Milazzo, the ancient Mylai, the sea city, sits at the base of the neck of Capo Milazzo, a sickle-shaped promontory that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea, pointing like a finger towards the Aeolian Islands, only few miles offshore. Mythology holds that the area’s pastures provided grazing for the flocks of the Sun god while the islands were considered to be home to Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, as well as to pretty nymphs, dancing satyrs and sileni (spirits of wild nature later associated with Dyonisius). It was possibly here that Ulysses and his companions were shiprecked and encountered Polyphemus.
Milazzo origin is rooted in remotest times. Due to its highly strategic position, it was a site suitable for settlement since the Antiquity. It was the scene of many battles, a silent witness being its fortress seeing many rulers succeeding throughout the centuries.
The Borgo is the oldest part of the town. It consists of the medieval quarter stretching along the slope of the hill and the fortified citadel towering above it. Here an antiques fair is held on the first weekend of each month. Access to the Borgo is provided by the Via Impallomeni, bordered on both sides by the Spanish Military Barracks (1585-95). The Borgo accomodates many religious buildings. On the right, is the Santuario di S. Francesco di Paola, along a steep street of the same name. Founded in 1464, during the Saint’s stay in town, it was restructured in the course of the 18th century. Its attractive façade is graced with an effective interplay of curvilinear stairway, windows and gallery, crowned with an elegant pediment. Inside, the chapel of Jesus and Mary contains an unusual carved wooden altar decorated with gilt and mirrors, set with a charming Madonna and Child central panel by Domenico Gagini (1465).
Further along, up Salita S. Francesco, stands the Palazzo dei Vicerè, dating from the 16th century and altered in the 18th century with the construction of balconies with Baroque brackets. Beyond, on the other side of the streets, is the 1600’s Chiesa del SS. Salvatore Salvatore, with a fine façade designed by Giovan Battista Vaccarini. Further along the Via S. Domenico, on the right hand side, stands the Chiesa della Madonna del Rosario that served as the seat of the Inquisition Tribunal as far as 1782. Erected in the 16th century, it was extensively refurbished during the 18th century, its interior decorated with stuccoes and frescoes, the latter by Messina painter Domenico Giordano. To the left, the Salita Castello leads up to the Spanish city walls, which is the outermost and the most impressive of the city’s three sets.
Cittadella e Castello – The main fortification of the city was initiated by the Arabs in the 10th century on what had been the site of an ancient Greek acropolis that was repeatedly modified over the centuries. Beyond the Spanish walls, there is a large open space with, on the left, the Duomo Vecchio, dated 1608, a fine specimen of Sicilian Mannerism. The area is believed to have accomodated the houses of the city notables. Following the political and administrative offices moving to the lower side of the town, the area, as well as the Duomo, decreased in importance, the latter first reduced to a warehouse, then a prison and finally a a stable. The 1400’s Aragonese city walls are punctuated by five truncated-cone towers, two of which set closer together, flank a fine gateway set into a pointed arch bearing the coat of arms of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella – a shield divided into four sections (representing the monarchs under which Spain was unified), supported by the eagle of St. John. Within, stands Frederick II’s castle with later additions. The fine Gothic gateway is surmounted however by the Aragon coat of arms, added in the 1400’s. It was here in the great hall that representatives from the five campate (regions of Sicily) met to constitute the Sicilian Parliament of 1295. From the top of the castle extends a wonderful view over the Aeolian Islands (from left: Vulcano, Lipari, Panarea and, on particularly clear days, Stromboli) and the Tono Bay.
The Città Bassa
The development of the Città Bassa began in the 18th century, following people’s decision to abandon the old, upper town, in favour of a flatter, and nearer to sea, site. The new city grew around Piazza Caio Duilio, beside which a lovely fish market takes place every morning. The piazza is bordered by fine buildings: to the west is Palazzo Marchese Proto (once Garibaldi’s headquarter); to the east is the elegant façade of the Chiesa del Carmine, graced with a fine doorway (dated 1620), an architrave sculpted with garlands and volutes, and a niche containing the statue of the Madonna della Consolazione (dated 1632). Next to it stands the Convento del Carmine, now used as the Town Hall.
Continue along the old Strada Reale, now Via Umberto I, which is lined with occasional noble palazzi, unfortunately in a poor condition. On Cia Cumbo Borgia, running alongside Umberto I, stands the Duomo Nuovo (the new cathedral) erected in the 1930s, which preserves some prized paintings: on the main altar, figures of St. Peter and St. Paul (1531) frame the wooden statue of St. Stephen; these panels from a dismantled polyptych are by Antonello de Saliba, who also painted the Adoration of the Shepherds; the luminous Annunciation, painted with vibrant colours typical of the Venetian School, and the Saint Nicholas Enthroned with scenes from his life are both attributed to Antonio Giuffrè, a painter of the Antonelli school (late 15th century).
At the intersection with Via Cristoforo Colombo is the Villino Greco, in the Liberty style, with fine friezes of stylised flowers and organic decoration.
Sightseeing excursion – About 8km by car
Take the Lungomare Garibaldi along the seafront, overlooked by the elegant 1700’s façade of Palazzo Marchesi D’Amico; cross the waterfront district of Vaccarella (beginning with the piazza before the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore) and follow the panoramic road which runs along the eastern side of the Milazzo promontory to the end. Once at Capo di Milazzo, pause to admire the enchanting and beautifully colored panorama; intense greens merging with the burnt browns of the Mediterranean maquis extend over the rocky spur to blend with the dazzling blue of the sea beyond. From Piazza Sant’Antonio, a short flight of steps leads down to the Santuario di Sant’Antonio da Padova, overlooking the bay of the same name. Built within a grotto believed to have given refuge to the Saint during a storm in 1221, it became a place of pilgrimage. It was converted into a sanctuary in 1575 under the patronage of noble Andrea Guerrera and further endowed with altars, marble decorations and panels in shallow relief during the 18th century.
Return to the town centre following the road that runs the ridge of the little peninsula, past several elegant villas; fork right along the road to Monte Trino, the highest point on this strip of land, unfortunately spoilt by the erection of telecommunications transmitters. The name is all that remains of a temple possibly dedicated to the pagan triad of Apollo, Diana and Isis (or Osiris), dating from the Greek-Roman age. From the small piazza before the Chiesa della SS. Trinità, there are wonderful views over Milazzo, the citadel and the sickle-shaped promontory.
To the west, the coast opens out into a beautiful long strip of sand that runs to the Grotta di Polifemo, where Ulysses and the cylops meeting is supposed to have taken place. Opposite stretches the huge Baia del Tono (locally known as the ‘Ngonia, from the Greek word for bay); further on, although incorporated into a tourist complex, are the remains of a tuna fishery.
Santa Lucia del Mela – 13 km south. This small town is overshadowed by the silhouette of a castle built by the Arabs in the 9th century and later altered, during the Swabian and the Aragonese occupations. Little survives other than an imposing round tower fortifying the main gateway, part of a triangular bastion and sections of the defensive walls which shelter the Santuario della madonna della Neve (1673). Inside the building is a fine Madonna della Neve by Antonello Gagini dated 1529. A beautiful panorama extends from a terrace on the left side of the church.
Going down to the town, there is an elegant Renaissance portal gracing the Chiesa Madre di Santa Lucia (17th century), with, above, a fine lunette containing the relief of the Madonna attended by St. Agatha and St. Lucy, with the royal eagle, symbol of the regal patronage. Left of the church is Piazza del Duomo where stands the Palazzo Vescovile, marked by its heavily rusticated entrance. On Via Garibaldi stands the Chiesa dell’Annunziata, with a fine 1400’s campanile with three tiers of single openings surrounded with volcanic stone. Its portal, dated 1587, is ornamented with panels of delicate reliefs illustrating the Annunciation, surrounded with a garland of organic decoration.
Roccavaldina – 15km south-west. The main attraction of this little town is the extraordinary apothecary’s pharmacy which in itself is quite unique. The shopfront consists of a fine 1500’s Tuscan-style doorway flanked by a stone counter. Inside, arranged on the fabulous old wooden shelves, is a rare collection of maiolica drug jars (or albarello) datable from about 1580. What is particularly interesting about this collection is that all the pieces come from the famous Patanazzi family workshop in Urbino, having been commissioned by the Messina herbalist Cesare Candia (whose coat of arms, a dove and three stars on a turquoise background, can be seen on each and every one of the 238 jars assembled). The collection, acquired from a priest from Rocca, arrived in town in 1628 and comprises long-necked vases, small jugs with handle and spout, and albarelli (typical tall pharmacy jars) bearing scenes from the Bible, Classical mythology or the history of Ancient Rome. There are two magnificent display amphorae (note their wonderful handles) decorated in relief with characteristic grotesque and a narrative panel representing Julius Caesar receiving Senior Captivi (right) and the contest of Apollo versus Marsyas who, on losing, was tied to a tree and flayed alive.
Overlooking the same piazza is the 1500’s castle, a transitional building between a fortress and an aristocratic residence: the massive walls along the right side are tempered by the elegant balconies and their voluted brackets.
On the edge of the town, within the gardens of the former Capuchin Convent stands a gracious municipal villa, enjoying a panoramic view over the Milazzo promontory and the Fortezza di Venetico Superiore with its four round towers.
Rometta – 20km south-east. Rometta occupies a strategic position at some 600m height. It earned its place in history by couragously resisting the Arab invaders, being one of the last Sicilian towns to fall into their hands, in 965. Little remains of the city walls other than the two pointed gateways, Porta Milazzo and Porta Messina. The Chiesa Madre dedicated to the Madonna of the Assumption has, on its left side, a fine 1500’s doorway decorated with a frieze of organic and animal motifs. From the ruins of Frederick II’s castle there is a wonderful view of Capo di Milazzo and the Aeolian Islands.