Set on a hill overlooking its very own bay, Carini claims to have legendarary origins. Maybe founded by Daedalus who called it Hyccara, in memory of his son Icarus, it was destroyed by the Athenians in 415 BC, then it was rebuilt by the Phoenicians and, under Romans, became a stipendiary town of the Empire. In the Feudal age, it was assimilated into the feudal holdings of the powerful Chiaramonte, then passing to the Moncada, in the 15th century, and, finally, to the La Grua-Talamanca who ruled over until nowadays.
Up along a road marked by broad bends, you reach a nice belvedere with enchanting views over the coast; here begins Corso Umberto I, Carini’s main street. Further along, a horse-shoe shaped flight of shallow steps makes its way up past the town’s medieval water fountain, to a 1100’s archway and beyond to the old part of the town, threaded by narrow streets, and the castle.
Castello – The town’s castle was the setting of a tragic episode involving the Baronessa di Carini, killed by his father in 1563 for having a secret affair while already betrothed to another man. Built as a fortress in the Norman epoch, it was extensively remodelled, mainly by the La Grua-Talamanca family. On the ground floor is the Salone delle Derrate (Victuals Hall), later converted into a library, with two fine 1400’s stone arches supported by a solid pilaster. On the upper floor, the Salone delle Feste has a fine 1400’s coffered wooden ceiling with typical Catalan-Gothic decorations. The square tower beyond is graced by a two-light window and topped by decorated corbels.
Return to Corso Umberto I. In front of the fountain is the Chiesa di San Vincenzo, with a wrought-irongrille (segregating the area reserved for the nuns from the adjacent convent) and decorated with white and gold neo-Classical stucco festoons, cherubs and grotesques. Corso Umberto I opens out into Piazza del Duomo, with, on the right, the Chiesa di S. Vito, and, left, the Chiesa Madre.
Chiesa Madre – Extensively altered in the 18th century, it preserves on its right side a loggia and a series of majolica panels depicting The Crucifixion, the Assumption, St. Rosalie and St. Vitus (1715). Inside, is a precios canvas depicting The Adoration of the Magi, by Alessando Allori (1578), who was an eminent Tuscan painter come to prominence at the Medici court; in the chapel dedicated to the Crucifixion, sits an exquisite 1600’s wooden Crucified Christ with a silver crown on cross of agate, set above a grandiose altar flanked by expressive stucco statues by Procopio Serpotta.
Oratorio del SS. Sacramento – Standing beside the Chiesa Madre, it was built towards the mid-1500’s. Its interior is a profusion of wonderful stucco decoration (18th century), by Trapani artist Vincenzo Messina, populated by life-size allegories (Faith, Charity, Strenght, and Penitence on the left; Hope, Justice, Divine Grace and the Roman Catholic Church on the right) and a crowd of smaller figures leaning on parapets below the windows, or engaged in scenes from the Mysteries of the Eucharist. Elsewhere, surfaces are encrusted with other Serpotta-like elements: cherubs, garlands of flowers and fruit, heraldic coats of arms and grotesques. The ceiling is frescoed with the Triumph of Faith.
Chiesa di S. Maria degli Angeli – Behind the Chiesa Madre, on via Curreri. Once belonging to the Capuchin Convent, it has a single nave with fine side-chapels embellished with intricate intarsia. It contains a wonderful wooden Crucifix by Capuchin Frà Benedetto Valenza (1737), who also worked on the overall decor.
Chiesa degli Agonizzanti – On Via Roma. Completed in 1643, it is richly decorated with white and gilded stuccoes featuring cherubs, eagles, garlands of flowers and fruit encircling frescoes depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin, culminating in the celing (Apotheosis of the Virgin). Half-way along the side-walls, two small stucco scenes below the frescoes represent the Death of Joseph and the Madonna.
Terrasini – 15km to the west. It is a lovely seaside resort overlooking the sea, closed-in behind by a lofty red cliff which intermittently shelters little beaches and sweet little rocky creeks.
It harbours an interesting Museum, although the display has not definitively been arranged yet (it is expected to migrate to Palazzo D’Aumalle on the seafront). It comprises three departments: the most important is the natural-history section (at 8 Via Cala Rossa), including the well-endowed Orlando collection of birds with species ranging from crows, nocturnal birds, storks, raptors and species approaching extinction or considered rare like the Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle and Capercaille. The archaeological deparment (next to the Town Hall in Piazza Falcone e Borsellino) displays marine artefacts retrieved from wrecks found off Terrasini – mainly fragments of amphorae from the 3rd century BC and objects from a 1st century AD Roman ship. The ethnological section (at 42 Via Dalla Chiesa) provides a small but excellent display of Sicilian carts among which are some truly remarkable examples from Palermo and Trapani.
La festa di li schietti – On Saturday before Easter, all the eligible young men (so-called schietti) of the town go out and cut a bitter-orange tree. They trim and tidy the top into a round shape and decorate it with coloured ribbons and bells of all shapes and sizes (ciancianeddi). The dressed result, which must weigh at least 50k, is then carried into the town ready for Sunday morning, when each tree is blessed in the piazza before the main church. After the service and urged on by the local populace, each young man bears his tree to the house of his chosen love; there he must demonstrate his strength by balancing the tree on the palm of his hand for as long as possible. This local festival has lost much of its importance today, for once it constituted a veritable test of virility; if the young man should fail to lift his heavy offering, or indeed, should fail to hold it up long enough, the engagement might, literally, be broken off.