Occupying a magnificent position on a plateau 948m above sea level, Enna is known as the belvedere of Sicily; it is also the highest provincial capital in Italy. As the road winds gradually upwards to the town, beautiful views extend over the valley to Calascibetta, the town perched on the concave slopes of the hill opposite. The cult of Demeter – Ceres to the Romans – earth mother and goddess of fertility, was especially important here, possibly because of the extensive cultivation of wheat that continues to characterise this area. Furthermore, according to the Greek myths, it was on the shore of Lake Pergusa, that is not far from here, that Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld; built at the highest point above Enna, in the place known as the belvedere, there used to be a temple dedicated to Demeter.
With plenty of churches, Enna has much to offer the visitor. The axis of the town is charted by the Via Roma which starts near the Castello di Lombardia and, after a sharp turn, leads down to the Torre di federico (both are described above). Most of the monuments and points of interest are to be found along this main thoroughfare.
One peculiarity of the residents of Enna is that they are divided into confraternities, each having its “spiritual contrada or quarter”. Every confraternity has its own hierarchy of officers, church, and traditional costume, all of which are fiercely and proudly defended by its adherents. The most important popular event is the Processione della Settimana Santa, a week-long festival beginning on Palm Sunday when the Collegio dei rettori (a council of governors) processes to the Duomo to begin celebrations in adoration of the Holy Eucharist. In turn, delegations from each confraternity leave their own churches and converge on the cathedral. At noon, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, the church bells are removed and the troccola, a special mechanical instrument made of wood, is sounded. The real and proper procession takes place on the evening of Good Friday; hundreds of representatives from the various confraternities, hooded and cloaked in mantles of different colour, process through the streets bearing first the Dead Christ, followed by Our Lady of Sorrows, on their shoulders. On Easter Sunday, the two statues are carried back to their respective churches.
Duomo – Although largely rebuilt in the Baroque style in the 16th and 17th centuries, the cathedral has retained its Gothic apses (best admired inside, especially in the left apse). The cathedral façade, preceded by a dramatic staircase, rises above a portico to a bell-tower through the three Classical orders: Doric (the portico has an entablature with metopes and triglyphs, as found in the temples of Antiquity), Ionic and Corinthian. The 16th century south door, named after San Martino, has a marble relief panel depicting St. Martin and the Pauper: this balances the Porta Santa, adjacent, which is Gothic. The interior is divided into nave and aisles by columns of black basalt, each with finely sculpted bases and capitals (note the reliefs incorporating allegorical creatures, putti, serpents and two-headed gargoyles on the second column on the right and the corresponding column on the left, which are considered to be by Giandomenico Gagini). The 16th century woodwork is especially fine. The coffered ceiling is finely inlaid, and graced at the end of each beam by unusual winged figures. At the end of the aisles, the organ loft and choir gallery, although in far from pristine condition, have elegant inlaid and painted wooden balustrading, and niches containing choirstalls are further decorated with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Above the altar hangs a fine 15th century Christ on the Cross with, on the reverse, a painting of the Resurrection: this is called the Christ of the Three Faces because Christ’s expression appears to alter depending on the angle from where the painting is contemplated.
Museo Alessi – Entrance at the back of the Duomo. In 1862, the museum was created to house the collections of Canon Alessi comprising 17th and 18th century sacred vestments embroidered with gold thread and coral (in the basement), and a selection of paintings (on the upper floor), notably a gentle Madonna and Child by an unknown 15th century Flemish painter, a 16th century Pietà with the symbols of the Passion, and two panels with John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist from a 16th century polyptych attributed to Panormita. Displayed on the first floor are a canvas by Giuseppe Salerno (known locally as the Lame Man of Gangi) depicting a Madonna delle Grazie, together with the glorious treasures from the Chiesa madre: sacred relics, a fabulous Madonna’s crown exquisitely enamelled and engraved with narrative scenes relating the life of Christ (17th century), a magnificent 17th century pelican jewel – symbol of the Sacrifice of the Resurrection for Eternal Life, and the monumental processional monstrance engraved with the graceful spires of a Gothic cathedral, a work of supreme quality attibuted to Paolo Gili (1536-38). On the second floor is exhibited a collection of Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins; an assortment of archaeological finds ranging from prehistoric times to the Late Middle Ages; not forgetting a series of interesting Egyptian funerary figurines found among grave goods recovered in Sicily, having been placed in tombs, it is thought, much in the way they were by the ancient Egyptian: these so-called “ushebti” figurines (literally translating as “those who answer the call”) were so interred so as to execute the earthly labours of the deceased.
Museo Archeologico – On display are the archaeological finds, mainly in terracotta, recovered from the necropolis at Calascibetta, Capodarso, Pergusa, Cozzo Matrice and Rossomanno.
San Michele Arcangelo – Erected in 1658, probably on the site of an old mosque, the church of the Archangel Michael has a square façade and is built on an elliptical plan with radiating side chapels. Follow via Polizzi out of the square and turn right into Via del Salvatore to the church dedicated to the Holy Saviour (San Salvatore), an old Basilian church remodelled in the 16th century, and recently restored.
S. Santa Chiara – Piazza Colajanni. The church of St. Clare, now a memorial to fallen soldiers, has a single nave. The tiled floor is set with two panels: The Thriumph of Christianity over Islam and the Advent of Steam Navigation. The church overlooks Piazza Colajanni, which is bordered by fine buildings, including Palazzo Pollicarini.
Campanile di S. Giovanni Battista – In a side-street off Piazza Coppola. The elegant bell-tower of John the Baptist, articulated by large ogive arches at ground level, a decorative three-light Gothic window above and round-headed arches in the upper storey, is all that remains of the church of the same name. Furher along Via Roma is San Giuseppe, with its lovely (though rather dilapidated) Baroque façade, complete with the bell-tower.
San Giovanni – Originally built in the Romanesque style, the Church of St. John has been remodelled, decorated with stucco and completely restored in 1967. Inside there is an unusual font: the base is Roman, the central section is a Byzantine capital made of red marble, the carved basin is medieval (14th century).
San Marco – This church, dating from the 17th century, was erected on the site of an old synagogue, in what was Enna’s Jewish quarter. Inside, the spacious hall church is decorated with fine stuccoes of cherubs, garlands of flowers, fruit and shells by Gabriele de Blanco da Licodia (1705). It is also worth noting the inlaid wooden women’s gallery, reserved for nuns attending functions. Almost directly opposite the belvedere in Piazza Francesco Crispi, extends a fabulous view of Calascibetta, Lake Nicoletti and the Lombardy Castle on the right. The fountain ornamenting the garden is graced with a bronze copy of Bernini’s Rape of Persephone.
Further along is a monumental church dedicated to Saint Francis. Right on the bend of the road is another, San Cataldo, with a square façade. Via Roma continues to Piazza neglia, onto which faces the Chiesa delle Anime Sante (All Souls) – with a fine Baroque limestone doorway – and the 1400’s San Tomaso, with its gallery and campanile pierced by single openings, intended and used (in the 11th century) as a watchtower.
Quartiere Fundrisi – About half way along Via Mercato. The Fundrisi Quarter was established on the southwestern end of the Enna plateau when, in 1396, King Martin of Aragon quelled the revolt on the island and razed several of the small towns in the vicinity of Castrogiovanni to the ground. The inhabitants of the town called Fundrò were transferred here and, over the centuries, constituted a separate community independent of the main town. A walk through the narrow streets of this part of town, all up and down, among the typical single-storey houses with their distinctive galleries (especially along Via San Bartolomeo) is particularly recommended. From here or Piazzetta San Bartolomeo, which takes its name from the church that presides over the scene, extend various prospects across the north-eastern part of the town. A short way below the piazza, sits Porta Janniscuru, the only gate to survive of the five that once served Enna, and, adjacent to this, the Grotta della Guardiola (literally translating as the Cave of the Guardroom), which is thought to have been the site of a cult long before the foundation of Enna. Continuing on an axis with Via Mercato, Via Spirito Santo leads to the church (under restoration) which gives it its name, enjoying a splendid position, perched on a rocky spur over a vertical drop.
Castello di Lombardia – At the top of Via Roma. Situated uppermost on the plateau, the castle looks out over the town and the valley, including the Rocca di Cerere (Fortress of Ceres), where, it is thought, a temple dedicated to the fertility goddess was built.
This site has been fortified since earliest times because of its strategic position. Under the Norman, the castle was reinforced. It was made habitable by Frederick II of Aragon, who added a number of rooms that rendered it suitable for court life. Indeed he intended it as his summer residence; it was here that he was crowned King of Trinacria in 1324, and convocated the Sicilian Parliament. The name of the castle dates from this same period, linked to the presence of a garrison of Lombard soldiers posted there to defend it. The ground-plan of the castle, which is roughly pentagonal, hugs the tortuous lie of the land. Of the original 20 towers, only six have survived (some only in part). The most interesting and complete is the one called La Pisana or Torre delle Aquile (The Pisan Tower or Tower of the Eagles), topped by Guelph crenellations. From the top, a breathtaking view stretches over the best part of the Sicilian mountain ranges, Mount Etna and Calascibetta.
Enclosed within the walls are three courtyards: the one named after St. Nicholas used as an open-air theatre; the one named after Mary Magdalen was where the supplies were kept during times of siege; the Courtyard of St. Martin, at the heart of the royal apartments, gives access to the Pisan Tower. Just outside the castle precincts, in the direction of the Fortress of Ceres, stands the statue of Euno, a memorial to the slave who began the Slave War .
Rocca di Cerere – From the top of the hill, where the Fortress of Ceres – a temple dedicated to the fertility goddess – once stood, extends an a dramatic view including Calascibetta opposite, and Enna itself.
Torre di Federico – At the opposite end of Via Roma from the castle. At one time, Enna might have been called the city of towers. Their proliferation is explained by the defensive and strategic role of the town. Many have disappeared, many have been incorporated into churches as bell-towers, only a few survive as free-standing towers today. A case in point is the octagonal tower named after Frederick II of Swabia, which occupies pride of place in a small public park.
FURTHER AFIELD ...
Santuario del SS. Crocifisso di Papardura Crocifisso di Papardura – Take Via Libertà after the cross-roads with Viale Diaz; turn right down a minor road marked with the Stations of the Cross.
The shrine of the Holy Crucifix of Papardura incorporates the cave where in 1659, an image of the Crucifix was found painted on a stone slab. This has been attributed as the work of Basilian monks and can now be seen on the high altar. Inside, the fine stuccoes initiated in 1696 by Giuseppe and Giacomo Serpotta, were completed in 1699 by another artist, who also executed the statues of the Apostles. Note also the high altar silver frontage made by a craftsman from Messina in the 17th century; the wooden coffered ceiling dates from the end of the past century; the side altar frontages are of tooled, painted leather.
AMONG THE HILLS NORTH OF ENNA (EREI MOUNTAINS)
123km round trip – allow 1 full day
Leave Enna and follow directions for Calascibetta.
Calascibetta – Benefiting from a glorious setting which consists of a natural amphitheatre nestling in a rocky hollow on the side of a hill, Calascibetta was probably founded during the Arab occupation.
The Mother Church erected in the 14th century was completely rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1600s. Remains of the former structure lie under the building, only visible below the left nave. Its three naves are divided by stone columns which rise from bases bearing carvings of monstruous figures to support the arcades of pointed arches. To the left is a fine 1500’s baptismal font.
A Norman tower of the 11th century standing beside the ruined Chiesa di S. Pietro, is ornamented with a shallow relief in stone. From a square, on the left, extends a beautiful view on Enna, to the right (its castle and panoramic balcony being clearly visible) and the Pergusa Lake below.
Leaving the village in the direction of Villapriolo you can see the rock-cut tombs of the necropolis of Realmese dating from the 4th century BC.
Return to the crossroad and take the left turning (SS 121) for Leonforte. The road winds its way inland across the hills around Enna beyond Regalbuto, offering wonderful views over the countryside, particularly on the section between Nissoria and the turning for Centuripe, in the valley of the Salso River and of the Pozzillo Lake.
Leonforte – It is a tiny village perched on a hump at some 600m a.s.l. enjoying a superb position. The monumental slhouette of Palazzo Branciforte is discernible from a distance, a powerful reminder of the fact that the town was founded in the 17th century by Nicola Placido Branciforte. The building, dated 1611, runs the whole length of one side of the enormous piazza of the same name. Of particular interest is the lovely fountain of Granfonte built by the Branciforte family in 1651; made of gold-colored stone it comprises 24 spouts, a series of small pointed arches crowned with a pediment bearing the family coat of arms.
Turn back down the same road, and at the fork, turn left for Assoro.
Assoro – At a height of 850m, the town is grouped around the little Piazza Umberto I, attractively paved, with a fountain in the centre and a lovely belvedere-terrace. Beyond the elegant archway linking Palazzo Valguarnera to the town’s main church, is another little square with viewing terrace, which opens out before the Chiesa Madre, or Basilica di San Leone (now closed for restoration). The church, founded in 1186, has been subjected to major alterations: first in the late 1300’s and again in the 1700’s. It consists of a nave and aisles and has a doorway on the south side. The north porch was adapted in 1693 so as to accomodate the Cappella dell’Oratorio del Purgatorio and given an elegant Baroque doorway. The interior enclosed by a fine ribbed-vault, is particularly attractive on account of its compactness and profuse gilded Baroque stucco decoration. The spiral columns were in fact embellished with their climbing plant ornament in the 18th century, at the same time as when the pelican (right) and the phoenix (left) were added above the apses – these emblems allude to the sacrifice of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ; the first represents the bird which, according to myth, plucked flesh from its own breast to feed its young while the second fabulous creature having burnt itself to ashes on altar fire, re-emerged rejuvenated.
The main body of the church has a fine wooden tie beam ceiling, painted and ornamented with arabesques (1490); the attractive wrought-iron chapel gates (15th century) are also worthy of note.
Beyond the town, follow the road past San Giorgio which intersects the SS 121 again at Nissoria. Turn right towards Agira.
Agira – Spread over the slopes of Monte Teja, at a height of 650m, the town is overshadowed by the silhouette of the castle, which towers above it. Built under Swabian rule, this defensive outpost appears to have played an active role in various struggles between the Angevines and the Aragonese, and later between the Aragonese and the Chiaramonte. From the ruins, there is a beautiful view over the Pozzillo Lake.
Town and monastery – The story of Agira, home of the ancient historian Diodorus Siculus (90-20 BC), echoes the pattern in fortune of the Basilian monastery of San FIlippo. It came to particular prominence when, during the Norman occupation, the resident community was joined by a group of monks from Jerusalem who were forced into exile by the wrath of Saladin. The monastery also prospered on account of the enormous income generated by its immense holdings throughout Europe. In 1537, Charles V conceded the title of “città demaniale” upon Agira, providing it with a “royal” status complete with privileges that included the right to administrate its own civil and penal justice system. The town’s decline began in 1625 when King Philip IV of Spain, in a desperate effort to boost the dwindling finances of the monarchy, decided to sell the town to Genoese merchants; faced with the threat of losing their freedom, the citizens of Agira offered to raise the enormous sum required themselves.
Chiesa Madre – The former monastic Church of San Filippo is the town’s most important religious bulding. It dates in its present form from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s (the front was completely rebuilt in 1928). Inside, it is decorated with gilded stuccowork; among the works of art is a dramatic wooden Crucifix by Fra’ Umile da Petralia (over the high altar), wooden choirstalls depicting scenes from the life of St. Philip by Nicola Bagnasco (1818-1822), three 1400’s polyptych panels representing the Madonna in Majesty with Saints, as well as paintings by Olivio Sozzi and Giuseppe Velasquez.
Regalbuto – Coming from Agira, the visitor is welcomed by the fine Baroque pink-stone façade of Santa Maria La Croce (1744), that is graced with columns crowned by an elegant pediment. Turning left into Via Ingrassia, immediately on the left-hand side is the Jesuit school and, just beyond it, the Liberty style Palazzo Compagnini. A little further, the town’s main square provides a board open space before the Chiesa Madre (1760), from which to survey the monumental Baroque frontage of the church dedicated to St. Basil assembled from a miscellany of features, articulated by pilasters.
From the SS 121, a narrow road winds its twisted way to Centuripe.
Centuripe - The little town which today seems rather off the beaten track, was at one time in the dark and distant past a strategic outpost on the main link-line between the plain of Catania and the mountains inland. This explains why, particularly in the Roman age, Centuripe enjoyed a great economic prosperity (in 70 BC Cicero described it as one of the most prosperous town in Sicily). Many of the town’s attractive monuments date back to that time. The Tempio degli Augustali, dating from between the 1st – 2nd century AD is a rectangular building raised above a colonnaded street onto which it faced (alongside the new archaeological museum). The two monumental tombs with towers are known as “la Dogana” (with only the upper floor visible) and the “castle of Conradin”. Down a stone-cobbled side street on the far north-western side of the town, in the contrada of Bagni, sit the ruins of what must once have been a spectacular nymphaeum hanging above the ravine of the river, with fountains designed to delight visitors approaching the town. A brick wall containing five niches, the remains of a cistern in which water was collected and parts of the aqueduct are still visible.
Finally, the vast majority of artefacts recovered from the 8th century BC to the Middle Ages and destined to be displayed in the modern building that will accomodate the Museo Archeologico, are, for the time being, “in storage” somewhere in the Town Hall, a limited selction is however open to the public. Of particular interest are the statues from the Tempio degli Augustali representing various emperors and members of their families; a fine head of Emperor Hadrian which, given its size, must have belonged to a statue of at least 4m; two splendid funerary urns belonging to the Scriboni family (almost certainly imported from Rome); locally produced pottery (3rd –1st century BC) and an impressive collection of theatrical masks.
To return to Enna from Centuripe, continue in the direction of Catenanuova and take the motorway.
NATURAL HISTORY, ARCHAEOLOGY AND SULPHUROUS DEPOSITS
127km round trip – allow 1 full day. Leave Enna as indicated on the plan and follow directions for Calascibetta.
Lago di Pergusa – The lake lies at the foot of Enna. Its shores, alas now encircled by a motor-racing track, provided the backdrop for a mythical story; the abduction of Persephone by Hades. Legend describes how the daughter of Demeter and Zeus was once playing here with her companions the ocean nymphs, when her eye was caught by a particularly beautiful narcissus. As she reached out to pick it, the earth gave way forming a great abyss from which, with due majesty, Hades and his immortal horses emerged. The god forced her to mount his golden chariot before disappearing with her, near Syracuse, by the Cyane Fountain, down into the Underworld. Her distraught mother hearing her daughter’s piercing cries, set about searching for her. After wandering relentlessly, she finally succeeded in discoverying where the girl had been taken and arranged to see her. Before allowing his bride to see Demeter, Hades (or Pluto, as he is also known) made her eat some pomegranate seeds, thus binding her to him for the winter months.
At the next junction, turn left, signposted for Valguarnera.
Parco minerario Floristella Grottacalda – Flagged along the roadside. The park consists of some 400ha, including 200ha that are privately owned (comprising the Grottacalda Mineral Park, and its own agriturismo accommodation centre) and 200ha belonging to the state (Floristella). The sulphur mines at Floristella were operational until 1984. The park’s main attraction, which may not immediately be evident, lies in the way it documents an important area of activity that affected the lives and destinies of large numbers of Sicilians, particularly of those living in the Provinces of Enna and Caltanissetta.
A dirt track leads to a large open area and the palazzina Pennisi, a small building erected by the barons of Floristella, who were the long-standing owners of the mine since workings began around 1750. Behind the building, all the aspects of the site and industrial archaeology can be seen. On the left stands Hoisting Shaft No 1 (bricks and mortar) and a ventilation shaft (metal), which were in use until 1972. The small white hillocks are the so-called “calcheroni”, round pits lined with inert material in which, using spontaneous combustion, the sulphur was separated from its slag of impurities. After 1860, the calcheroni were replaced by domed Gill furnaces in groups of two, three or four, connected by small channels. This made it possible to use the heat generated from the sulphur dioxide fumes produced by the combustion in the furnaces, as a catalyst in breaking down the sulphur material in the next furnace. Opposite the calcheroni is a sort of gallery with arcades and narrow slits, from which the molten sulphur would flow down to the collection point. There it was allowed to solidify in wooden trapezoidal moulds so as to produce 50-60kg blocks. On the far right is the oldest section of the mine, where the shaft-steps used by miners and carusi – the young boys employed to carry the ore up to the surface in wooden structures on their backs – can still be seen.
Valguarnera – The small town, associated until only a few years ago with sulphur mining, has a 17th century church with an overbearing Baroque front made of limestone. Return in the direction of Piazza Armerina. The road runs through a beautiful valley with gently sloping hills, covered, in springtime, with a veil of emerald green.
Barrafranca – At one time called Convicino (its current name dates from the 16th century), this simply consists of a collection of ochre-colored houses clustered on the gentle slopes of a hill. The entrance of the town is along Via Vittorio Emanuele which is flanked on either side by elegant town houses, including Palazzo Satariano and Palazzo Mattina. The Chiesa Madre dating back to the 18th century has a bare brick façade and a bell-tower crowned with a small dome covered with polychrome tiles. In Piazza Messina stands the Benedictine Monastery, largely ruined; just beyond it stand a large, eye-catching 1700’s building which once accomodated small shops (i putieddi) and the Chiesa della Maria Santissima della Stella, marked by its tall campanile topped with a majolica spire. Return to the town’s main street, Corso Garibaldi, which leads into Piazza dell’Itria, taking pride of place here is the 16th century church of the same name with its front and bell-tower of brick.
From here it is possible to continue on towards Pietraperzia or undertake a detour (13km) via Mazzarino.
Mazzarino – This medieval hamlet largely developed as a result of the Branciforte family. The main features are collected along the main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Alongside the Chiesa Madre is Palazzo Branciforti (17th century) and the contemporary Carmelite church. Just outside the little town, perched up on top of a small hill lie the ruins of the castle with its rather solid impenetrable round keep. No doubt the castle was built on the site of a Norman-Byzanine fortress, was enlarged and reinforced with fortifications during the Norman occupation in the course of the 14th century before being converted into a major residence for its aristocratic owners towards the close of the 15th century.
Return to SS 191 in the direction of Barrafranca and continue to Pietraperzia.
Pietraperzia – Here, too, the dominant colour of the stone is a yellow-ochre. The ruins of the Norman castle overlook the valley of the River Salso. On entering the town, in Piazza Matteotti, is the 1500’s Chiesa del Rosario and, opposite, the fine neo-Gothic Palazzo Tortorici. The 1800’s Chiesa Madre has a square façade crowned with a squat pediment. Inside, hanging above the main altar is the lovely Madonna and Child painted by Filippo Paladini. The Palazzo del Governatore dating from the 17th century is also interesting with its elegant square balcony ornamented with brackets provided with grotesque figures.
Enna roots date back to prehistoric times. Its elevated position, so easily defensible, made it especially desirable. It was probably inhabited by the Sicans, who exploited the strategic potential of the site to defend themselves from the threat of Sikel tribes advances. There subsequently developed a Greek, and then later, a Roman town; in 135 BC it was here that the First Slave War erupted, prompted by the Syrian slave Euno, before spreading across the island and lasting for seven long years. After being re-conquered by the Romans, it fell in the 6th century only to be absorbed into the Byzantine dominion (as did the rest of Sicily), when it was quick to re-assume its defensive role pending the threat of siege by the Arabs. It capitulated only in the 9th century.
The name Henna, probably of Greek origin (from en-naien, to live inside) was retained by the Romans who prefixed it with the Latin work for fortress Castrum Hennae; with the advent of the Arabs, the name was transformed into Kasrlànna (Qasr Yànnah o Qasr Yani), which was eventually vulgarised to Castrogiovanni. Enter the Normans, who made it the political and cultural stronghold of their kingdom, who were followed by the Swabians, the Angevins and the Aragonese. It was here that Frederick II took the title of King of Trinacria (the ancient name for Sicily) in 1314, and convocated parliament in 1324. Subsequently, the town followed the vicissitudes of the rest of the island, rebelling against the Bourbons and supporting Garibaldi. In 1927, the ancient name of Enna was restored under Mussolini.