A guide to spectacular Cammarata, the city of a thousand balconies

Cammarata is an Italian small medieval village of 6.120 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Agrigento in Sicily.

Cammarata enjoys spectacular views of Etna and is located in a strategic position between the sea and the Valley of the Temples of Agrigento, surrounded by pastures and salt mines, while the surrounding hills were once used to breed and train horses for Olympic Games.

The name Cammarata probably derives from the Byzantine Greek Kàmara and means “vaulted room”. Cammarata covers an area of ​​19,203 hectares with a population density of 958 inhabitants per square km and is located at 989 meters a.s.l. The first document in which the territory of Cammarata is mentioned is from 1141, an act of donation by the Norman Lucia di Cammarata to the bishop of Cefalù of the church of Santa Maria (now destroyed); together with the church Lucia la Normanna also donates five farmhouses with an unequivocally Arabic name, a sign that the territory at that time was inhabited at least since the time of the Arab occupation of Sicily; at that time, even a small Jewish community was present.

Archaeological finds found throughout the territory of Cammarata testify that it was also inhabited in Roman and even prehistoric times. The county of Cammarata followed the historical vicissitudes of Sicily, passing from the Normans to the Swabians and with Federico II it became a state-owned city for a short time. After the period of great uncertainty due to the war of the Vespers, in 1397 following the rebellion of the count of Cammarata to Martino the Younger who in the meantime had become king of Sicily, Cammarata was under siege by Bernardo Cabrera, right arm of the King .

Cammarata was the possession and residence of several noble families including those of Vinciguerra d’Aragona in 1369, the Moncada and the Branciforte. Cammarata experienced a flourishing and peaceful period in the fifteenth century, under the Abatellis who, thanks to their origin as merchants, made the best use of the resources of the territory, especially the extraction of rock salt.

The castle, whose appearance can be traced back to Aragonese architecture, was permanently inhabited by the lords of Cammarata until the 17th century. Then the decline took place, until the end of feudalism in Sicily in 1812. In the monumental artistic sector, Cammarata preserves the splendid statue of the Madonna della Catena and a painting by Pietro D’Asaro in the Mother Church, while in the church of the Annunziata erected in the XIV century there is an admirable gold cross by an unknown Sicilian carver of the sixteenth century.

Walking on the ancient streets of Cammarata, between those houses, it can happen to breathe the scent of the gorse or that of the jasmine in good weather, which spread slightly in the air, and one feels immersed in time, as if the light mountain impregnated wind whispered the history of the town.

Let’s start our tour in this unique and marvelous small medieval village!


Castle of Cammarata

There is still no certain information on the origins of the Castle of Cammarata, so the period in which it was built and the gentleman who ordered its construction appear unknown.

The origins of the Castle of Cammarata date back to 1141, when it was erected in today’s north-eastern part of the country, in an elevated and strategic position.

The castle looks like a quadrangular building with four towers and is surrounded by crenellated walls and defensive works. It is isolated from the other buildings of the town and dominates from the hill on which it stands, in a strategic and difficult position to take because it is defended to the north-east by the overhanging fortress on which it rests, to the east, south and west from other fortifications.

The earthquake of 1537 and the neglect of time have caused serious damage to the castle. Today only two of the four towers are visible, in one the Polizzi’s noble coat of arms is still clearly visible, which received the feud of Cammarata by Federico II in the year 1302. The second tower, better preserved, was used for a long time as a mandatory prison, the noble coat of arms of the Moncada family is clearly legible outside.

Subsequently, between 1384 and 1398, thanks to Bartolomeo d’Aragona, a restoration was carried out, with works of consolidation and construction of some new bastions.

Only in 1838 did the negotiations come about which included the entrusting of the castle to the municipality.

The following centuries saw the alternation of numerous owners, administrators, regents, who gave active life to the castle and the territory of Cammarata.

Although around the 80s of the last century there was an intervention to consolidate and restore the ruins and the underlying ridge, there are currently few remains, and parts incorporated in structures created subsequently and of widely different types.

The spaces of the tower, which is the best-preserved part of the castle, are dedicated to shows and exhibitions.


Sanctuary of Madonna di Cacciapensieri

Cacciapensieri is an ancient Sanctuary where the thaumaturge Madonna known as Cacciapensieri is worshiped with lively faith.

The church was raised to the sanctuary by Bishop Luigi Bommarito.

The current structure was rebuilt in the mid-eighteenth century, following the danger of collapse of the old church.

This Madonna is an ancient and miraculous statue made of plaster and stucco.

In ancient times, however, it was from the waist up, but then the friars wanted it whole and it is m. 1.25. of stature.

The Virgin is slightly bent forward almost to look and smile with those who approach her; she holds the Child lying on his left arm, while with his right he holds his little hands.

She is Latin-dressed and with all her posture, from her face, from her looks such a maternal, celestial grace breathes, that kidnaps your heart to love her.


Church of San Nicolò di Bari

The most important church in Cammarata is the Mother Church dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari. The current church stands on the old area of ​​the ancient Mother Church which burned down in 1624; it was later demolished and the current Church completed in 1668 was built on the same surface.

After a few years it was discovered that the current Church did not rise on another but on two others, including the Church of the Holy Trinity. After the fire of 1624, it was immediately thought to rebuild the matrix and count Francesco Branciforti and the university of Cammarata contributed to the costs. The work proceeded very slowly due to the lack of money lasted, in fact, until 1944 or even beyond. Only the wall structures and the dome were completed in 1701 (since it was read, before the restoration of 1952-53, in the northern choir). The church has a Latin cross plan with three naves.

The dimensions of the current matrix are 52.30 m in length and 17.00 m in width, while in the cruise they measure 24.00 m in height. The presbytery is 15.30 m long and 8.30 m wide. It is a church with three naves divided by five pillar-shaped columns on each side.

The side naves host five altars respectively, at the end of the transept there are two other altars on each side and the chapels of the Sacramento and S. Nicola at the bottom of the two lateral naves. In the left nave there is an eighteenth-century bust of San Nicola di Bari, which houses a relic of the saint.

The baptismal font, coming from the ancient matrix, is in white marble and the foot frontally bears the sculpted image of St. Nicholas and floral motifs on the sides. The main altar is dedicated to the SS. Trinity and is adorned with a large square which, judging by the style, can be attributed to Fra Fedele da S. Biagio.

In the upper part of the square we find a copy of the SS. Trinity of the painter Sebastiano Conca, while in the lower part are represented, together with S. Pietro and S. Paolo, S. Nicola and S. Rosalia protectors of Cammarata.

The marble part and the balustrade of the main altar belong to the same era as the large square, while the tabernacle is a questionable addition from the 1900s.


Church of San Sebastiano

The Church of San Sebastiano, originally dedicated to the Madonna dell’Itria, stands in what was supposed to be in the center of Cammarata. In fact, the church was built until the end of the feudal period, for the assemblies of the civic council, which at the touch of its bell met in it for deliberation.

With a single nave it preserves the valuable statues of S. Sebastiano and S. Rocco, several paintings of considerable interest, among them a painting of S. Orsola from 1598. The chapel of the Souls of Purgatory is very beautiful, enriched with square stuccos and frescoes.

Originally dedicated to the Madonna dell’Itria, it stands in what was supposed to be in the center of Cammarata. In fact, the church was built until the end of the feudal period, for the assemblies of the civic council, which at the touch of its bell met in it for deliberation.

With a single nave it preserves the valuable statues of S. Sebastiano and S. Rocco, several paintings of considerable interest, among them a painting of S. Orsola from 1598.

The chapel of the Souls of Purgatory represents the pride of the Church of San Sebastiano and is extremely beautiful, enriched with square stuccos and frescoes.

With its paintings on the walls it recreates the images of all the souls asking for forgiveness and wishing to reach Heaven.


Church of San Vito Martire

Another large and important church is the one dedicated to San Vito Martire, also with three naves, preserves artistic works of great  importance.

The building is accessed by a stone staircase. The interior has three naves with a basilica layout, in Renaissance style

The central apse houses the sixteenth-century statue of San Vito surmounted by the “eye of God” between clouds and symbolic figures.

In the lateral apses, on the left, are the custody of the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel adorned with stuccos and paintings by Carmelo De Simone (early 1900), on the right, the statue of the Madonna del Riparo.

Another wooden sculpture of the sixteenth century is the Crucifix of the Angels with its processional fercolo.

The canvas, “Morte Della Madonna” by an anonymous 17th century artist is very interesting.

The church of San Vito dates back to the early 16th century.

In a document of 1541, the church is described as a small non-sacramental monument with only the altars of San Vito, San Calogero, San Filippo, San Rocco, of the Vergine Ss. Del Riparo and of the Ss. Crocifisso degli Angeli. Today the church has three naves.

The statue of San Vito is located in the central nave, in this chapel there is an eighteenth-century wooden choir with carved eagles, while on the walls of the same chapel there are four sculptures representing the martyrdom of the saint. In the side aisles several altars and paintings of great artistic value are preserved.


Church of San Biagio

San Biagio was probably one of the many places that the monks had in various countries. From 1219 it was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Agrigento and probably in this epoch or shortly afterwards the Carmelites had to live there who remained there until the end of the fifteenth century or the beginning of the sixteenth when they passed to San Giovanni Gemini.

The single nave church of San Biagio was definitively closed on December 24, 1980 when part of the roof collapsed ruinously. A tragedy was avoided because a wedding had been celebrated inside it a few hours earlier. Since then, atmospheric agents have damaged it so much that putting it back together has had a considerable cost.

Traces of the ancient church of San Biagio can be found starting from 1219, as the late Cammaratese late Don Domenico De Gregorio mentioned in some documents. The church inside is simple with a single nave, without a transept, with a flat capocroce. The two areas, the one dedicated to the faithful and the one dedicated to the altar, are delimited by the presence of two pilasters on the sides of the nave.

The decorations on the vaults and on the walls were brought to light during the 2017 restorations and the underground rooms that were inaccessible until then were also opened. On the sides of the nave there are two chapels that break through the perimeter walls and emerge from them.

The church houses the remarkable paintings of the Holy Family and the Nativity, by Pietro d’Asaro and a copy of S. Filippo Neri del Reni. Very beautiful are the statues of S. Biagio, S. Lucia and S. Giuseppe, the latter, which today is located in S. Domenico, perhaps the work of the Begnasco family, comes from the church of S. Vito. In the sacristy there is the ancient wooden counter. Of the primitive church remains the marble font of the entrance with a sculpture of the Madonna corroded by time.

The façade, which is also very simple, develops on a single order and is marked by two almost imperceptible pilasters on the sides of the same which support a tympanum with curved shapes that contains the bell tower inside. The bell tower is composed of two round arches, which house the two bells, marked by three pilasters that support a triangular tympanum.

At the center of the facade there is the wooden door, entrance to the church, and a lowered arched window, always with wood.


Mount Cammarata oriented nature reserve

The Monte Cammarata oriented nature reserve is a protected natural area located in the municipalities of Cammarata, San Giovanni Gemini and Santo Stefano Quisquina, in the province of Agrigento and was established in 2000.

The Reserve is made up of a part of the territories of the municipalities of Cammarata which also includes San Giovanni Gemini and Santo Stefano Quisquina, for a total of two thousand hectares of territory belonging to the State Property. The reserve is made up of natural forests of conifers and broad-leaved trees that harmoniously cover the hills and in winter when the snow has almost entirely covered them it is easy to imagine it as an alpine paronama.

The reserve was suppressed in 2012 and incorporated into the Monti Sicani park. In 2019, following the cancellation of the Monti Sicani Park, it was restored.

The reserve includes an area of ​​2,049.37 hectares largely occupied by limestone reliefs from the Mesozoic era such as Serra Quisquina (1059 m), Serra della Moneta (1188 m), Pizzo della Rondine (1246 m), Monte Gemini (1397 m) and Monte Cammarata (1578 m), the second highest of the Sicani Mountains after Rocca Busambra.

On the slopes of Monte Cammarata there is what remains of an ancient oak grove with specimens of holm oak (Quercus ilex) and downy oak (Quercus pubescens), mixed with carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and other reforestation species such as cedars (Cedrus sp.), Cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), pines (Pinus sp.) And maples (Acer sp.). On the top parts the euphorbias (Euphorbia rigida) and the southern rowan (Sorbus graeca) dominate. There are also numerous endemic species such as the Sicilian dandelion (Leontodon siculus), the sesleria dei macereti (Sesleria nitida), the Sicilian senecio (Senecio siculus), the yellow bivonea (Bivonaea lutea) and the chamomile of the Madonie (Anthemis cupaniana) .

The Gemini and Serra della Moneta mountains host reforestations with cedars, Maples (Acer campestre and Acer pseudoplatanus) and Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), while on Pizzo Rondine there are flaps of holm oak (Quercus ilex).

The reserve is home to numerous mammals including the fox (Vulpes vulpes), the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), the hare (Lepus europaeus), the weasel (Mustela nivalis), the porcupine (Hystrix cristata), the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and the dormouse mouse (Eliomys quercinus).

The avifauna represented by both sedentary and migratory species is very rich, among which we can mention the slide rule (Regulus regulus), the woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), the blackbird (Turdus merula), the creeper (Certhia brachydactyla), the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), the great tit (Parus major), the robin (Erithacus rubecola) and the little warbler (Phylloscopus collybita). There are also numerous species of diurnal birds of prey, such as the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the buzzard (Buteo buteo), and nocturnal, such as the scops owl (Otus scops), the owl (Athene noctua), the tawny owl (Strix aluco) and the barn owl (Tyto alba). Finally, the presence of the great spotted woodpecker (Picoides major) and the Sicilian rock partridge (Alectoris graeca whitakeri), two species at risk of extinction, should be noted.

Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia of Santo Stefano di Quisquina  is an eighteenth-century hermitage located at almost a thousand meters above sea level, immersed in a small oak forest where legend has it, the patron saint of Palermo took refuge before moving to Monte Pellegrino.

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