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Randazzo is a city of 11,700 inhabitants situated on the slopes of Mount Etna, miraculously spared by the volcano’s numerous eruptions throughout the centuries. It enjoyed a period of prosperity in the Middle Ages, notably in the 12th century, which continued up to the 1500’s, when the tax policies of the Spanish sovereigns, coupled with a ravaging plague epidemic, brought the town to its knees.
THE OLD TOWN CENTRE
Randazzo could be called the black town, since lava has been largely used to pave its streets, highlight arches above doorways and windows (at 100 Corso Umberto for example is a building with fine mullioned windows divided by small spiral columns), to build its main buildings and monuments like the Church of Santa Maria.
Chiesa di Santa Maria – Built in the 13th century, it has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. It only retains the original tall Norman apses, ornamented with blind arcading, and its south wall, decorated by two and three-light mullioned windows. Its neo-gothic façade and bell-tower dates back to the 19th century. The black lava building stone lovely contrasts with the white window and door surrounds. The external sacristy once accomodated an ecclesiastic tribunal.
San Nicolò – Corso Umberto, the main thoroughfare, cuts through the historic centre. A short distance along it, Via Roma leads off right; a street on the left leads to Piazza San Nicolò, dominated by a church of the same name. Built in 1594, it has a façade articulated by dark lava stone. Its bell-tower is dated 1783.
Palazzo Clarentano – On the same square overlook Palazzo Clarentano (1508), with a fine frontage graced with mullioned windows separated by slender columns, and Santa Maria della Volta (14th century).
Via degli Archi – Right of Palazzo Clarentano begins the delightful Via degli Archi, crowned, as its very name suggests, by a series of arches. The via Polizzi, to the right, leads from the piazza to the fine lava portal of Casa Spitaleri.
Continue on via Duca degli Abruzzi, intersected by via Agonia (agony), on the right, owing its name, it is said, to that condemned prisoners were brought along here from their castle-prison to face their executioners. Here is a fine specimen of 1300’s house, with a single large open space on the ground floor and two square rooms above (only visible from the outside).
Via Duca degli Abruzzi leads back to Corso Umberto. An arch on the right marks the old entrance to the Palazzo Reale, retaining only part of its original façade. Before it was destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, it accomodated famous figures such as Joan of England, the wife of the Norman King William II, Constance of Aragon (the town was chosen as the summer residence of the Spanish court) and, in 1535, by Charles V.
The Chiesa di San Martino – Rebuilt in the 17th century, it has a beautiful campanile dating from the 13th-14th century. Battlemented at roof level, a tall octagonal spire points skywards. Lower down it is ornamented with elegant single openings, emphasized by deep polychrome strips and decorative pointed three-light windows. Inside, it preserves two Gaginian Madonnas and a polyptych attributed to Antonello de Saliba, a pupil of Antonello da Messina. Across from the church lie the ruins of the castle-prison, that began life in the 13th century as a fortified tower set into the city walls. Just beyond is the Porta di San Martino (St. Martin’s Gateway).