A Journey with Montalbano
A journey of discovery throughout the Ragusa province, where nearly all of Camilleri’s crime thriller novels and the tv show are set.
FLORENCE, 12 JULY - Where should I go on holiday?
To Vigàta. Yes, why not. The town of Police Inspector Montalbano. Haven’t you seen the sea at Marinella, where he lives? And him swimming in those crystal waters in the morning? Gorgeous. And that’s not all. What else? Sicily’s wild nature. A land none has yet explored. Hard land.
Then the art. Remember the baroque monuments shown in Montalbano tv show or in many Camilleri books? Beautiful, although unknown to most people.
Yes, I want to go to Vigàta this year. Which is also a peaceful and relaxing place. And, if Montalbano will be out on vacation, there still will be Mimì Augello, Fazio and the rest of his team.
What? Vigàta doesn’t exist? It grew out of Camilleri’s imagination?
You’re wrong, dearest readers. The name, perhaps. But the rest is all authentic. And the other fewest fictitious things became delightfully real in the tv show starring Luca Zingaretti.
Take a look at the map of Sicily. Find Taormina, on the east coast. Then go south, to Syracuse, finally west, Ragusa. There it is, perfect. A detailed map will also include the small seaside villages of Marina di Ragusa and the neighboring Punta Secca. Here starts the story, Punta Secca being Marinella.
There lives Salvo Montalbano in a nice sea-front house. Don’t be too meticolous, though. Right, the balcony is there, right on the beach; the bedroom, instead, is some kilometres away, within a fine villa on the shore. But you won’t see that in the book or on tv. That’s Camilleri and Sironi’s – the show director – secret.
Vigàta is not that easily identifiable either. It’s on the sea and could easily pass for the lovely Donnalucata, where Montalbano meets the most attractive Ingrid, the Swede girl in the episode “La forma dell’acqua”. And the police station is the former Town Hall of Scicli.
Many scenes were filmed in Ragusa. Do you remember the homicide of Lapecora, the man killed inside an elevator along with his wife Antonietta? Right. That was filmed in a building near one of the three bridges in Ragusa. Montalbano drives at high speed to the crime scene, crossing the Cappuccini Bridge, which is, instead, normally reserved for pedestrians.
Sometimes Camilleri adopts the places’ real names, like the Mannara, where the engineer Luparello is found dead. That place, in reality not as dangerous as it appears in the show, can be found at Sampieri, another fishing village in the Ragusan shoreline. That ruined but impressive building is a former brick factory destroyed by fire some decades ago.
The people of these villages will be glad to show you the set locations and to reveal you some of the stories that funnily marked the shots, like that when the film director couldn’t find any extras willing to play the role of a dead because of locals’ charm against death. Or the suspicion of some local owners who rented their villas, palazzi and farmhouses to the production for interior or exterior shots, ultimately proud of the fame they soon attained after the show was broadcasted.
A journey with Montalbano takes some imagination. For example: where could it be Valmontana, that place 4 hours from Vigàta where Salvo’s father had been in recovery? Maybe close to Montalbano. Right, the city Montalbano, that is nestled in the Nebrodi slopes, in the Messina area. While the hospital, where Montalbano finds his father dead, is an old people’s home in Ragusa.
Further, the, so far, last episode of Montalbano “La gita a Tindari” does not take place in Tindari, a lovely resort on the hilly shoreline between Patti and Milazzo, most renowned for the Black Virgin and a little and mysterious Greek theatre – that Camilleri only mentioned in his book.
Our journey continues to Marina di Ragusa and the shore through Capo Passero: here a soft sand, blue waters and a refreshing breeze encourage romantic walks on the beach.
Some fine excursions inland is not to be missed either. First is Ragusa, the province’s capital city rebuilt after a violent earthquake in 1693. The new city is laid out on a grid pattern with long avenues that suddenly reveal stunning late-baroque sceneries. In the low side stands Ragusa Ibla, the old city, riddled by a maze of narrow streets and alleyways concealing numerous splendid 18th century monuments and sloping to the valley below.
Noto, less than one hour drive away, is the capital of the Sicilian baroque; sadly, its major monument, the Cathedral, partially collapsed few years ago after an earthquake. Then, there are Modica, Scicli, Ispica and Comiso, this boasting other than a dismantled Nato base. Finally, Pachino and the close-at-hand Marzamemi, a village of fishermen grown around a big tuna fishery and an 18th century villa belonging to the Princes of Villadorata.
In short, we could say Camilleri, as a Sicilian and a writer, has recognized the extraordinary aesthetic, naturalistic and gastronomical qualities of the province. Now it’s Italy and Italians’ turn.