of over 80000 square meters includes a lot of cracks between two and three meters wide and the blocks are about one meter sixty high.

The artistic path can be reached along the Strada Statale 119 of Gibellina in the section that intersects the Grotta of Santa Ninfa integral nature reserve, or coming from the Austostrada A29 towards Mazara del Vallo.

In an old church, undamaged by the earthquake, in 2019, the municipal administration, led by Giovanni Sutera, promoted, with the help of the councilor for culture Tanino Bonifacio, the birth of the “Museum of the Great Gretto” in which recall the events and the history of the most big land art work in the world.

This story is very important for the sicilian memory, because it’s a land that has been destroyed a lot of times, but which has always been reborn to its full splendor.

The Cretto, in fact, stands as a symbol of rebirth and, repeating councilor Bonifacio’s words, “it is a place of narration and knowledge where there was life, today there is preservation of memory: first it was the tabernacle of death, today shrine that generates life “.

Martina Spampinato

Punta Secca, Montalbano’s land

“A Sicca” (in sicilian dialect) or Punta secca is a small seaside hamlet of Santa Croce Camerina. The inhabited center overlooks a rocky coast on the Mediterranean sea. Its landscapes are romantic and suggestive, the crystal clear waters make this place the pride of the province of Ragusa.

The port was coveted since ancient times: Byzantines, Arabs and Normans aimed at the small seaside town which based its economy on fish and trade.

Seaside destination for excellence, it sealed its naturalistic beauty with the construction of the Bourbon lighthouse in 1857. More than 35 meters high, its light radiates the coasts up to Gela and Cava D’Aliga.

His recent fame was credited by the television series “The commissioner Montalbano” and “The young Montalbano”. Right here, Salvo Montalbano, main character of Andrea Camilleri’s writings, lives in a house with a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. The villa on the sea, in reality, in the past was an old laboratory used for the desalination of sardines. Later, it became the summer residence of the Diquattro family and the favorite place of famous writers such as Sciascia, Bufalino and Camilleri. Currently, the fame given by television recordings has made the humble dwelling a tourist destination, for this reason, it has turned into a Bed and Breakfast.

The sea, the lighthouse, the literary and television importance give an ethereal atmosphere to the place. A walk in this village will allow the visitor to cross the thin line between reality and the imaginary, catapulting into places described with realism by Camilleri’s pen.

Martina Spampinato

Baroque Catania: via dei Crociferi

Melior de cinere surgo” is the slogan of Catania that, in its history was destroyed a lot of times by earthquakes. After 1963, we can find this motto in “Porta Garibaldi”. The city, reduced to ashes, reborn more beautiful and splendid: it became baroque.

One of the most important Catania’s street is Via dei Crociferi, bourgeois and cultural center very famous for its baroque structures placed in less than 350 meters.

Passing the arch of San Benedetto, that is the point of union between the big ebbey of San Benedetto and the monastery of the benedettine nuns, we can immerse ourself in a rich, picturesque and romantic atmosphere.

Immediately after is the church of San Benedetto that catches the attention for its amazing “stairway of angels” made of marble with representations of angels and an impressive wrought iron gate. Inside there is only one navat decorated with frescoes that show San Benedetto’s story made by Sebastiano Lo Monaco, Giovanni Tuccari e Matteo Desiderato. It became one of the most folkloric place in Catania because, every year, cloistered nuns go out to dedicate a sweet song to Sant’Agata, patron saint of the city.

After we can find San Francesco Borgia’s church with two imposing staircases. The facade was designed by Angelo Italia, made of white marble with two orders of columns that give rigor and majesty. Inside, three large naves are decorated with 18th century frescoes and statues dedicated to San Ignazio and San Francesco Saverio. The beautiful dome, which tells the story of the Jesuit order, was made by the master Olivio Sozzi. History tells that in 1801 in this church the musician Vincenzo Bellini was baptized.

On the left side of our path, we can see the Jesuit College, recognized as a UNESCO heritage site in 2002. Its construction, post-earthquake, was not short, it took almost forty years of work that, however, gave rise to one of the most beautiful buildings of the Company of Jesus in Sicily. The building has four paved courtyards of black and white pebbles, respecting the style of Francesco Borromini. Famous names such as Francesco Battaglia and Giovan Battista Marino participate in the construction of the building. Over the centuries it has been used as the seat of the “Collegio delle Arti“, the Hospice of Charity and since 1968 until 2009 it has housed the Institute of Art.

In front of this building, we find the most beautiful example of Catania baroque: San Giuliano’s church, rebuilt between 1739 and 1751 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. The convex facade is very special: with its curved lines and its lights and shadows play, give uniqueness and royalty to the building. The octagonal interior has four altars decorated with works by Olivio Sozzi and Pietro Abadessa. The high altar, made of polychrome marble, is decorated with gilded bronzes made by Giovan Battista Marino. At the center there is a refined little log made by Nicolò Mignemi, with two majestic statues representing Faith and Charity. In the apsidal basin we find the amazing fresco of God by Giuseppe Rapisardi, great exponent of the nineteenth-century in Catania.

Crossing via Antonino di Sangiuliano, called by the people of Catania “acchianata di Sangiuliano“, we will find the beautiful church of San Camillo and Villa Cerami, ancient residence of the prestigious Rosso di Cerami family from which it takes its name and currently the seat of the University of Law.

In recent years, beyond this amazing structures, we can find a lot of restaurants and pubs along the way, which offer a complete cultural and sensorial excursus that embraces art and culinary tradition.

Martina Spampinato