The land and its people – The Iblean Mountains border the South-Eastern side of Sicily, almost as if naturally protecting the area. The cities, notably those in the mountainside, with their plenty of woods and slopes, have retained their agricultural traditions that, throughout the centuries, have represented an invaluable resource. The carob, an evergreen often standing alone with shiny dark-green leaves, is a dominant feature of the Iblean landscape. Thanks to their consistency in weight, the carob seeds were used to weight gold, hence the term “carat”.
The dry-stone wall, bordering and criss-crossing the fields of the province, is another major feature. Commonly used to mark the fields’ boundries, they are made of the typical local limestone that is formed in layers beneath the soil. Eroded or broken by water, layers break into smaller rocks and stones that are largely used as a building material. The dry-stone walling involves a long and difficult process only made by skilled craft-workers, that are regarded as artists. These fine walls, that you can only find in Apulie, first appeared in the area during Counts Henriquez Cabreras’ rule and their policy of granting lands on emphyteusis to the peasants.
The Iblean Mountains provide an itinerary suitable for both nature and arts lovers. The 130km round route can be covered in two days, overnighting in Palazzolo Acreide or, if starting from the opposite side of the chain, in Caltagirone. A short detour allows excursionists to reach the city of Buscemi, with a highly panoramic view.
Buscemi – It is a small agricultural village, with an unusual and interesting museum known as I Luoghi del Lavoro Contadino, its rooms scattered across the centre of the town. These eight rooms provide a picture of the life and work of the Iblean people. They include the blacksmith’shop, the oil-mill (where scenes of Lavia’s La Lupa were filmed), a farmer’s and a laborer’s house, the shoemaker’s and the carpenter’s shops, the millstone (where the pressing of grape took place) and, next to this, a room accommodating a small film-library. There visitors can enjoy the projection of a short film on the activities of the past set into the different rooms of the museum. The eighth room, located at Palazzolo Acreide, consists of the water-mill (Mulino di S. Lucia). A small Museum of The Wheat Grinding has been set up inside.
Buscemi’s baroque monuments include the Chiesa Madre, with its fine façade, the Chiesa di S. Antonio da Padova and the Chiesa di S. Sebastiano; the quartiere contadino (meaning the ‘peasant quarter’) with small and low stone-houses is worth-seeing.
Vizzini – The city was the setting of some tales by the celebrated writer Giovanni Verga, among which are La Lupa (recently adapted into a movie by filmmaker Gabriele Lavia, who filmed scenes in the cunziria area), Cavalleria Rusticana and Mastro Don Gesualdo. Worth-seeing are all the places the writer mentioned in his books, such as the tavern where Alfio challenges Turiddo to a duel, the church of S. teresa where the village’s women go to pray, Lola and Santuzza’s houses and the cunziria, the old tanners’ quarter, where the two men fight. Also noteworthy are the house and the aristocratic palazzi appearing in the background of Mastro Don Gesualdo tale.
Vizzini developed around the central Umberto I Square, bordered by the fine Palazzo Verga and Palazzo Municipale (the Town Hall). Next to the latter is the Salita Marineo, a long stairway decorated with majolica, completed in 1996, that recalls the Maria del Monte’s in Caltagirone. The Mother Church retains a Gothic Norman portal (on its right side), the only thing surviving 1693’s earthquake that destroyed the entire city. Worth-seeing is the nice St. Sebastian façade of the church of S. Maria del Gesù.
A guided visit can be scheduled at the Pro Loco office (Address: 8 Via Lombarda, tel. 0933/965905). The A Cunziria (ph. 0933965507), in the quarter of the same name, is an agritourism business situated within natural caves, highly recommended for both its delicious home-made foods and its cosy atmosphere.
Grammichele – Grammichele was rebuilt in 1693 after a terrible earthquake that ravaged all the South-Eastern Sicily. The city developed around an attractive hexagonal square where stand the Mother Church and the Palazzo Comunale used as Town Hall. Here are displayed archaeological relics unearthed in the Terravecchia area, where lay the ancient city of Occhiolà destroyed by the earthquake and successively abandoned. A detour allows you to reach the neighboring Caltagirone, only 15km away. Behind the hills appears, in the distance, the dark and majestic Etna Volcano. Return to the main road; a panoramic road leads up to Licodia Eubea.
Licodia Eubea - Probably built on the ruins of the ancient Eubea, founded by Greek colonists from Leontinoi around the 7th century BC, Licodia Eubea lies atop a mount overlooking the Dirillo Valley. Among its main buildings are the Palazzo Vassallo (on Via Mugnos, at the end of the Corso Umberto), with a baroque façade and a portal with columns, several 1700’s churches and the ruins of a medieval castle with a view of the underlying valley and artificial lake. Following the road to Grammichele, you reach Chiaramonte Gulfi. A sanctuary of historical importance is situated in proximity to the city.
The Sanctuary of Gulfi – Located in proximity to Chiaramonte, the sanctuary lies secluded on an area where was a settlement before an earthquake destroyed in 1693. According to legend, there a group of bulls carried a statue of the Virgin – that they had found at the nearby shore – and knelt. The story is painted on four medallions preserved within the building;the recovery of the Statue of the Saviour, today preserved into the homonymous church in Chiaramonte Gulfi, is also related.
Chiaramonte Gulfi – The Greek Akrillai, renamed Gulfi by the Arabians, was razed in 1296 by the Count Manfredi Chiaramonte who then rebuilt and named it after his own dynasty. The city’s medieval design is still visible despite the ravaging eartquake in 1693. The Arco dell’Annunziata, giving access to the old city, is the only remain of the former city. Several baroque buildings are worth-mentioning, like the Church of Saint John (atop the hill) and the Mother Church. The main street, Corso Umberto I, is bordered by fine 1700’s and 1800’s palazzi. At its far end is the Villa Comunale (Town Gardens) offering a panoramic view of the valley. A nice pineta (pine-wood) is situated in the high side of the city, providing a relaxing and peaceful site with sights of the city and the Etna volcano. There rises the Santuario delle Grazie, where, according to legend, the Virgin in 1576 created a water spring to save the city from the plague.
The road leading to Monterosso Almo runs between gentle slopes bordered by plantations and the typical dry-stone walls.
Monterosso Almo – The Chiesa di S. Giovanni, dominating the omonymous piazza, is the main attraction of this small agricultural city. Attributed to architect Vincenzo Sinatra, the building has a nice façade with columns and a belfry. Fine frescoes ornament the interior. Medallions with low-reliefs, telling episodes of the life of Saint John, adorn the central nave. Down to the low-side of the city (like Ragusa and Modica, Monterosso is divided into two – often vying – sides, following the 1693 earthquake) is the Chiesa di S. Antonio (or Santuario di Maria SS. Addolorata). On the same square stand the neo-Gothic Mother Church and the elegant Palazzo Zacco.
Giarratana – The major artistic attractions of Giarratana are the Late-Renaissance Chiesa Madre and the Baroque churches of San Bartolomeo and Sant’Antonio Abate. The city hosts the traditional Onion festival, recurring annually in August and attracting thousands of people. From Giarratana the Lauro Mount is easily reachable.
The Lauro Mount – The road climbing up the mount is highly panoramic and bordered by carob-trees and pines. Soon, it rejoins the main road to Palazzolo.