MADONIE (Province of Palermo) and NEBRODI (Province of Messina)
MADONIE e NEBRODI
The 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.
The 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.
The 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
larger 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 brightly colored.
Parco 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.
Parco 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
The 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.
IN THE HEART OF THE MADONIE
62km round trip departing from Cefalù – allow 1 full day.
Cefalù – See CEFALU’
Take 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.
Castelbuono - See Castelbuono
The panoramic road continues towards Geraci Siculo
Geraci 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.
The 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.
The road Geraci-Petralia also offers beautiful mountainous views, notably of Enna plateau and Etna volcano.
Petralia 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
to 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.
The 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 Popolo
At 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Inside, 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.
The 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.
Petralia 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 line.
The 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.
Past 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.
Excursion 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.
Proceed to Polizzi Generosa.
Polizzi 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.
The 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.
Down 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)
Further 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.
The 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.
Past 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.
Caltavuturo – 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.
From Caltavuturo turn down the SS 120 in the direction of Cerda; at the fork, turn left towards Sclafani Bagni.
Sclafani 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.
Just 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.
Return to the SS 643 and follow it to Collesano.
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 the
fine 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.
From Collesano, return to the coast signposted for Cefalù.
BETWEEN THE NEBRODI AND THE MADONIE
177km round trip starting from Santo Stefano di Camasta – allow 1 full day.
Santo Stefano di Camastra – See SANTO STEFANO DI CAMASTRA
Follow signs for Mistretta. At the junction with the Troina/Nicosia road, turn right to Nicosia.
Nicosia – see NICOSIA
A few kilometres further on, the road reaches Sperlinga, a little town overlooked by its castle, backed up against a vertical cliff-face.
Sperlinga – 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.
The 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.
Gangi – See GANGI
From 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.
Alternatively, if proceeding with the 2nd itinerary, make your way back to the fork and turn left towards San Mauro Castelverde.
San 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 Antonello Gagini.
From 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).
Pollina – 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.
Return 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.
Tusa and Halaesa – See HALAESA
Return 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 coastal road.