MILITELLO VAL DI CATANIA
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Militello Val di Catania counts some 10,000 inhabitants and owed much of its past prosperity to Joan of Austria (1573-1630) – Charles V’s grand-daughter and wife to Francesco Branciforte – a woman with a strong predilection for sophisticated culture and taste for beautiful things. Thanks to her, Militello became an aristocratic court entering its heyday. The streets of the old town are lined by beautiful secular and religious buildings.
The Benedictine Monastery – in Piazza del Municipio. It is a stately building, erected between 1614 and 1641, now used as Town Hall. It has a highly decorative façade. Next to it is a church whose façade is ornamented with rusticated window surrounds, what is a common feature of Militello’s Baroque. Inside are precious works, such as the Last Communion of St. Benedict, a painting by Sebastiano Conca (third chapel on the right) and a fine set of carved wooden choirstalls depicting the Mysteries and scenes from the life of St. Benedict (1734). Following via Umberto, past the 1700’s Palazzo Reforgiato, you reach piazza Vittorio Emanuele.
Museo S. Nicolò - Housed within the undercrofts of the Mother Church, it was erected in 1721. The collection is fabulously arranged, what enhances the beauty of the items and heightens their impact. The display comprises a fine collection of 1600’s and 1700’s religious vestments, prized treasures from the town’s various other churches – notably a silver plate from Santa Maria alla Catena, as well as the jewellery, votive and liturgical objects of Sant’Agata. The last rooms are devoted to pictures. Among these are an altarpiece Annunciation by Francesco Franzetto (1555), the Attack on San Carlo Borromeo by the Tuscan Filippo Paladini (1612), and a gentle treatment of the Immacolata by Vaccaro.
S. Santa Maria alla Catena – The oratory was rebuilt in 1652. Its fine interior is encrusted with lovely stucco works by artists from Acireale. In the upper tier are scenes from the Joyful Mysteries, while the lower harbours various Sicilian saints surrounded by cherubs, festoons and cornucopias. The overall effect is completed by an elegant coffered wooden ceiling dated 1661.
Turn left into via Umberto. Past the fine concave façade of the Chiesa del Santissimo Sacramento al Circolo, lies Piazza Maria SS. della Stella.
Maria SS. della Stella – Built between 1722 and 1741, it features a fine doorway and spiral columns. Inside it preserves a magnificent glazed terracotta Nativity altarpiece (1847) by the early Renaissance Florentine master Andrea della Robbia. The Treasury contains a fine late-1400’s altarpiece with scenes from the life of St. Peter, by the Maestro della Croce of Piazza Armerina, and the Portrait of Pietro Speciale, a shallow relief by Francesco Laurana.
On the same side of the square, stands Palazzo Majorana, one of the few remaining buildings of the Renaissance age. Note its heavily rusticated corner stones bearing carved lions. At the far end of the building turn left, than immediately right for Santa Maria la Vetere.
Chiesa di S. Maria La Vetere – Largely collapsed following the earthquake of 1693, it only conserved the wall of the right aisle. Above the front entrance with its 16th century porch, sits a lunette enclosing shallow reliefs.
Return back the way you have come and turn left so as to skirt around the ruins of the Branciforti castle (retaining a round tower and sections of walls), pass through the town gate – Porta della Terra – and reach the piazza beyond. At the centre of what was the castle courtyard sits a fountain called Fontana della Ninfa Zizza, built in 1607 to commemorate the opening of the first city aqueduct, sponsored by Branciforte. Pass back through the Gate and turn immediately left for the Chiesa dei Santissimi Angeli Custodi, with a wonderful majolica floor, laid with tiles of Caltagirione (1785).
THE CITY SURROUNDINGS
Mineo – 17km to the west. It is the hometown of writer Luigi Capuana. It has remotest origins and was identified as the ancient Mene, founded by King Ducetius. Past the town’s main gateway, Porta Adinolfo (18th century), beside the Jesuit College, you reach the main square dominated by the Chiesa del Collegio. Via Umberto I leads to piazza Agrippina where rises the 1400’s church of the same name. At the top of the town, next to the Chiesa di Santa Maria, lie the ruins of a castle, where is a beautiful view over the valley.
Scordia – Located 10km to the East. It is laid out on a rectilinear plan, around the central Palazzo of the Brancifortes, who were its lords in the 17th century. The main square Piazza Umberto is surrounded by noble palazzi and the Church of San Rocco, with a lofty front elevation. The church of Maria Maggiore, dating back to the 18th century, has an interesting façade complete with campanile.
From Scordia, it is possible to drive to Palagonia without a detour via Militello Val di Catania. The SS 5385 stretches along a nice route, with a pleasant landscape characterized by large citrus groves, that made famous the area, and rocky hills to the South.
Palagonia – 15km North-East, it is believed to have been an important political and religious town at the time of the Sikels. According to local legend, it was from the bubbling sulphurous waters of the Laghetto di Naftia that their gods, the Palici, were born and it is to them that they dedicated the temple built on the edge of the lake. The small lake is barely visible today, since masked by its natural gas that is industrially exploited.
Eremo di Santa Febronia. Follow the SS 5385 from Palagonia towards Catania; take the right fork signposted for Contrada Croce. 4.5km further on, as the road curves to the right, look out for a track on the left barricaded by a metal barrier. The hermitage is a 15min walk up the track. This evocative place is named after Santa Febronia, known locally as “a Santuzza”, her relics brought here each year in a great procession from nearby Palagonia. The small retreat, carved out of the rock, is of Byzantine origin. Inside, the apse contains a fine, albeit damaged, fresco of Christ flanked by the Virgin and an angel.
And if, after exploring the town ...
... and hunger sets in – The oil-mill trattoria U’ Trappitu, at 125 Via Principe Branciforti conserves its very own olive-press, dated 1927. Carefully converted, the building retains its original character, with a furniture that produces an attractive atmosphere.
...or you have a sweet tooth – The city’s sweet specialties are the cassatelline, made with ground almonds, chocolate and cinnamon; the mastrazzuoli, Christmas titbits made with almonds, cinnamon and vermouth; the mostarda, concocted from semolina or wine must, boiled with prickly-pear extract (available around the second or third Sunday in October, for the Mostarda festival).