Best guide to amazing Sutera, “the Balcony of Sicily”

Sutera is an Italian town of 1.283 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Caltanissetta in Sicily.

The town is part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy and is one of the stages of the Magna Via Francigena, an ancient itinerary that already connected Palermo to Agrigento in the 11th century.

It rises at about 600 m of altitude and is about 40 km from Caltanissetta and about 100 km from Palermo, the regional capital. The medieval urban center consists of the three districts Rabato, Rabatello and Giardinello and winds in a harmonious and natural way around the mountain of S. Paolino (820 m).

Called “the balcony of Sicily” for its very extensive view, it offers a wonderful panorama that goes from Etna to the Gulf of Agrigento. It is a medieval village, included in the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy, thanks to its peculiar characteristics that make it a tourist place of historical importance.

Although the old town witnesses with its plant the typical structure of medieval villages, the origin of Sutera is very ancient. In fact, the Rabato district has Arab origins and dates back to 860 AD. The name itself would be of Arabic derivation. In fact, in Arabic rabad means “village”. The plan of this neighbourhood is typically Arab: here there are very narrow streets that wind in intricate intersections. The historical era to which the local houses date back corresponds to that in which the typical dammusi were born: peasant houses on one floor within which there is a single room with a mezzanine.

In the center of the district in 875 AD a mosque was built: in 1370 it was demolished and replaced with the church of Santa Maria Assunta. The baron of Sutera in fact took steps to eliminate all places considered pagan and to replace them with symbols of Christianity.

In 1545, Santa Maria Assunta was rebuilt and became the Mother Church, still present today. About one kilometer from the center of Sutera, it stands in the archaeological site of San Marco: here, in addition to the small church carved into the rock with Byzantine-style frescoes, there are remains dating back to the Palaeolithic, testifying to the ancient human presence in this area.

In December 2013, Sutera was elected the most beautiful medieval village in Italy.

Let’s start our discovery of this unique enchanted place in Sicily!

 

Diocesan Sanctuary of San Paolino

The Diocesan Sanctuary of San Paolino is a beautiful church in Sutera located on top of the homonymous mountain, balcony of Sicily, with its 823 meters of altitude, from where it is possible to see 22 municipalities, the peaks of the Madonie and Etna.

The Sanctuary is accessed through a characteristic road, carved into the rock.

The diocesan monastery, a building with three naves, is dedicated to San Paolino Vescovo and was built around 1370 by the then Baron of Sutera, John III of Chiaramonte. According to tradition, it was partly built with materials from an ancient fortress, most likely of Byzantine origin.

Tradition has it that the Sanctuary was partly built with materials from an ancient fortress, most likely of Byzantine origin, the ruins of which still exist today.

Thanks to the recent renovation work, made possible thanks to EU funding, some ancient burials have been brought to light, such as the tomb of the cleric Giacomo Principato, a member of the noble Suterese family of the same name, surmounted by a stone tombstone that bears, carved in bas-relief, the image of the religious and the date of his death: January 26, 1620. Inside the Sanctuary of San Paolino there are two reliquary urns, admirable works of art, among the most conspicuous expressions of the ancient goldsmith’s art. Sicilian: the urn of S. Paolino and the urn of Sant’Onofrio.

The Urn of San Paolino holds the relics of St. Paulinus, St. Archileone, St. Damiano and St. Peter martyr. It is a wooden case, covered with a silver sheet decorated with friezes, some also gilded, embossed and burin.

The humpback lid is decorated with many small golden cherub heads. In the central part all around the urn, 24 figures can be seen in relief, depicting St. Paulinus, St. Onofrio, the Virgin with the child, Jesus with the Apostles and other Saints. In the base, finally, the case bears the date 1948 in Roman numerals.

The Urn of Sant’Onofrio, built in 1649 by the artist from Palermo Francesco Rivelo, instead houses the relics of the Holy Anchorite. It is a wooden case covered with an embossed and chiseled silver sheet, worked with large scrolls and leaf friezes. It is surmounted by a statuette of St. Onofrio kneeling by four angels who each hold a coat of arms of the city of Sutera.

At the Ethno-anthropological Museum of Sutera emerge the figures of the peasant (Borgese, sharecropper, laborer), of the craftsman (carpenter, bricklayer, shoemaker, pasta maker, baker, etc.), of some professionals (doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, teacher, veterinarian, etc.) that draw the social composition of the small town in the Sicilian hinterland, in an area characterized by feudal estates and extensive cereal cultivation.

 

Ethno-Anthropological Museum of Sutera

The Ethno-anthropological Museum of Sutera not only houses the tools of the shepherd or the farmer, but also those of the late nineteenth century blacksmith, the carpenters of the thirties, the canalaro and the mason, the tanner and the shoemaker, with tools handed down for several generations, some of which also date back to the eighteenth century.

The Museum, personally curated by Mario Tona, a literature teacher at the Sutera middle school, also collects the posters and brochures of the concerts held at the beginning of the twentieth century by the only composer musician in the country, the posters that accompany the emigrants on their way to Americas (early twentieth century) and then to Northern Italy or Europe (sixties).

The collection of about a hundred large and medium-sized religious prints, which families hung in the kitchen or bedroom in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is remarkable.

The Museum, with its structure obtained on the ground floor of the ancient Convent of the Carmelite Fathers, exhibits the tools of the aforementioned activities, inserting them in an easy to follow cognitive and didactic itinerary. Accurately reproduced environments of domestic life, with the typical furnishings of the late nineteenth century, increase its suggestion and cultural interest.

The Museum also preserves the posters and brochures of the concerts that Don Paolino Pillitteri (the priest composer musician of the country) conducted at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as those who accompanied the emigrants along the way to the Americas (early twentieth century) and to Northern Italy and the ‘Europe (1960s).

The collection of printed images reproducing religious subjects is of considerable number and high artistic value. These are votive images (large and medium-sized), which in past centuries families hung on the walls of dining rooms, kitchens or bedrooms for devotion. Inside a room there is a “naca” (fabric cradle suspended above the double bed) and a wrought iron cradle from 1880, with a built-in wardrobe practically without nails.

Other places exhibit the tools for the production of pasta and bread with presses, sbrie, scanatori, maidde. Particular emphasis is placed on the rooms dedicated to the school with extensive documentation from the fascist era (including a table uniform).

A large print advertising and products in use throughout the twentieth century, testify to the advance of “progress” in parallel with the gradual rise in the standard of living. A multipurpose room is reserved for hosting exhibitions with a changing subject within a lasting exhibition outline of vintage postcards, historical newspapers, geographic maps of local importance.

 

Mussomeli Castle

Mussomeli Castle was built between 1364 and 1367. It seems quite certain that Manfredi III Chiaramonte, a descendant of Charlemagne, who came to Sicily with the Normans after having obtained the Lordship of Castronovo and Mussomeli, began the work. Manfredi had the castle built perhaps partly on the ruins of an Arab castle, perhaps destroying and erasing all forms of previous life. In November 1374 the castle was already built in all its parts and furnished. In that same year it had the honor of hosting King Frederick III (King of Sicily), the queen and her entourage.

But a few years pass, just 17, and the fortress is once again at the center of exceptional events. The star of the Chiaramonte has begun its decline. Manfredi is now old and sick, it is July 10, 1391 and his cousin Andrea Chiaramonte is preparing to reunite the states of the family in his hands. In Sicily, the Aragonese consolidated their dominance and the marriage of Maria (daughter of Frederick the Simple) with Martin of Aragon resulted in the return of the island to the direct dependence of the Spanish kingdom.

But before everything is accomplished, the Chiaramonte try the impossible. Manfredi organizes a meeting of Sicilian barons to resist the Aragonese and Andrea is the protagonist. The historic assembly takes place, according to some, in a country church in the territory of Castronovo. According to others in the castle of Mussomeli.

The castle, located two kilometers from Mussomeli, is built on a limestone rock at a height of about 80 meters. Almost at the base of the rock there is a wall set to defend the access road. On the summit there is a second wall that encloses the residential part of the castle.

Along the access road you can see the remains of enclosure walls, which must have belonged to a “pre-stable” used to change the horses of the various couriers who carried messages and who had to resume the journey. After going up through the access road you will notice a void covered by a plank. This void, which had the same functions as a moat, interrupted the continuity of the road. In fact, in the event of a siege, the planking was destroyed thus removing the possibility of reaching the first entrance door from the enemies, and above all from their war vehicles (ram). of the first walls. On both sides of the entrance door you can admire two coats of arms carved on dice made of the same stone. The right nut carries a lily carved without other accessories. The same design seems to carry the left nut, but is not clearly visible.

What that lily represents is not easy to explain. It is not absurd to conjecture that those two dice originally carried the weapons of the Chiaramonte, consisting of a mountain with five round peaks. When the Chiaramonte fell, a lily that probably represented the domain of D. Giamo de Prades replaced the mountain with the five peaks.

From the right side of the door, you can see high and sturdy walls that follow the conformation of the rock and which had the very important function of making access to the castle difficult from this side which is the only weak point of the fortress.

 

Church of Sant’Agata

The Church, located in Piazza San’Agata, is dedicated to Sant’Agata. The original layout dates back to 1400 and is of Romanesque style. The church, however, was almost completely rebuilt in the second half of the 1700s and a more recent, recently renovated bell tower was added to the sober main façade.

The interior has three naves: the central one is barrel vaulted, very deep, while the lateral ones are cross-shaped and rest on cylindrical columns, covered with a special porphyry-marble-style plaster and decorated with stone capitals, each one different from the other.

The interior of the church has recently undergone an important renovation work carried out according to the directives of the competent Superintendency of Caltanissetta, which intended to restore the pre-existing color of the vaults, the “azolo” blue, which during the second half of the century last had been covered with different colored decorations.

Inside the building there are numerous paintings and statues, many coming from churches that no longer exist or that have been used, after appropriate interventions, for different uses, such as the Church of Maria SS. degli Agonizzanti which overlooks Piazza Sant’Agata itself and has become a multipurpose center, or the wooden statue of Jesus Crucified, late 1500s by the Matinati School. Traditionally, it is said to have been found in C.da Amorelli, in the territory of Milena.

Then, there is Madonna delle Grazie Statue, in marble. According to the scholar Lavagnino, it is one of the many madonnas sculpted in Sicily by Lombard workers in 1495 by Antonio Vanella on the model of the fourteenth-century Madonna of Trapani. The robe and mantle of the Virgin, who has one foot resting on the crescent, are sprinkled with golden flowers while on the pedestal some figures representing the Madonna, San Vito and San Paolino and four brothers are sculpted in relief. The Child Jesus has sandals on his feet and holds an apple in his left hand.

 

Rabato District

In December 2013, Sutera was elected the most beautiful medieval village in Italy. A recognition obtained thanks to the Rabato district, where every year a living nativity scene revives the peasant civilization of the early 1900s, animated by “panarari, viddani, pastura, conzapiatta and weavers”, between lights and ancient sounds.

It is the oldest part of the town Rabato, an untangling of plaster houses and dammusi, typical of the Arab civilization, which harmoniously integrate with the Byzantine and medieval beauties and the newly built houses.

The urban layout includes two other districts, Rabatello and Giardinello, more recent but equally interesting. Instead, there are churches and noble residences, such as the fifteenth-century stone palace of the noble Salamone family, where Francesco (1478-1569), the hero of the challenge of Barletta, was born.

Testimony of the particular religious devotion of the ancient village, the numerous churches: San Giovanni Battista, built around 1650; Maria SS. Del Carmelo, built according to most in 1500, with its precious marble font; the fifteenth-century Romanesque church of Sant’Agata and the fourteenth-century Mother Church, built on the remains of a 9th-century mosque, of which it retains part of its architecture.

 

Mother Church SS. Maria Assunta

The Church in Sutera dedicated to Maria SS. Assunta is the Mother Church and was built by the will of John III of Chiaramonte, baron of Butera, around 1374, in order to replace a mosque located in the same place by the Arab population.

The current appearance is very different from the original one as over the years the sacred building has been rebuilt and restored.

The Mother Church of Maria Santissima Assunta is the largest religious building in the city of Sutera, measuring 27 meters in length and 16 in width, presenting several openings that allow access, among which the main entrance portal, built in the seventeenth century, stands out. and characterized by the presence of limestone ornaments that make it even more detailed. Some elements of the old mosque still remain, such as the 4 niches in plaster of mortar, thanks to which it is possible to admire some traits of the millenary history of Sutera.

Inside the Mother Church of Maria Santissima Assunta, it is possible to admire a floor plan consisting of three naves, separated by pillars that make up round arches, decorated with floral motifs in gold and turquoise colors. The walls of the Mother Church of Sutera are enriched by the presence of marble altars, on which splendid works of art are placed, such as the statues of San Calogero, the Madonna Addolorata and the Madonna Assunta, as well as other splendid seventeenth-century representations. The Mother Church of Maria Santissima Assunta is also equipped with an organ, handcrafted and also dated from the seventeenth century.

The church also has a handcrafted organ dating back to 1600.

It has exquisite Renaissance reminiscences in the trabeated portal on the arched space flanked by flat pilasters, while the multilinear lateral doorway engages architectural elements of the mosque.

The interior with three naves is enhanced by geometrical decorations in stucco and sober gilding, culminating in the very refined chapel of the SS. Sacramento, a small casket of refined decorations, in the basin there are ovals with testamentary scenes.

At the entrance is a marble baptismal font from 1495; on the walls, an animated canvas of the Assumption by Pietro D’Asaro (circa 1640) and a devotional Madonna della Cintura (1756) by a local artist; in the sacristy, a tense S. Francesco in ecstasy is perhaps inspired by a canvas by Pietro d’Asaro himself.

 

Church Maria SS. Del Carmelo

The church rises in the Rabatello district and is dedicated to the Madonna del Carmelo who has been proclaimed Patroness of Sutera; it is a building with classic and simple lines. We do not know exactly the period in which the original building was built: according to some it dates back to 1185 by the Carmelite Fathers of Gerosolomitani who enlarged the already existing church of the Annunziata dedicating it to Maria SS. del Monte Carmelo and at the same time founded their own convent in the Santa Croce district, not far from the town.

But this date is considered unreliable because it is too ancient: in fact, if we consider that the Order of Carmelites was founded in Palestine by Bertoldo di Calabria around 1155, it seems unlikely that only 25 years later they could have already reached the heart of Sicily. to build a convent and a church.

It is more likely that this happened after 1238. We know, in fact, that the Carmelites were expelled from Palestine in 1238 and that from that moment they spread throughout Europe. According to others, the original layout dates back to 1500 and was remodeled and transformed in the early 1700s.

What is certain is that the church was almost completely rebuilt between 1934 and 1936. The Carmelites of Sutera moved from the primitive monastery to Contrada S. Croce in the rooms annexed to the Carmelo Church probably around the middle of the 1600s. The portal of the church is pointed arch and is formed by a stone architrave and Arab-style columns which, apparently, come from the old Rabato mosque.

The portal is surmounted by 3 coats of arms: the first, on the left, represents the city of Sutera; the one in the center represents the arms of the king of Aragon of the Angevin dominion; finally, the coat of arms on the right represents the arms of the kingdom of Sicily under the Aragonese (an eagle in the semi-slide).

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