Best places to visit in dreamy Sciacca

Sciacca is an Italian town of 44.104 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Agrigento in Sicily.

 

Rich in monuments and churches, it is the most populous municipality in the province after the capital. It is known among other things for its historic carnival and for its pottery.

Sciacca is one of the most famous cities in Sicily also for its carnival and the Selinuntine and Acquae Labados spas, which have made it the city of spas, for this reason, Sciacca is considered the oldest thermal center in Sicily.

The first were the Greeks who, discovering the hot waters for thermal use, named it “therma”. Then, due to the variety of the peoples that arrived and the differences in pronunciation, it was called Xacca then Sacca and in the dialect Sciacca. The Greeks formed the first town.

It is next to impossible not to be enchanted by the pastel colours of the buildings that are reflected in the cobalt blue sea with the picturesque fishing boats docked at the port, elements that, overall, transform Sciacca into a real living postcard. Let’s begin our journey through Sciacca’s hidden gems!

 

Castello dei Luna

The medieval castle of Sciacca was built in 1382 by Guglielmo Peralta, count of Caltabellotta and Vicar of the Kingdom. It then passed into the hands of the nobles de Luna when, after Nicolò Peralta (son of Guglielmo), Margherita, one of the daughters, married Count Artale de Luna, King Martino’s uncle.

It is one of the places where the famous “Sciacca case” took place: the bloody struggle between the de Luna (Catalan) and the Perollo (Norman). The romantic version tells the secret love of Giovanni Perollo for the noble Margherita, the historical version clashes for political and economic interests. The castle, very ruined, stands in the ancient city walls whose remains are still visible today with the town hall and the cylindrical tower with the reproductions of medieval weapons and armor.

The mighty castle, fortress and dwelling at the same time, was defended by strong perimeter walls, equipped with protruding towers, covered at the corners with squared tuff blocks which contributed to give an imposing appearance to the castle, which was accessed through a drawbridge which, from the north-west, it led into a vast courtyard. The entrance arch carried the Peralta coat of arms at the top, and the door was defended by the main tower, which remained intact until a violent earthquake partially ruined it (the complete demolition of this tower took place instead by the municipality in 1867).

On the ground floor were the sheds, the chapel of San Gregorio and the stables with the armory, while, on the right, a double staircase allowed to go up to the stately homes. The Castle was a small microcosm with its own socio-economic rules … It is said to host up to 100 people. The Count was entrusted with political, economic and judicial power through the exercise of the “mere and mixed empire”. What remains of the ancient splendor of the castle is now only the imposing bulk of the round tower and some parts of the surrounding walls.

Today, the Castello dei Luna is an important monument that visibly testifies to the importance with which Sciacca is placed in the historical panorama of Sicily and how much the important families that once had their headquarters in the area have affected the transmission of historical events.

 

The Enchanted Castle

 

The Enchanted Castle of Filippo Bentivegna is in Sciacca, in the province of Agrigento, a few kilometers from the city center. To learn how the legend around this castle was born, we have to go back to the history of its owner, Filippo Bentivegna.

Filippo Bentivegna was born in Sciacca in 1888 to a very poor family of fishermen. After living his childhood and adolescence in conditions of absolute misery, completely illiterate and without ever having attended schools, at 20 he joined the navy but 5 years later, remained unemployed, and he was forced to emigrate to the United States., where he stayed in New York and worked in a Chicago railway company. Marginalized because of his lackluster ideas and racial discrimination, he was beaten by a rival in love and the violent beatings ended up causing him a head injury and altering his fragile psyche. Returning to Sciacca to heal himself, Bentivegna bought a plot of land. It did not serve to cultivate, or to build a house as the inhabitants of the country believed: in that plot he accumulated sculptures, heads, faces drawn in stones. Thousands. For fifty years.

For this reason, this is a surreal, magical place, an open-air museum, where time seems to have stopped.

When the stones of his fiefdom became scarce, Filippo created tunnels for the extraction of the more ductile stones.

After Bentivegna’s death the property and the more than 20,000 sculptures were completely abandoned, many works were partially destroyed and lost.

Today the enchanted castle of Filippo Bentivegna is owned by the Sicilian Region and is managed by the “Agorà” Cooperative Society.

Walking through the garden you will find about 3000 sculptures. Other Bentivegna heads are now on display at the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne.

 

Santa Margherita Church

According to historians, it is one of the richest churches in Sciacca. Restored and reopened to the public, no longer for its religious functions, but used for exhibitions and events, the church was closed for worship and completely abandoned from 1907 until the late 1980s.

It was founded in 1342 by Eleonora D’Aragona, wife of Guglielmo Peralta, Count of Caltabellotta and Lord of the War in Sciacca, also and above all struck for having been one of the four vicars of the Kingdom of Sicily during the royal period of the Queen Maria.

Over time, the church changes its functions, often and in 1594, it was completely transformed, thanks to expansion and restructuring works, due according to historians to a Catalan merchant, Antonio Pardo, who is indicated as a second founder.

Looking at the construction from Piazza del Carmine, it can be appreciated as a whole, it is immediately evident to the viewer that it is an imposing structure.

As for the two portals, it should be remembered that the main one facing west is in a clear Catalan-Gothic style, consisting of two octagonal pillars supported by a triple ringed bastion. The other Portal is the one located on the Via Incisa, it is a splendid structure of white marble, embellished by the presence of some low relief sculptures.

The interior is a beautiful show of decorations in clear Baroque style, the decoration of the presbytery, dating back to the seventeenth century, is magnificent. Every part of its internal structure is full of decorations, once inside you are immersed in a chase of stylistic traits of the time, angels, cherubs, arabesques, volutes and medallions. Inside the church, we also find several frescoes, of excellent workmanship, which, however, due to the neglect of the past, are not in excellent condition like for exemple: “The Crucifixion”, “The Madonna of the Itria “,” Adoration of the Magi “,” Birth of Jesus “,” The Martyrdom of Santa Oliva “,” Adoration of the Cross with all the People “,” Saint Helena and Constantine “,” Liberation from the plague with the ‘intercession of the Madonna “, San Gerlando”, “San Calogero and Santa Rosalia” and “The Martyrdom of Santa Barbara”.

 

Sanctuary of San Calogero

The sanctuary of San Calogero is a religious building from 1530 which is located in Sciacca, on Mount San Calogero.

San Calogero was born in Chalcedon, in Asia Minor, settled in Sicily at the time of persecutions and devoted himself to preaching and treating the sick. The Holy Hermit lived in several caves until he settled in Sciacca, on the Kronio cave, where he remained until his death.

In ancient times, on the top of the mountain there was a small church serving the sick and pilgrims who went up to the caves to benefit from the steams.

There was also a cave that according to tradition had been used by the hermit San Calogero to rest, a destination for pilgrimages that could be accessed by means of a hole a meter and a half wide, capable of letting only a man on all fours pass.

Access to the cave is now below the current church. The majolica placed on a small altar represents old San Calogero. On the right of the saint, below, the wounded neck is depicted and on the left the arched genuflected in an act of prayer.

At the end of the fifteenth century, few monks of San Calogero, after various events, had set up a small hospital in some rooms on the hill, returning to settle near the cave of the saint.

The construction of the current Basilica, intended to replace the old church, is due to Bishop Mariano Manno, who started it in 1530, giving new impetus to the cult of San Calogero. The new building was raised with the contribution of the contributions of the faithful: the construction was continued by the prior of San Calogero, Don Gregorio Gallitano (1571-1623) and was inaugurated in 1644, being the canon Gaspare Blasco prior.

In 1948, the sanctuary and the annexed rooms were sold in perpetual use to the Franciscan Third Order, which dealt with the restructuring of the rooms of the ancient hermitage.

The feast in honor of San Calogero is celebrated annually on Pentecost Tuesday. For the inhabitants of Sciacca it represents an opportunity to renew their devotion to the Saint. They go in procession through the streets of the town until they reach the Sanctuary on the Mount of San Calogero. A community act, celebrated at dawn, departing from the Mother Church on a 7-8 km route, the distance that separates Sciacca from Mount Kronio and which sees many faithful walking even barefoot.

The sanctuary was erected as a parish in 1953 and elevated to the dignity of a minor basilica in 1979.

 

 

Palazzo Steripinto

Palazzo Steripinto di Sciacca was erected in 1501 by Antonio Noceto, nephew of the famous botanist Gerardo Noceto (1475-1545).

Steripinto is one of the oldest buildings in the city of Sciacca, which still exists today. The decorative elements of the facade and the decorative research make this building one of the most important monuments of the city and an example of the late Gothic Plateresque art in Sicily.

The name Steripinto derives from the fusion of a noun and past participle hosterium, common name of other palaces located in Sicily and in the province of Agrigento (Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri of Palermo, Palazzo Chiaramonte of Agrigento), and means fortified palace or armed. In fact, the facade is made up of a series of diamond-tipped stone bosses that all together form a kind of defense armor.

While the base is entirely closed, where only one opening persists, the floor above, or of the nobles, consists of windows with elegant Gothic mullioned windows. All the decorations take on different shades of colors in the sunlight, during the day and the seasons, making this palace suggestive, austere and fortified. Above the portal, in the center of the lunette, stands the coat of arms of the Lucchesi Palli family, who became the owners of the Palace by way of marriage.

The coat of arms on the capitals of the mullioned windows is, instead, of the Noceto (whose symbol is the walnut tree that someone has confused with the palm of the Tagliavia coat of arms). The truly remarkable interest of the facade does not correspond to that of the interior which has been heavily altered over the centuries, excluding the ground floor where it is kept, in a passageway between the entrance hall and the internal garden, supported by robust pointed arches, a beautiful cross vault with the ribs’ bearing armature and the keystone clearly visible.

Ferdinandea Island

Ferdinandea island is a vast rocky platform located about 6 meters from the sea surface, in the Canale di Sicilia, between Sciacca and the island of Pantelleria. It constitutes the remains of a volcanic apparatus which emerged in 1831, following the submarine eruption of a volcano, rose from the water to form the island, which grew to a surface area of approximately 4 km² and 65 m in height.

Being composed mainly of tefrite, an eruptive rocky material easily eroded by the action of the waves, the Ferdinandea island did not have a long life. At the end of the eruptive episode there was a rapid erosive dismantling of the island which finally disappeared under the waves in January 1832, temporarily ending the international disputes that had arisen over its sovereignty.

When it emerged, the island presented itself with a conical shape due to its volcanic activity. Outside the volcano there were two sulphurous lakes in constant boiling and also a sort of stream that dragged the water that was inside the crater towards the sea and that at times “overflowed”.

The erosive action of the waves and the collapse of the emerged material made it disappear. That contested and desired island is now 6 meters deep and is known as Banco Graham.

Ferdinandea Island Recent studies carried out by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology have found that “Ferdinandea” is part of a highly developed system of submarine volcanoes. The island is one of the accessory cones of the submarine volcano Empedocle, a gigantic volcanic building that has much in common with Etna, the best-known volcano in Sicily.

The Carnival Museum of Sciacca

The Carnival Museum of Sciacca holds the memory of more than 100 years of history of this wonderful party, an exciting thrilling journey through history for adults and children.

Inaugurated in 2010, in the centre of a garden overlooking a terrace overlooking the sea, it preserves beautiful testimonies of the Sciacca Carnival, including a collection of plastic models that are a miniature reproduction of the Allegorical floats that participated in the previous editions of the festival. They are works of art made entirely of ceramic, modelled and decorated by hand by the artists of Sciacca.

In the Carnival Museum today there are about 100 historical models of the Sciacca Carnival Wagons.

The antechamber of the Museum is already a dip into the colourful world of papier-mâché: you will be surrounded by the reconstruction of some of the most fascinating historic buildings in Sciacca; these are real parts of allegorical floats of the past, appropriately rebuilt here.

The entrance leads to the first area of ​​the museum: the photo gallery (one part of which in 3D); these testimonies offer us the most suggestive still images of the Carnival of Sciacca.

Subsequently some historical costumes of the Carnival of Sciacca are exposed. Each costume is closely linked to the theme – allegory of the belonging cart, becoming testimony to the great care given to the masquerade during the holidays.

Continuing along the path, you enter the area of ​​miniatures: the famous models of the allegorical floats of the Carnival of Sciacca, all handmade by the numerous artists of traditional artisan ceramics.

The photo gallery, the historical costumes and the particular miniatures of the Allegorical Wagons offer a colourful frame for some papier-mâché elements that stand out from above: authentic parts of the chariots of the Carnival of Sciacca are kept inside the Museum.

On the lower floor, there are also papier-mâché reconstructions of typical Sicilian food and wine products and a particular section dedicated to Sciacca ceramics, a majolica tradition closely connected with the art of papier-mâché decoration; in fact, there is an exhibition of numerous pieces made and donated by the Ceramists Association of Sciacca.

The Carnival Museum is the place where the official presentation of the Carnival of Sciacca has been taking place since 2010.

In the first year of its opening alone, the Sciacca Carnival Museum counted more than 5,000 visitors, including numerous tourists and school pupils.

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