SANTA CROCE CAMERINA
Santa Croce Camerina nestles on a plain in the southern reaches of the Iblean mountains. It is a nice and peaceful place a few kilometres from the shore. Its administrative area comprises the fine seaside resorts of Casuzze, Kaukana and Punta Braccetto.
Santa Croce Camerina is a city of both historical and artistical value. It was the site of such ancient settlements as Kamarina, Kaukana, Casale di Santa Croce and others. The earliest records date back to the Bronze Age, referring to a site known as Facies Castellucciana.
Kamarina came to life in 598 BC as an outpost for Syracuse, in an area bathed by the Hipparis and Oanis rivers (to-day’s Ippari and Rifriscolaro). Soon it enjoyed economic prosperity, annexing a number of neighboring towns and even rising against Syracuse, that would take fifty years (in 553 b.C.) to re-establish its rule. Over the following three centuries, periods of prosperity and decline alternated until it fell, in 258 BC, after a long siege, to Romans who would plunder and raze it. The few survivors took refuge in Punta Secca (a coastal area between Punta Braccetto and Casuzze), where they would establish the settlement of Kaukanæ. Specimens of the Christian age were found at this area, such as sepulchral rooms and graves in the Pirrera district, necropolises and a sanctuary along the Mirio district. The sanctuary houses several frescoes, notably that of Sant’Elena with the Holy Cross, that would give its name to the city (Santa Croce is Italian for “Holy Cross”). A period of decline followed, during which the territory was abandoned as far as the Arab occupation, which did not leave here any remarkable traces.
Historical sources maintain that Kaukana changed its name to Rosacambra and that in the 12th century it was ceded, along with the hamlet of S. Croce and neighboring lands, to the old monastery of Benedictin fathers of Scicli who later rented them to notables of Scicli and Ragusa. In 1450 they were rented, first temporarily, soon permanently, to Don Pietro Celestri, a nobleman from Modica, under whom it would soon flourish. Upon Don Pietro Celestri’s death, in 1494, the hamlet newly declined to be abandoned because of repeated raids by pirates from the close undefended coast.
The Celestris, Lords and Marquises of S. Croce, regained their power in the 16th century, decisively contributing to the economical growth and development of the town. The erection of two towers in the strategic area of Capo Scaramia, at Pietro V Celestri’s behest, would finally put an end to the pirates’ raids. In 1812, the feudal system abolished, S. Croce Camerina became an autonomous city.
Santa Croce Camerina is primarily an agricultural city. Outstanding is the hothouse cultivation of early fruits, today the city’s main product. Floriculture and breeding have also remarkably developed over the last decades. Flowers, exported to all Italy, are celebrated and promoted through an annual festival, held on patron saint San Giuseppe’s Day.
The 13th century’s Chiesa Madre was restored in the early 18th century following the 1693 earthquake that provoked heavy damages in all Santa Croce. Inside, it contains an old reconstruction of Caravaggio’s Madonna del Loreto and a statue of San Giuseppe. Right beside the church stands the Liberty Palazzo Pece. An interesting building, known as ‘U Vagnu, dating from between the 4th and the 6th century, is located in the Mezzagnone district. The area of Kaukana, between Punta Secca and Casuzze, is home to an archaeological park, recently established. The archaeological and historic importance of this area, along with the establishment of accommodation facilities, has brought about a remarkable growth of the tourism influx.
The ruins of Kamarina are located by the shore, too. This ancient city was founded in 598 BC by the Greek-Syracusans, then destroyed by themselves in 553 BC; the Romans plundered it in 258 BC. The town lay on three hills, of which the Cammarana’s was the most important. The ruins comprise sections of the city walls, remains of Hellenistic houses including the House of the Altar – so called because a major altar was recovered at the earth of the excavation – the House of the inscription and the Merchant’s house, where objects and tools were found out. Then, there are remains of the walls of Athenaion, the Temple of Athena, dating from the 5th century BC, and the necropolises of Passo Marinaro and Randello. Most finds were collected and exhibited in the archaeological museums of Ragusa and Siracusa. An antique-shop was recently opened in Cammarana, collecting all the remaining material. The recovery allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the urban plan of the ancient city, said to be among the best of the day.