Clinging to a rocky precipice among the lower spurs of the Mount San Calogero, this lovely town was probably founded by the Phoenicians. The earliest records, however, dates back to the Norman Age, when it served as the crucible for the Sicilian Barons revolt against the Emperor William I The Bad. During the Aragonese rule, it passed to the Spanish feudal lords; in the 14th century it was assimilated into the dominion of the Chiaramontes; then, it passed into the hands of various dynasties, namely the Prades-Cabrera, Amato and, finally, De Spuches families.
Castello – Entrance from Via Taormina. It is one of the best preserved castles in all Sicily. It sits atop a rocky spur and is arranged on several levels, the result of spiralling extensions being added through the 1300s, 1400s and 1600s. The main unit, complete with the features of a fortress, probably dates back to the 11th century. The defensive elements were reinforced by the Chiaramontes, while the Amatos, in the 17th century, converted it into a noble residence with terraces, one-light and two-light windows.
Visit – Beyond the first gate, a 1600’s ramp leads up to a second gate. A broad, paved courtyard provides access to the Torre Mastra, from where extends a magnificent 360 degrees panoramic including Termini Imerese, Mongerbina, Capo Zafferano, Rocca Busambra and the Castello di Vicari. A fine 1700’s doorway provides access to the Sala delle Armi or Salone della Congiura, where the rebellious barons gathered before confronting William the Bad. The interior of the castle has been extensively refurbished of recent. The wing left of the Salone della Congiura (Weapons Hall) gives access to the Torre Gibellina while, to the right, are the Salotto dei Nobili with its lovely five-bay window, and other rooms that lead to a panoramic terrace.
Return to Corso Umberto I and turn right to Piazza Duomo.
Piazza Duomo – The square provides an attractive open space divided into two levels. Up, on the north side, is the fine 1600’s Palazzo del Monte Pietà, flanked by the Oratorio del SS. Sacramento, on the left, and by the Chiesa delle Anime Sante del Purgatorio, on the right. The enchanting arrangement provides a sort of theatrical stage that dominates the lower side of the piazza. The balustrade, that contemporaneously separates and links the two levels, is surmounted by four statues representing the Blessed Giovanni Liccio, St. Rosalie, St. Nicasio and St. Teotista.
Chiesa Madre – Dedicated to St. George, this stands on the western side of the square. On one side, it clings to the rocky spur which rises to the castle, while on the other, it is supported by sturdy arcades and bastions. It contains interesting pieces of art such as a painting by Mattia Stomer depicting The Miracle of St. Isidoro Agricola, dated 1641, and, inside the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, above an inlaid marble altar, a unusual Gagini-style’s ciborium ornamented with marble reliefs dating from the 15th century. The white marble baptismal font beside the main altar (dated 1466) and the entablature over the sacristy entrance (right transept) with its delicate low reliefs by Francesco Laurana, are also worth-noting.
Down Corso Umberto I, to the right, opens Piazza S. Marco, bordered by the former Franciscan Convent, the Chiesa dell’Annunziata, with its twin bell-towers, the Chiesa della Badia and what was the Chiesa di S. Marco, going back to the 1300s, of which the pointed doorway is still visible).
San Benedetto alla Badia – It has a single nave and a splendid majolica floor, although damaged and covered with carpets, which is attributed to Nicolo Sarzana from Palermo (18th century). When possible, it is worth climbing up to the women’s gallery, once the preserve of nuns of a closed order from the convent which once stood adjacent to the church. From the gallery there is an excellent view of the whole church and, in particular, of the finest wrought-iton railings (18th century) at the far end. Also worthy of note are the stuccoes in the apse, by Bartolomeo Sanseverino (18th century); the lunette, above, depicts The Dinner at Emmaus; the statues on either side of the altar are allegories of Chastity and Obedience.
Return to Corso Umberto I; just before Piazza Torino turn left uphill.
Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli (or San Domenico) – It is a two aisled church with a trussed wooden ceiling ornamented with paintings of Dominican saints (damaged by humidity). In the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli (to the right) is a lovely Madonna col Bambino by Antonello Gagini (1516) and, on the under-side of the main arch, a series of small paintings by Vincenzo La Barbera depicting The Mysteries of the Rosary (17th century).
Finally, it is recommended a walk to the far side of town where, turning right (signposted for centro storico), along a kind of circular route, there is a wonderful view over the whole town, with the Torre Pizzarrone, that once formed part of the town’s external defences, the Torre delle Campane (now the cathedral’s bell-tower) and the bell-tower flanking the Chiesa dell’Annunziata.