Palazzolo, which derives from the ancient town of Akrai (founded in 664 BC), occupies a plateau dominating the gorges of the upper valley of the River Anapo, at the heart of the Iblean mountains.
ANCIENT TOWN OF AKRAI – Area lying southwest of the town
At the top of the hill, where the acropolis used to lie, all that is visible of the small Greek theatre built of white stone is the floor of the orchestra and this actually dates from Roman times. To the right lay the bouleuterion, a stepped meeting-area, connected to the theatre by a narrow passage leading straight into the cavea. Near the gate that seals off the excavation area on this side, may be seen a section of the old plateia (main road running from east to west) paved with large slabs of lava stone.
Two former Greek quarries next to the theatre were converted by the Christians for use as catacombs and troglodyte dwellings. Near the entrance to the Intagliatella, the narrower of the two quarries, on the right, there is a low relief of a heroic figure participating in a banquet (right) and offering up a sacrifice (left).
Excavation of the area along the fence has uncovered vestiges of a residential quarter and a circular building, probably a temple built in Roman times. The track that skirts around the edge of the archeological site provides a lovely view over the surrounding valley, reinforcing the strategic positioning of the ancient city, founded as a defensive outpost of Syracuse.
I Santoni – 1km from the archeological site. Tucked away in a small valley nearby, twelve rock-hewn figures dating from the 3C BC testify to the existence in Sicily of a cult of oriental origin. The main sculpture represents goddess Cybele (Demeter), seated between two lions or standing, surrounded by smaller figures. No. II, one of the best-preserved, personifies the Dioscuri – Castor and Pollux on horseback on either side. No. VIII shows the goddess seated.
MODERN CITY OF PALAZZOLO ACREIDE
Palazzolo was largely rebuilt in the 18th century and so has many Baroque buildings lining its main thoroughfares: Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Carlo Alberto which intersect at Piazza del Popolo. The square is dominated by the majestic façade of San Sebastiano raised up a flight of steps. At the western end of the corso stands the Chiesa dell'immacolata with its convex frontage, in which is preserved a most delicate Madonna and Child by Francesco Laurana.
Via Carlo Alberto passes between a series of palazzi with wonderful Baroque details. One of the streets off to the right (Via Machiavelli) leads to the Casa-Museo dell'etologo Antonio Uccello – a palazzo once owned by Baron Ferla and later turned into a house-museum by another owner, the
ethnologist Antonio Uccello. On the ground floor is displayed an oil-press (third room) and the Casa del Massaro: the house of the baron's most trusted man, furnished with everyday objects.
At the end of the street, turn right into Piazza Umberto I where the Chiesa di San Paolo is situated. The striking frontage, possibly designed by Vincenzo Sinatra (an architect who worked mainly at Noto) rises through three tiers of rounded arches and columns capped with Corinthian capitals. The top storey comprises the bell-tower.
Follow Via dell'Annunziata out of the piazza to the church of the same name; its façade, which remains incomplete, has an interesting doorway flanked with spiral columns. Return back along Via dell'Annunziata and turn left down Via Garibaldi to take a look at Palazzo Iudica (at no. 123-131) and its amazingly long balcony supported by brackets carved with monsters, fantastical figures, masks and other such elements so typical of the Baroque period.