Nestled on the Marone Mount, Gangi, that archaeologists had identified with the ancient Engyum, a Greek city founded by colonists from Minoa, started to develop in the 14th century and retains much of its medieval form.
LA CITTA' ALTA
Viale delle Rimembranze, lined by trees planted to commemorate every soldier killed in the Second World War, leads to the entrance to the higher town. The visit can begin with Piazza S. Paolo overlooked by the St. Paul’s church’s stone façade featuring a fine portal ornamented with shallow-reliefs. The Chiesa della Badia (18th century), nearby, has a similar bare stone-style as this. Corso Umberto I, flanked with fine buildings among which notable is Palazzo Mocciaro, leads to the very town heart.
Palazzo Bongiorno – The Bongiornos, one of the wealthiest families in the area, had this imposing building built in 18th century. What is particularly interesting are the elegant trompe l’oeil frescoes in the rooms on the piano nobile. The most endearing features of the building are the frescoes by Gaspare Fumagalli, a Roman painter who was very active in Palermo around the mid-1700s; they comprise a series of allegorical subjects both sacred and profane (Modesty, The Triumph of Christianity, Time), set within an elaborate framework of architectural elements, ornamented with masks, volutes and medallions containing pastoral landscapes.
Piazza del Popolo – The town’s main square is dominated by the Torre Ventimiglia. In one corner nestles a small grotto harbouring the gracious Fontana dei Leone, dated 1931.
Torre Ventimiglia – Erected in the 13th century as a watch-tower, this imposing building passed to the Knights of Malta and was transformed into a bell-tower in the 17th century, when the Chiesa Madre was built. It is Norman-Gothic in style and has a pointed arcade portico along the street side, attractive three-light and double-arch windows above.
Chiesa Madrice – It was built in the 17th century on the site of a former oratory and contains at its inside several engaging works. Particularly striking is a huge canvas occupying the left side of the chancel depicting the Last Judgement, considered to be the last masterpiece of one the two Lame Men of Gangi, that is Giuseppe Salerno, in 1629. The compex iconography underpinning this great theological statement is modelled on similar treatments of the subject by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, among others; common elements include the standing figure of Christ, the skin of St. Bartholomew whose head, some claim, is a self-portrait of the artist, and the figure of Charon, the devil’s ferryman. The composition is arranged around the central upright figure of Christ; at his feet kneel the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist flanked by the apostles in the foreground, and the rank and file of saints – male and female – on the right. The tier below comprises 13 children representing the innocent martyrs; at their feet is the Book of Life. The lower level of the composition is divided into two: to the left, the Archangel Michael drives away the dragon while presiding over the Elect who rises from the dead; to the right, are shown the Damned with the jaws of Leviathan down in the corner. In the centre, is Charon’s boat. Each of the damned embodies one of the capital sins, its name emblazoned upon a label, sometimes written in Sicilian. The Damned include various religious figures, but there is no priest, as it was a priest who commissioned the work.
The church contains other prized pieces such as wooden sculptures by Quattrocchi, among which is a San Gaetano (at the far end of the south aisle). From the church forecourt, there is a fine view over the lower part of Gangi, including the Torre Saracena on the left, and the Convento dei Cappuccini.
Corso Fedele Vitale, a natural continuation of Corso Umberto, is lined with the Botteghe Romane (Roman Shops), dating from the 16th century, so-called because of their particular look consisting of a doorway flanked by a window and counter through which goods are sold. Further on is Palazzo Sgadari housing the Town Museum with a rich display of relics from the archaeological site of Monte Alburchia. At the end of the street is the square Castello dei Ventimiglia.
DOWN TO GANGI BASSA
Return to Piazza del Popolo and turn down via Madrice (stepped) to the Chiesa del SS. Salvatore, containing a wooden Crucifix by Frà Umile da Petralia and the Road to Calvary by Giuseppe Salerno, a work betraying the influence of Raphael’s Spasimo di Sicilia commissioned for the Chiesa dello Spasimo in Palermo.
A little further downhill is the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Gesù, the former Benedictine Hospice (15th century). The bell-tower dating from the same period is graced with two- and three-light windows. The church front features a fine doorway with shallow-relief decoration. Inside are eye-catching works by Quattrocchi, notably a wooden sculptured Annunciation.
Santuario dello Spirito Santo – According to a popular local story, in the 16th century, a deaf mute labourer was working in the fields when he came across an image of Christ painted on a rock, and miraculously began to speak. On the very spot the miracle occurred, a sanctuary, today a favorite goal of pilgrims, was built. The rock image is now masked by a painting by Vazzano placed behind the altar.
Dining out at the monastery – About 4 km from Gangi, at Gangi Vecchio, sits the former Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria Annunziata, dating from the 14th century and converted into a summer residence by the Barons of Bongiorno in the 18th century. It now operates as an informal agriturismo. For more information and bookings call 0921/ 6891 91.
Guided Tours – The Gangi Pro Loco organizes guided tours of the town. Those interested should book at least a week in advance. For information call 0921/644720.