Monday, January 22, 2007

Caltagirone Sicily – The Pearls of Sicily

In most Americans mind Sicily evokes thought of The Godfather and Mafia but Sicily is an antique culture. Its geographical position has made it the object of numerous military campaigns including the US invasion of the Italian peninsula in WWII. Just about every dominant world Empire has conquered and occupied Sicily, modifying and enriching the culture of this sun burnt island located right in the middle of the shipping routes in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy beguiles all who visit. The famous reschedule flights to stay and have another cup of espresso at a town bar, the busy businessmen take time for a good meal and the luxury of an antique hotel, and the fashion conscious will take valued vacation time to visit the shows of Milan. It is hard for most to understand why the food tastes better, the furniture puts us at ease, and we spend hours at the dinner table or sitting on the hotel balcony pondering life as we look at the turquoise colored sea. It is the passion for life, family and the land. Many times I have heard my American visitors indicate how they could make Italy so much more efficient, “oh, change this or that,” yet they long to come and visit. Their stays are longer than those to other companies.

Even for most Italians, Sicily is considered a passionate location. Deep in tradition, in the fight to survive over centuries of occupation, the Sicilians have held tight to the things that make them who they are. Caltagirone is a city toward the center of Sicily about 68 km from Catania and a 100 km from Palermo. The modern city is defined by the earthquake of 1693. While most cities in Sicily lost their medieval architecture, the antique city of Caltagirone preserved its traditions. The history of Caltagirone is not limited to the times of written tales. The city boasts a prehistoric archaeological find from the Neolithic period. In fact the area was inhabited through the arrival of the Greeks. Close by are also remains of the Bronze era with rich tombs entirely intact.

Caltagirone takes its name from the Arab word "Qal‘at Ghīrān" or Rock of Caves. In fact most of the prehistoric dwellings were located in the numerous caves. Over the years Caltagirone has risen and declined in power. It has been inhabited by prehistoric man, Greeks, Arabs, Romans, Spanish, French and various post Roman, city-states. It maintains an aura of mystery, as if its long history attempts to make itself known. The city is an open-air museum. Every corner, every building, statue or stone seems to reveal a secret piece to the puzzle of who we are.

The city is well known for its artisans who create the luxurious ceramic works of art. The tradition dates back to the V century BC. The city is host to the Museum of Ceramics and the timeless pieces can be found in every building.

The view of the city opens to the visitor like a stadium as seen from the field. The city’s disposition is that of a living production. The scenes of Caltagirone’s rooftops in Terracotta, churches adorned in beautifully painted tiles, expose the soul of this antique settlement. Along with the Museum, other places to visit include Duomo di San Giuliano, Chiesa di Santa Maria di Gesù, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte (and the stairs), Chiesa di Santa Chiara, Chiesa di San Giorgio, Chiesa del Gesù, Chiesa dei Cappuccini, and Basilica di San Giacomo.

A visit to the city during the period of the winter fog creates an impression of the supernatural as the clouds settle around the inner walls and the city becomes part of the mountain on which it sits or appears to be a city of the Gods, floating in the air.

The foods of Caltagirone are as intriguing as the artisan ceramics and the architecture. Traditional dishes represent the influences the numerous cultures that are the genetic base of Caltagirone creating a unique culinary experience. Famous dishes include pasta reali, i cuddureddi ri Natali, (puff pastry filled with vin cotto, honey and almonds), panareddi ri Pasqua (a traditional form of Easter Pan Dolce), cassateddi (pasta filled with Ricotta), Totò, cannoli, gelati e the granite (shaved ices).

The traditional dishes represent the comfort foods prepared by the farmers. They include the citrus fruits, olives, cereals and the vegetables available to all. Just about any local Taverna will be offer a selection of pasta cu maccu, pasta chi mirangiani (with Eggplant and Ricotta), piruna (folded pizza with spinach and other vegetables), pani ri casa cunzatu, scacciati, cuccia (cooked wheat), ngucciata (a type of hard wheat polenta), pasta ri casa (cream of wheat), and muffuredde (hard wheat bread with fennel seeds).

The splendid Scala di Santa Maria del Monte, is a unique staircase worldwide, totally covered in painted ceramic tiles. This breathtaking staircase with 142 steps, that connects the high part of the city to the low part, is the center of many cultural events in Caltagirone. A trip to Caltagirone in the springtime will offer an unforgettable experience. In the months of May and June, the town celebrates its Scala Infiorita festival. Scala di Santa Maria del Monte is completely covered with flowers, which create a beautiful series of vivid geometric patterns climbing up the staircase.

The saint of Caltagirone is San Giacomo. The city celebrates with a festival called the Luminaria. The Luminaria is celebrated on the nights of July 24th and 25th. Thousands of lanterns are used to decorate the staircase, creating a spectacular atmosphere.


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Blogger RennyBA said...

You know I love your posts and story and reports in all its details. This one was no exception.
Coming from Norway the ceramic works caught my eyes - very lovely!
Wish I could experience The saint of Caltagirone festival one day!

2:31 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Renny You must be very much like me. I have always been fascinated by the "what" and "why" of things.

Today in the US we think we are the most important thing ever to have existed yet we have done little that will be remembered in 1,000 years. I hope that by exploring where we came from, and why we have certain traditions we may evaluate our daily choices with a thought of, "Is this really important?"

Not that I believe to have any greater insight to what is important than anyone else, simply that I have been changed over the years, sometimes amazed as the things I thought I knew crumbled before the facts.

4:02 PM

Blogger Dianne said...

Oh, how I love Sicily! The esscence (to me) of the place is the peace, the beauty and the history. The most stunning place I have ever been, for so many reasons ... and travel is my passion, so I've been to plenty of other places


1:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there! What a fascinating entry. Makes me wanna travel there. Btw, I was just wondering if you would like to contribute for this coming online fashion magazine to be launched this summer. I was thinking about you coz I noticed that you posts about italian fashion which is quite fab.

4:26 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Dianne It is the passion. We can hide but somehow it always snags us in.

Chase I will be happy to contribute. Send me an email on with the details.

6:37 AM

Blogger Elizabeth Abbot said...

I came to Italy for a year, 26 years ago! Rome is home, but Sicily is still a very magical place for me and everytime I visit I am overwhelmed by the colors, smells, noise, flavors and passion. I have just re-read Il Gattopardo for book club so I may just have to make a trip! Great site, from a brand new blogger.

8:56 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Elizabeth Twentysix years is a long time. You should defininitely consider a 10 day escape to replenish the soul.

Welcome to the world of blogging. Please let us know your site so we can give it a look!

9:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way, do you have a Yahoo messenger or MSN as well ? If you do can I have your addie there

10:20 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Chase I do not use the messenger services. I do not like being that connected to the world.

9:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

oic. Okay so I'll just email you the details instead

3:25 AM


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