(Province of Palermo) and NEBRODI (Province of Messina)
Sicilian Appennine – The Sicilian Appennine forms a natural
extension to the Calabrian Appennine. The range comprises the Monti
Peloritani (above Messina), the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains entirely
consistent in terms of the landscape, flora and fauna.
two latter areas were recently designated National parks so as to
preserve their natural heritage. The scenery varies from gentle
slopes to steep calcareous ones, especially in the area of San Fratello
and Rocche del Crasto, in the Nebrodi, and on the northern flank
of the Madonie around Piano Battaglia and Battaglietta, Pizzo Carbonara
(the highest peak) and Serre di Queccella, that are often referred
to as Sicilian Alps on account of their resemblance to the Dolomites.
In the valleys, rivers and creeks nestle in gorges cut by erosion;
among which the most spectacular are the Gole di Tiberio, near Borriello.
The vegetation varies with altitude. The coastal strip, up to 600-800m
height, is composed oaks (cork and holm) and scrubby shrubs typical
of the Mediterranean maquis. Higher, at 1200m-1400m, are various
types of aks; over 1400m beech woods. In the area between Vallone
Madonna degli Angeli and Manca li Pini (northern flank of the Scalone
Mount) grow 25 Nebrodi spruce, the only examples of this endemic,
and now rare, species (another stands by the ruined castle at Polizzi).
One of the most interesting places for plants is Piano Pomo, where
the giant holly grows. Some specimens, considered to be over 300
years old, reach over 14m in height and a 4m circumference.
fauna is as much interesting, the area harboring a variety of indigenous
birds and animals, although the presence of humans has been increasingly
endangered many of the
species (red and fallow deer, wolf, lammergeier and griffon vulture).
Those still found include the porcupine, wild cat, fox, marten and
some 150 or so species of birds such as the hoopoe, the buzzard,
the kestrel, the red kite, the peregrine falcon, the raven, the
golden eagle and the grey heron. A special mention must go the butterfly
family, which is present with over 70 species, some of which are
dei Nebrodi – The area was designated a nature reserve in
1993. It covers an area of 85,687ha, touching upon several local
districts or comuni, and is divided into 4 categories consistent
with the level of conservation implemented: special, general, protected
and controlled. The Park authority (Ente Parco) provides a number
of information centres which provides advice and guidance about
footpaths and nature trails. These are situated at Caronia, in via
Ruggero Orlando 126 tel.0921/333211; at Alcara Li Fusi in via Ugo
Foscolo, 1 tel.0941/793904 and at Cesarò along the Strada
Nazionale tel.095/696008. The latter organizes, especially in the
summer season, free guided walks of different grades and duration.
delle Madonie – Designated in 1989, this covers an area of
39,679ha with a roughly rectangular perimeter. It is divided into
four categories of reserve designated special, general, protected
and controlled according to different guidelines. For detailed information,
illustrated material and advice on excursions both by car or on
foot, contact the Ente Parco at Petralia Sottana, 16, Corso Paolo
Alliata, tel. 0921/68 04 78 or their office at Isnello tel.0921/662795
itineraries here proposed stretches along scenic routes, which,
depending on the direction in which they are followed, provide even
completely different type of views and landscape. For alternative
intineraries across the Nebrodi area see SANTO STEFANO DI CAMASTRA,
FIUMARA D'ARTE and CAPO D'ORLANDO.
THE HEART OF THE MADONIE
round trip departing from Cefalù – allow 1 full day.
– See CEFALU’
the road out of Cefalù along the coast eastwards, enjoying
the views of the lookout tower on the promontory. Further on, turn
right for Castelbuono.
- See Castelbuono
panoramic road continues towards Geraci Siculo
Siculo – This small town retains, especially in the upper
side, its medieval look featuring a maze of narrow cobbled streets.
A road right of the town entrance leads to the castle built by the
Marquis Ventimiglias. The building only consists of few ruins and
a small Church dedicated to St. Anne, once the family chapel.
site offers a fine panoramic view. At the heart of the town stands
the Gothic Chiesa Madre, divided into three naves by stone pointed
arches. In the second chapel of the northern nave is a Madonna col
Bambino by Antonello Gagini, commissioned by the Ventimiglias.
road Geraci-Petralia also offers beautiful mountainous views, notably
of Enna plateau and Etna volcano.
Soprana – Petralia Soprana (meaning up town) is, with its
1147m of altitude, the highest city in the Madonie, overlooking
a dramatic open landscape. Its origins seem to go back
Petra, a settlement founded by Sican tribes. However, the city,
featuring a collection of stone (as per a local regulation) houses
jostled with one another, especially developed in the Middle Ages.
medieval part of the town is marked by a maze of narrow streets
lined with noble palazzi and churches, all built in the local natural
stone, occasionally opening out into picturesque little squares
and onto breathtaking scenery. A particularly impressing panorama,
including the city of Enna, Resuttano, Monte Cammarata and Madonna
dall’Alto, can by enjoyed from the Belvedere near Piazza del
the heart of the town is Piazza del Popolo; there stands the Town
Hall occupying the former premises of a Dominican convent that retains
their Gothic appearance, complete with pointed arches.
street to the Chiesa Madre leads to the beautiful Piazza Quattro
Cannoli, with a delicious stone fountain. The Mother Church is preceded
by a fine portico on its right flank, and also offers fine views
over Piano Battaglia, Polizzi, Etna and Enna. It preserves a precious
wooden Christ by Frà Umile da Petralia, right of the altar,
and, a fine wooden altar carved by Bencivinni inside the Cappella
del SS. Sacramento, left of the altar. The rear wall is ornamented
with a big 1700s organ case.
Chiesa di S. Maria di Loreto was built on the site of an ancient
Saracen fortress. Its convex front elevation, framed between two
bell-towers, was designed by the Serpotta brothers.
there is a large altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Child, attributed
to Giacomo Mancini (15th century). From behind the church extends
a terrific view over Etna volcano.
Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore has an elliptical plan and 1700’s
decoration. It houses a wooden figure of St. Joseph, by Quattrocchi,
and, in the Sacristy, two works by Giuseppe Salerno that are St.
Catherine of Alessandria and the Madonna del Gatto, both showing
an intimacy and gentleness that is unusual for this painter.
Sottana – Petralia Sottana (this meaning down town) lies in
a lovely position overlooking the valley of the Imera river, atop
a rocky spur at about 1,000 a.s.l. The town’s main street
Corso Paolo Agliata, is lined with several remarkable buildings,
such as the Chiesa della Fontana, with a fine 1400’s doorway,
the Chiesa di San Francesco, with a fine bell-tower rising from
a pointed arch, and housing paintings by Giuseppe Salerno. Along
the way, also stands the headquarter of the Madonie Park Authority.
As the street curves round to the right, the eye is drawn by the
bell-tower of the Chiesa della Misericordia, inlaid with a meridian
transept floor is inlaid with a meridian line. Further on is Piazza
Umberto I and the 17th century Chiesa Madre, overlooking the valley.
This is divided into three naves by a series of monolithic stone
columns cut from Balza Sant’Eleuterio. Inside, it is ormanented
with various paintings by Giuseppe Salerno, including a Triumph
of the Eucharist (first altar on the left) and The Five Wounds of
Our Lord (once erroneously thought to be a Deposition). In the chapel
to the right is a picture of the Nativity whose Christ Child is
by Antonello Gagini.
the fine arched bell-tower spanning the road, is the 1500’s
Chiesa della Trinità (or Badia). A fine Gothic doorway leads
through into the church with a large 23 panel marble altarpiece
by Giandomenico Gagini. The central section shows the Mystery of
Easter, surrounded by the Trinity (above), the Crucifixion and the
Ascension. The lateral panels (top left to bottom right) illustrate
scenes from the life of Christ. At the end of the nave, on the right,
stands a fine 1700’s organ.
on foot – North of Petralia, a track worn by pilgrims leads
up to the Santuario della Madonna dell’Alto, at 1819m, preserving
a painting of the Virgin and Child dated 1471.
to Polizzi Generosa.
Generosa – Like other towns in the Madonie slopes, Polizzi
Generosa also enjoys a beautifully panoramic position, overlooking
the southern and northern sides of the Imera valley. A particularly
attractive view of the town can be enjoyed on crisp mornings when
low cloud (the so-called maretta) collects around the foot of the
mountains, shrouding the base in shadow, while the tops caught in
the sunshine appear to float on the mist.
town has elusive origins. It seems to have played a major role in
ejecting the Arab invaders. Roger II had a castle built on the area
and took up defences in preparation against an attack from the infidel.
Frederick II, so impressed by the town’s warm welcoming him
on a visit, bestowed upon it the title of Generosa. The main piazza
is marked by ruins of the castle on its highest point (910m). There
also stands Palazzo Notarbartolo (16th century) housing the Museo
Ambientalistico Madonita, that reconstructs the range of Madonie’s
natural habitats (with preserved animals died of natural causes
or being retrieved by poachers), acquatic flora and fauna (with
river flora and fauna as it was some 30-40 years ago), forests,
and mountainous fauna including the vultures (notably the griffon
vulture which disappeared in the 1920s) and the Golden Eagle.
Via Roma are Palazzo Gagliardo, dating from between the 16th and
17th centuries, and, opposite, the Chiesa Madre, its present look
dating from the 19th century, but still preserving earlier features
from the 1300s-1400s such as the portico and the pointed arch. Inside
are numerous works of art including a Flemish Trypthich (presbitery)
and a lovely Madonna del Rosario by Giuseppe Salerno – one
of the two Zoppi di Gangi (see GANGI)
along Via Roma is Piazza Umberto I. From here, begins Via Garibaldi,
leading to the Chiesa di San Girolamo, with a fine Baroque doorway.
At the end of the street is Piazza XXVII Maggio, providing a splendid
view over the highest peaks of the Madonie, the northern valley
of the Himera river (where now runs the highway), the Rocca di Caltavuturo,
the Calogero Mount and the Cammarata Mount to the left; the Quaccella,
Mufara and Pizzo Carbonara to the far right; opposite stands the
Massiccio dei Cervi with a lower section known as the Padella where,
according to hearsay, a secret entrance leads into a cave full of
treasure, the whereabouts of which may only be revealed during Easter
Mass. Below lies the Noccioleti Valley. Proceed towards the coast.
At the first fork turn left towards Caltavuturo.
Pasticceria al Castello, in the piazza of the same name, produces
excellent sweet goodies and cakes including the typical sfoglio
(mille-feuille) made with unsalted fromage frais.
the turning for Scillato (2km north), opens out a beautiful and
varied scenery ranging from bare tracts of mountain to gentle green
slopes to steep limestone escarpments.
– Clinging to the foot of the Rocca di Sciara, the fortress
of the vulture – deriving its name from the Arabic calaat
(fortress) and Sicilian vernacular (vulture) – preserves a
few prized 1500’s works of art in the Chiesa Madre. These
include an attractive Madonna of the Rosary surrounded by the Mysteries
executed by followers of Pietro Novelli and, at the back of the
church, a fine Baroque organ by Raffaele della Valle.
Caltavuturo turn down the SS 120 in the direction of Cerda; at the
fork, turn left towards Sclafani Bagni.
Bagni – Crouched on the edge of a rocky crag in a wonderful
position, Sclafani Bagni is a little hamlet retaining a fine medieval
look. The town gate Porta Soprana, being a pointed arch, is surmounted
by the coat of arms of the Sclafani family. On the left rises the
Castelletto, probably conceived as a defensive tower.
beyond, is the Chiesa Madre graced iwth a decorative Gothic doorway
from the 15th century. Its Catalan-Gothic interior preserves a painting
by the Zoppo di Gangi Giuseppe Salerno entitled the Agonizzante,
and a sarcophagus carved with a bacchanal from Himera (see TERMINI
IMERESE). In the rear wall is an organ (under restoration) by Raffaele
della Valle (1615). Up, to the right of the church, are the remnants
of a 1300’s fortification, consisting of a single tower. From
here extends an enchanting view over the Madonie ranges, and, below,
the Himera coast and Caltavuturo.
to the SS 643 and follow it to Collesano.
– The heart of the small holiday resort preserves its original
medieval fabric. Its most interesting building is the Chiesa Madre,
placed up a great flight of steps. The façade doesn’t
betray the many splendid works preserved inside. Above the nave
hangs an enormous crucifixion painted in 1550. In the south aisle,
within a protective case, there is a sedan chair dating from the
17th century. Among the painting are a St. Catherine dated 1596,
by Giuseppe Alvino, known as the Sozzo (literally the Soak) and
others by the so-called Zoppo di Gangi Gaspare Vazzano, that is
Santa Maria degli Angeli in the north aisle, and a cycle of frescoes
in the chancel illustrating scenes from the life of Saints Peter
and Paul, and of Christ (in the vault). The elegant tabernacle in
the south aisle is by Donatello Gagini (1489). The way up Piazza
Gallo, in the oldest part of the town, leads past the ruins of the
castle, where a beautiful view opens out over the valley bottom
and the coast beyond.
Collesano, return to the coast signposted for Cefalù.
THE NEBRODI AND THE MADONIE
round trip starting from Santo Stefano di Camasta – allow
1 full day.
Stefano di Camastra – See SANTO STEFANO DI CAMASTRA
signs for Mistretta. At the junction with the Troina/Nicosia road,
turn right to Nicosia.
– see NICOSIA
few kilometres further on, the road reaches Sperlinga, a little
town overlooked by its castle, backed up against a vertical cliff-face.
– The small hamlet of Sperlinga stretches along the side of
a spur of rock shaped like an upturned ship’s keel. It seems
to have started life as a troglodyte community of Sican tribes;
several of their cave dwellings are open to view below the town.
Uphill, in a highly strategic location, rises a castle-fortress,
firmly rooted to the base rock to which it clings. On the slope
to the castle, are two big grottoes once used as stables, now accomodating
a small ethnic-anthropological museum. Past the first doorway there
is a fine ogival archway with an inscription above extolling the
virtue of the town Quod Siculis placuit, sola Sperlinga negavit
(What pleased Sicilians was only rejected by Sperlinga). The significance
of such a proclamation must be sought in history, for in 1282 at
the height of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, a band of Frenchmen
sought refuge in the castle: here, instead of being treated as hostages,
they were shown kindness and understanding by the town residents.
Elsewhere, the episode caused a great outcry.
castle is built on several levels. The caves excavated from the
rock (to the left of the entrance) were used for stabling animals,
as prison cells and forges and probably for making weapons. At the
front is the prince’s reception room. Opposite, on a single
level, lies the chapel and the residential quarters; the under-crofts
in this section of the castle served as granaries. Centrally placed
between the two wings, a steep staircase cut into the bedrock climbs
up to the lookout tower; from here the view pans 360° over the
Gangi plateau with the Madonie range behind, the Nebrodi to the
north, Mount Etna and the Erei Mountains.
To the right stretches the long undulating ridge that runs from
Monte Grafagna to San Martino and links up with the Nebrodi mountain
chain. This highly scenic road snakes its way towards Gangi, the
largest town in the Madonie.
– See GANGI
Gangi, it si possible to link up with the 1st itinerary, extending
it with a drive to Petralia Sottana. Gangi reappears on the left,
before the looming shape of Mount Etna behind.
if proceeding with the 2nd itinerary, make your way back to the
fork and turn left towards San Mauro Castelverde.
Mauro Castelverde – Occupying a magnificent position atop
a mount that bears its same name, this offers, especially on clear
days, splendid views of the surrounding landscape spanning the Aeolian
Islands, the Nebrodi and Madonie. The centre of the town has a typical
medieval look with tortuous, narrow streets. The Chiesa di Santa
Maria dei Franchi (13th century), flanked by a bell-tower from the
18th century, is one of its most attractive buildings. Inside, is
a Madonna del Soccorso by Domenico Gagini and a baptismal font by
here, turn back down towards the coast; at the fork, turn left and
follow the coast road; turn right up the road signposted for Pollina
(at about 7km).
– This small town is also splendidly placed, nestled atop
a mount, dominating all the coast below. At the centre of town there
is a maze of narrow streets that conceal the Chiesa Madre (dating
from 16th century) housing important pieces of art among which outstanding
is a fine Nativity by Antonello Gagini. At the top of the town stood
a castle of medieval origin, of which a square tower is all that
remains. A theatre has recently been built nearby, according to
the ancient Greek and Roman prototypes, complete with spectacular
panoramic views across the mountain landscape and the sea; linking
the two is a winding road that leads from the theatre all the way
to the coast.
to the coast road towards Cefalù. Signs on the right indicate
the way to Tusa and thereby to the archaeological site of Halaesa
which lies before the village itself.
and Halaesa – See HALAESA
to the coastal road. Beyond the Tusa river, a road leads up to the
right: this links up with the itinerary described under FIUMARA
D’ARTE; or return to Santo Stefano di Camastra following the