Catania and the feast of Saint Agata

February is coming and Catania prepares its heart for one of the most important events of the year: the feast of Saint Agata.

The neighborhoods are filled with colored lights, noises, barrels, band sounds and screams of joy. Among the streets, a sweet scent of sweetened almonds and nougat inebriates the sense of smell of the visitors, projecting them into an ethereal and flickering atmosphere.
SicilianMagpie will introduce you to the history of the sanctuary and its feast, one of the best known and most followed in the world.

The story

The young Agata belonged to an important patrician family who lived in Catania in the third century. Driven by a strong vocation, she dedicated her life to God and the Christian religion.
Her amazing beauty attracted the Roman governor Quinziano, who decided to want her.

The girl resisted and took refuge in a family villa in Palermo. This was not enough. Quinziano tracked her down and forced her to come back in Catania. Her attempts were in vain, Agata never wavered, even when the perfidious governor decided to subject her to atrocious martyrs such as prison and breast mutilation. Later, the man decided that if he couldn’t love Agata, no one else would have to enjoy his beauty. So, on February 5, 251, he sentenced her to death by throwing her inside a burning furnace. It is said, however, that a terrible earthquake, a sign of divine will, didn’t bring the torture to a close. Unfortunately, however, Agata died during the night due to the atrocious wounds.
Quinziano, moved by anger, decided to take possession of the young woman’s assets but, near the Simeto river, his horses went crazy throwing him into the water where he died drowned.

The feast

Catania immediately loved her picciridda (child), seeing in her not only the divine element, but the example of a city that does not bend.
It is believed that, already a year after her death, the people of Catania began to idolize her and organize demonstrations in her honor. The origins of the celebrations are not well known, some think that they are inspired by ancient pagan festivals.
In reality, what most resembles the current celebrations dates back to August 17, 1226 when two soldiers brought the remains of the Saint back to Catania, stolen in 1040 and brought to Constantinople. It is said, in fact, that the soldiers arrived from the sea during the night and the people of Catania, caught in their sleep, rushed in their night skirts (a white tunic long to the knees and a black headdress) waving a white handkerchief to greet the Saint now back home.
Today the celebrations take place from 3 to 5 February. The days are organized as follows:

  • The feast begins on February 3rd with the so-called “luminaria” procession. The political and ecclesiastical offices of the city of Catania participate in it, in a sumptuous parade that proceeds from the church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace or carcaredda up to the Cathedral in Piazza Duomo. Preceded by the parade of cannalore, the mayor and other civil and ecclesiastical authorities proceed inside beautiful eighteenth-century carriages belonging to the Catania Senate. In the evening, Piazza Duomo welcomes citizens for a breathtaking fireworks that enchants children and adults. The municipal authorities organize concerts in honor of the Saint and, for the celebrations, restaurants and museums are open to attract visitors and citizens.
  • On February 4th Catania is ready for the external tour of the city. At dawn, a crowd of faithful crowds in front of the cathedral doors waiting for the opening for the dawn mass. At the end of this, we proceed with the positioning of the reliquary bust inside the fercolo. So begins the tour from the Uzeda gate, following the archi della marina and the city walls. He will then stop in Piazza Carlo Alberto near the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmelo. The tour continues in Piazza Stesicoro where there are the most important churches that trace the vicissitudes of the cult: Sant’Agata al Carcere and Sant’Agata alla Fornace. We proceed with the acchianata dei Cappuccini (a steep road that is made in a hurry, in three stages, until we reach via Santa Maddalena). Here another stop in the church of Sant’Agata la Vetere, the first built in honor of the martyr. The tour proceeds along via Plebiscito and the streets of the Antico Corso, preceded by candelore and the faithful who carry large waxes on their shoulders, votive gifts for graces received or requests. Near the Fortino and Corso Indipendenza, Saint Agata will be honored with sensational fireworks. The tour generally ends at first light with the return to the Cathedral.
  • On February 5th the feast begins with the pontifical, in which the most important sicilian ecclesiastical offices . Subsequently, Santa Agata proceeds from via Etnea to Villa Bellini, continuing through the Borgo (a very famous stop for the exciting fireworks display) and going back to the Quattro Canti. From here begins the Acchianata di Sangiuliano (or ascent of Via Antonino di Sangiuliano), famous because in the past it was followed by the faithful running, today this custom has been interrupted due to the numerous accidents that occurred, costing the lives of some devotees. In via dei Crociferi one of the most beautiful and evocative events of the entire festival begins: behind the gates of the churchyard of the convent of the Poor Clares, the nuns sing a sweet and moving song for the Saint. After the fercolo returns to the Cathedral and Agata says goodbye to his loyal devotees.

But the feast doesn’t end here. Eight days later, exactly on February 12th, the devotees give the last farewell of the season to Agata which, for the reason, is transported for a short tour.
In addition, on August 17th, Catania celebrate the return to home of Agata who, in 1040, was stolen and taken to Constantinople.


The Candelore or cannalori are one of the most important symbols of folklore and agatine festivals. But what are they? The guilds of the arts and crafts of Catania, in vow to the Patron, built these twelve wooden structures decorated in gold with baroque and floral ornaments. Since the end of January, the city is preparing for the feast, organizing playful parades in which the candelore, driven by strong men, “dance” to the rhythm of the exciting music played by the neighborhood bands.

The culinary tradition

During the celebration of the festival, Catania is full of smells and flavors. There is a real Catania culinary tradition linked to pastry in honor of Saint Agata.
The city is filled with colorful stalls where candies, nougat, caramelized apples, sweet and savory crispelle, calia and simenza (pumpkin seeds and toasted chickpeas), almonds and pistachios with sugar are the masters. The patisseries, already from the first days of February, prepare their windows with small cassata that take up the shapes of the female breasts, recalling the martyrdom of the Saint and for this called minnulicchie (small tits). Marzipan olives o aliveddi are another traditional dessert. It is thought to be linked to the events of the imprisonment of the Saint, according to which, forced to fast by the soldiers of Quinziano, she fed on some olives grown on a small wild tree.

Martina Spampinato

Photo: Rossella Gullotta

Art for environmental protection

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Pistoletto and the “Third Paradise”

In an historical period of extreme environmental difficulty, Catania being artistic, cultural and social renewal center, hosting the genius and inspiration of the contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto from 8 June to 15 July.

Terzo Paradiso“, in collaboration with the Accademia di Belle Arti of Catania and the Oelle Mediterraneo Antico Association, will be exhibited on a floating platform at the Molo di Levante, in the Port of Catania from 9.30 to 11.00.

The work was made by using plastic found in our sea and arranged to form the symbol of infinity with a third eyelet, leitmotiv of Pistoletto’s art. What is the “Third Paradise“? What is its symbolic nature?

Photo: Conci Mazzullo

The work was showed for the first time in 2005 at the Venice Biennale and, subsequently, re-proposed in other illustrious european cities as Paris, Geneva, Milan, in order to sensitize humanity and launch a campaign of protection and enhancement of the territories. It’s estimated, in fact, that 20% of used plastic is released into the sea causing serious damage to the ecosystem.

Sea, fishes and human beings are involved in this critical collapse towards environmental degradation. The symbol of the “Third Paradise” is particular and unique in its kind: three circles in succession, which revisit the mathematical sign of infinity, symbolize the union between pure nature and innovation with man in the center who settles as a link between the two worlds, as the engine for cohesion and unison development.

With his representation, Pistoletto proposes himself as a supporter and promoter of the artistic development, and also environmental and social development. So, Catania and its port reflect the charm of the contemporaneity, become the lighthouse that leads the citizen towards respect for our mother Earth.

Martina Spampinato

Interview with Fabrizio Cammarata before the Concerto at the Zò

Fabrizio Cammarata is a young songwriter born in Palermo, vibrant as the land from which he comes, Sicily.

Don’t be decieved by its young age: Cammarata has already many studio album and has collaborated with artists like Damien Rice and Tamikrest.

In 2011 the acquaintance of Chavela Vargas and the magnificent tribute to the Mexican singer-songwriter, “Un Mondo Raro” (2017) recorded with his friend Antonio Dimartino, makes him to undertaking a journey, physical and emotional that will change it forever.

In March his latest album Luci was released and we met him during the promotional tour to talk about his music, Sicily and the duende.

Fabrizio Cammarata, 27 aprile 2019, Zò – Catania


Lights is a record which you bond a lot but you need to listen to it again and again to begin to perceive the details, the oriental and Hispanic riffs, the fading loop that connects All is Brighter to Run Run Run, the breaths, the perfumes , the cities, that harmonious circle of Cassiopeia and the reference to the Neapolitan tradition, Timbuktu and the nuances of its symbolisms.

It almost seems that you want to provide a set of geographic coordinates but at the same time leave the maximum freedom to follow them or not.

The journey is the first sensation that returns, but then you realize that there are many other thematic mixtures. If I had to choose one  which would be.

Before answering I want to say something about the journey you are referring to: it is a reference to which I am often associated. Probably, only in my last record (Of Shadows, 2017) this perspective was less evident,  it was an inner journey.

Relatively to Lights I had a feeling of choral rather than travel and does not depend only on a fairly structured band. The meaning of choralism in this case I associated it with resonance, empathy, between me and the listener: looking together for that common ground that all we have. Even during the live shows, my purpose is not to achieve the perfect performance but to try to create a meeting that breack down the barriers, over the language or the geographical origin.

I don’t want my music to relax but not to worry either: I want to be that little flame that keeps you awake, that shakes inside.

This album was made in such a concentrated way that it managed to coexist together with everything that surrounded it: thoughts, sounds, places, languages, countries.


In Of Shadow you defined it as those places of the soul in which we prefer not to go, places where weak spots, fears, portions of immoral heart lurk.

In “Run Run Run” you express a comparable concept (it’s more difficult to remain still and see what our soul has to tell us), as if you wanted to continue the dialogue started with Of Shadow: the comfort of moving quickly to have an illusion of change, avoiding to go through outlying streets.

Exactly, it’s like when you think that going to the hairdresser can change you or move from one place to another could improve your quality of life.

It’s not so, it is not at that moment that the change takes place; he can reshuffle the cards but if everything remains the same, if we stay the same, we will always be still, anywhere in the world.


Some popular traditions walk on opposite dichotomies, mixing, passing time, sacred and profane in an almost natural way.

You can think of gospels and spirituals, the Catanese patron saint’s feast  of Sant’Agata, Cohen’s Hallelujah or the traditional music initially imported with the idea of ​​Christianizing the people but which then became different.

This reflection that came to my mind as I listened to Rosary’s text: a devotional and contemplative symbol, a feeling of pure love and the rigor of a mathematical mind.

I believe I’m a union between these two worlds: the first, more rational, needs to understand, to ask questions and find the answers and a second world that instead asks for nothing but being amazed, without seeking any explanation.

I love the night sky because I am passionate about the life cycle of a star, in the astrophysical meaning, but at the same time I love the fascination of these elements in a remote time, in which there was no explanation: it was enough to combine points to give life to figures mythological, Cassiopea, Cepheus, Perseus, Andromeda.

This is one of those rare cases in which I can see the two extremes in co-presence. My religion is very similar to this way of thinking and it is thanks to this that I can get that kind of triangulation.

In this sense, Rosary is not the only example inside the disc: also My Guitar at 4 a.m. puts in place that kind of mechanism, I pretend to talk to my guitar because it intercedes between me and an interlocutor that I can’t reach at that moment.


The theory of six degrees of separation (developed in various contexts from the ’30s onwards), which became famous thanks to the American psychologist Stalney Milgram, shows how two apparently antipodes can be connected in six degrees.

I thought of this when I heard you say that there are more connections than you might think between Chavela Vargas and Robert Jhonson.

I believe that what connect Chavela Vargas to Robert Jhonson is the ability to make universal a message that can be separated from language and sound but is something totally cryptic: Andalusians call it “the duende”.

It is a small demon that creeps into the singer’s communication without his knowledge. This being he has the ability to increase pathos, intensity and the ability to penetrate all the other souls that are with him. I think it’s exactly the duende that connects artists so far apart.

When, during my live, I sing La Llorona (a piece of Mexican tradition) I feel exactly like that, abandoned by myself, I stop existing, even for a second and I don’t know what my sex or my origin is anymore geographical.


I know you like Tinariwen, the Malian collective that spreads music as a means of expression of the Tuareg culture. For security reasons, in 2016 they were forced to record their latest album, Elwan, in Taralgate, a tiny city where caravans stop one last time before reaching Timbuktu.

This is a tiny link between you and them. Your Timbuktu has a completely different symbolism from that and yet it represents something urgent that drives both in that direction.

How do you experience freedom of movement or cons, geographical constraints?

It is true that for me Timbutktu is a pretext to express something else but it is not a casual reference: my story with this city is real and it is the story of a missed meeting. In 2013, I was invited to play in the “Au Désert Festival” and it was a huge recognition for me.

Having the opportunity to play on the same stage as Robert Plant, Santana and the Tinariwen had performed it’s not every day. That year, due to the violent clashes caused by jihadists, some of which were Tuareg (exactly like the Tinariwen), the festival was first moved from Timbuktu to Burkina Faso and later canceled. For me, that place remains a sort of unfinished, something that I approached dizzily but never physically reached.

I have transformed this place into an ideal destination, a middle ground where dreams and reality meet. The track of Lights, Timbuktu is a letter that attempts to restore contact between two places that seem to be completely disconnected, the here and the Timbuktu


Often, you are asked to choose to sing in an idiom that is not your native language but music is in itself a language not a speech. Some time ago I read an interview with Ferruccio Quercetti in which he described perfectly the contradiction between not accepting the choice of singing in a different tongue as normal and not being surprised instead when listening to a blues song or anything else that originates from a musical tradition different from ours.

Yet, however, it would take little to associate your way of composing and writing to freedom that only a land detached from everything, bathed by the sea and open to all kinds of stimulation and contamination.

Do you ever want to curb this lack of boundaries, in your music and in your way of life?

The same identical question should be asked of all those who hold an electric guitar or play drums.

We focus on a detail like the language that actually is much more obvious than other.

Probably this character of immediacy is at the same time cross and delight of the voice, it affects everyone instantly on first hearing.

Our ear is more sensitive to the voice than to other details.

I keep saying that I don’t remember what helped me develop this sort of imprinting.

Writing and singing in a language that is not my mother tongue is a very natural process for me that does not destroy my identity as a Sicilian or a Palermo citizen.

In this regard, there is a very complex reflection on the Sicilian identity, in particular Palermo, which does not often emerge.

What I am about to say could be interpreted negatively but I believe that our local identity is a bit forced when extremely marked pride is manifested.

Ours is a story of continuous betrayals and it is almost natural for me to reflect on the fact that my heart does not light up with traditional Sicilian and Palermo music. I know her, I get excited with many things like that, love Rosa Balistreri but my heart doesn’t speak that language, because even my grandmother didn’t speak it. Likewise, the Italian does not give me a sense of belonging one hundred percent. I love it as a language, I love reading poems in Italian, they excite me much more than in English. I believe that we, the Sicilians, do not have a real mother.

The myth of the llorona is a connecting criterion between Sicily and Mexico: this mother who kills her children, annihilating her identity and leaving her liquid, annihilated by pain. It is all about transforming this lack, this sense of lost, into an opportunity: having a house a little more empty in which you can put everything you want and build a new identity.

Lejila Cassia

Almond Blossom Train 2019

This year, on the occasion of the Almond Blossom Feast, the Almond Blossom Train will depart again. This is a very old festivity. This year will be the 74th edition which will take place in Agrigento between 1st and 8th March. The feast wants to commemorate the spring and is full of events. The historic train is made from parts of old trains: the 1960s locomotive, carriages of the ’59 -’60 type and one of the famous Centoporte carriages (form the thirties) and finally the UIz trolley car.

The train will leave from Palermo at 8.00 on 10th March and will arrive in Agrigento at 11.10. This will be the route:

• Central Palermo at 08:00

• Bagheria at 08:15

• Termini Imerese at 08:39

• Roccapalumba-Alia at 09:12

• Cammarata-S. Giovanni Gemini 09:39

• Aragona Caldare at 10:48

• Agrigento Bassa at 11:01

• Agrigento Central at 11:08

This are expected costs:

• From all the stops: € 20.00 Adults – € 10.00 children, up to 12 years old

• From Aragona Caldare: € 3.00 Adults and teenagers – no seat guarantee

• From all the stops: FREE children up to 4 years old (without the right to a seat)


• Lunch Basket € 7.00