Niscemi, the Sicilian capital of artichoke

June 29, 2021 By Bellarome Travel

Niscemi is an Italian town of 26.233 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Caltanissetta in Sicily.

Equidistant from Gela and Caltagirone, it is the third municipality of the consortium by number of inhabitants after Gela and Caltanissetta and the forty-first in the Sicilian region.


Various hypotheses have been formulated on the origin of the name. According to some documents, the name of the fief on which the village was built has always had the name Niscemi: in some ancient documents, this name is reported in Latin as Nixenum , but it was also called Nixima and subsequently Niscimi. According to this theory, the name is of Arabic derivation and is given by the composition of Ni which is almost certainly the contraction of the Arabic goods, that is men and idiots, which would mean Syrians: by virtue of this consideration Niscemi could mean Syrian Men or Syrian People.

The presence of human settlements in the territory of Niscemi dates back to the Neolithic era, in particular between the third and second millennium BC, as evidenced by the presence of numerous oven tombs carved into the rock.

Traces attributable to the Sican culture, however, date back to a period dating back to the early metal age. They were mainly small villages that made their living from hunting and agriculture and lived in straw huts. During this period, the lithic and ceramic industries and those related to the production of everyday tools were widespread.

Subsequent evidence of settlements in the territory of Niscemi can be reconstructed thanks to the presence of the necropolis characterized by tholos and oven tombs in the Castelluccio period, dating back to the 13th century BC. made during the late Bronze Age.

Starting from the seventh century BC, following the settlement of the Rhodian-Cretan colonists in the territory of Gela, the countryside of the Niscemese territory was occupied in order to be intensively cultivated: numerous farms were built, the lands were parceled out and the natural resources exploited at most.

However, starting from the 5th century BC, following the second Carthaginian invasion, the relative tranquility of the settlements in the territory of Niscemi was upset and many inhabitants were forced to flee and abandon their farms.

During the Arab occupation, the regime of land ownership and land cultivation systems changed radically: the vast estates were divided into small lots, except for state-owned properties. Furthermore, the cultivation of cereals and pastoralism were restricted only to suitable soils, the wooded mantle was repopulated, the production of oil was intensified, and the cultivation of carob, mulberry, pistachio, and hazel was introduced. In the mid-13th century, however, due to internal struggles between Muslims and Normans, the town was completely destroyed, and its inhabitants were forced to flee in search of a safer place to live.

The origin of the town dates back to 1626 when it was founded by the prince of Butera, Giuseppe Branciforte, with “licentia populandi”.

In 1627, Giuseppe Branciforte obtained from the sovereign Philip IV the appointment of prince of Niscemi.

The current urban center was rebuilt after 1693, the year of the terrible earthquake that had razed the ancient feudal village to the ground.

In the monumental sector, the Church of the Addolorata in typical Baroque style built between 1752 and 1784 and the Church of the Madonna del Bosco from the 18th century with a particular elongated elliptical plan should be mentioned.

The neoclassical town hall built in 1882 is exemplary.

Among the illustrious characters of Niscemi, we remember Mario De Pasquale (1926-1970), aka Mario Gori, famous poet founder of the literary current Trinacrismo and director of two literary magazines “Sciara” and “Soffitta”.

Niscemi is famous for the production of the violet artichoke which made it conquer the title of capital of the artichoke and to which one of the most important manifestations of the territory is dedicated every year. The olive oil and wine produced in the area are also excellent.

Let’s start our visit of this wonderful Sicilian town!


Church of Ss. Maria D’Itria

The Church of Ss. Maria D’Itria (Mother Church) was rebuilt starting from 1742, in the same place as the ancient Matrice, by the Messina architect Giuseppe La Rosa, designing a Baroque style church with the traditional basic three-nave layout, typical in almost all the Mother Churches of Sicily, and central portal in bronze by the artist Yosef Hermann Runggaldien of Ortisei.

The works were suspended in 1751 when the facade and internal decorations were missing from the Church, and resumed the following century (around 1863).

The exterior has four side niches depicting the statues of the evangelists John and Mark, and of the apostles Peter and Paul and at the top with the statue of Christ.

The Church has an underground crypt under the floor of the central nave which served as a cemetery for people of the upper class.

It stands in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III. Rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake starting from 1742 with the contribution of the population and under the direction of the Messina architect Giuseppe La Rosa, it is a Latin cross church with a central lantern, has four side niches with the statues of the evangelists John and Mark and the apostles Peter and Paul.

The facade is incomplete in the terminal pediment.

The interior was decorated between 1863 and 1864.


District Educational Museum of Natural History

In December 1989, the District Educational Museum of Natural History was inaugurated in Niscemi (download in-depth analysis), wanted by some passionate naturalists (V.Liardo, L.Lino, R.Mascara, S.Zafarana), created with a modest funding from ‘Provincial administration of Caltanissetta and maintained thanks to an annual contribution from the Municipality of Niscemi.

The intent was to bring to the attention of public opinion, and in particular of young people and students, the geographical and naturalistic aspects of an area of ​​central-southern Sicily falling for a large part in the territory of the lower province of Nissena and included between Salso and Dirillo rivers, respectively to the west and east, and to the north limited by smaller watercourses (Braemi and Nociara torrents, Elsa and Tempio rivers).

It contains ecosystems of extraordinary landscape value and valuable floristic and faunal emergencies that have justified the creation of some natural reserves, first of all the Sughereta di Niscemi, the Bosco di Santo Pietro and the Biviere di Gela, to which the museum structure dedicates ample space. A large amount of geographic, geological, paleontological, faunistic and floristic data was collected from this area, which together with finds found in the field or received as a gift, was the subject of the various ostensive units.

The peculiarity of the structure is the didactic approach of the whole and the exhibition methods with which the various themes are illustrated, without, however, giving up scientific rigor. The clear captions, the meticulous work of labelling, the unpublished cartography and the largely original photographs (including macro and micro photos), make this Museum an ideal tool for teachers and nature studios eager to learn more about this part of Sicily.

The Museum, initially managed by the local WWF section, the collections of Linen and Mascara having disappeared in the meantime, passed in 1995 to the Environmental Education Center which enriched, expanded it and provided for a new arrangement in the premises of the new Museum. Civic of Niscemi.


Sughereta di Niscemi Nature Reserve

The Sughereta di Niscemi nature reserve is a protected natural area located in the municipality of Niscemi, in the province of Caltanissetta and was established by the Sicilian Region in 1997.

he Sughereta di Niscemi is, together with the Bosco di Santo Pietro di Caltagirone, the wreck of what was once the largest cork oak forest in central-southern Sicily.

Since 1601, when the territory of Niscemi was granted as a fief to the Branciforti family, the wood began to be used to produce timber. Already in 1718, the insane use of this resource convinced Stefania Branciforti to issue precise provisions to limit its exploitation.

In 1852 a large portion of the territory of the original cork oak was acquired by the municipal state property and was subsequently partially assigned for cultivation to the peasants organized in the movement of the workers’ Fasci.

The surviving part of the cork oak forest (about 3,000 hectares) was declared a Reserve with the Council’s Decree no. 475 of 25 July 1997 and entrusted to the management of the Regional State Forestry Company.

The Reserve stands at 330 m above sea level, in the southern part of the plateau on which the town of Niscemi is located. C.

Among the most common mammals in the territory of the reserve are the rabbit, the hedgehog, the weasel, the fox, the dormouse, and the oak.

There are numerous species of nesting birds including the buzzard, the wood pigeon, the cuckoo, the jay, the barn owl and the bee-eater, the hoopoe.

Among the reptiles we remember the gongilo, the leopard snake and the common viper.

The entomofauna is also very rich, including, among others, numerous species of butterflies (Limenitis reducta, Zerynthia polyxena, Lasiocampa quercus, Gastropacha quercifolia) and beetles (Carabus famini, Cerambix velutinus).


Bosco di San Pietro

Inside the nineteenth-century and romantic hamlet of Santo Pietro (which has a fascist-style architecture of the early twentieth century), a kind of ghost village is the homonymous forest of ancient memory. In fact, it was given by the Norman king Roger to the city of Caltagirone as a reward for the help during the fight against the Saracens (1160).

At the time, the extension, together with the neighbouring cork forest of Niscemi, was 30,000 hectares against the still very vast 2,500 currently. The ground, from a geological point of view, is made up of blue-grey clays in which fossils dating back to about 1.8 million years ago (lower Pleistocene), as well as numerous shells, are found.

The greatest characteristic of the wood is the presence of very ancient and monumental cork oaks (Quercus suber), trees of which about fifty remain today with a circumference that exceeds 3 m.

And if you are in the woods, do not miss the example of the Molara district, which reaches 6.2 m in circumference.

The area is rich in water with numerous springs that manifest themselves with small natural waterfalls and artificial fountains (Cacciatore, Molare and Ficuzza).

There are also several mills, such as the Poli, the Ramione and the Archi, which testify to the past human presence in this area.

Numerous formations of holm oak, downy oak, carob with specimens reaching 3 m in circumference. The undergrowth is very rich with plants such as strawberry tree, rosemary, myrtle.

The fauna is dominated by about 100 species of birds, including sedentary, wintering, migratory and occasional birds (kestrel, buzzard, owl, harrier, heron…).

Among the non-volatiles we point out: the terrestrial tortoise, the viper, the common toad, the wild rabbit, the hare, the fox, the porcupine …

Along the stream that feeds the reserve, we find poplars and willows, an ideal refuge for gray herons, egrets and kingfisher (photo).

Within the reserve, in the La Grazia district, a wildlife recovery center specializes in the recovery of tortoises.

Inside the town of Santo Pietro, the delightful museum of the Mediterranean scrub is worth visiting.


Sanctuary of Maria Ss. Del Bosco

The Sanctuary of Maria Ss. Del Bosco (Church of the Madonna) whose construction is linked to the legend of the discovery of the painting of the Madonna, which took place in 1599 by the shepherd Armao who saw his sheep kneeling in front of the image of the Madonna.

At first a primitive church was built on the site, built to house the painting, the destination of numerous pilgrims attracted by the numerous miracles. It was rebuilt between 1749 and 1758 by the same author of the Church of the Addolorata, Silvestro Gugliara.

The church has a simple single-order baroque façade with an elongated elliptical plan and is equipped with three altars in polychrome marble with baroque decorations: the central one is dedicated to the Madonna del Bosco, the right side one is consecrated to San Giovanni Neupomaceno, while the one on the left it is dedicated to San Benedetto.

In the crypt below with a single nave, covered by a four-canvas vault, there is a well where it is said that the stream where the painting was found flows. The painting was housed in the Church of S. Francesco, where in 1769 the image was accidentally destroyed and was replaced with another painting.

It stands on the remains of a small chapel destroyed by the earthquake. It was built between 1749 and 1758 under the direction of the master builder and architect Silvestro Gugliara. The church has a single nave with an elongated elliptical plan, the facade is in Baroque style and has a balanced composure and sobriety in the decorations.

The church preserves in a small niche the stones consisting of two candlesticks and the base that supported the cross, found, according to tradition, in 1599 on the discovery of the painting of the Madonna. The main altar depicts angels who, guided by the hand of God, hold the sacred painting of the Madonna in the gesture of carrying it towards the source of the discovery. Behind the altarpiece, a niche holds a copa of the painting, the work of a monk from Caltagirone, because the original work was lost in a fire that occurred in 1769 while it was in the church of Santa Maria d’Itria.

The two side altars are dedicated to San Benedetto and San Giovanni Nepomuceno. The crypt below preserves the well with the vein of water in which, it is said, the sacred veil with the image of the Madonna was found: indicated as the Chapel of the Holy Water, since 1998 it has also been a baptistery.


Historic Centre

The historic center dates back to the second half of the 17th century. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III has a rectangular shape and the Church of Santa Maria d’Itria and the Church of the Addolorata overlook it, as well as the Palazzo di Città and the church of Sant’Antonio da Padova, rebuilt after the earthquake, starting from 1746, was restored in the 20th century.

It is a church with a single nave, with a rectangular plan, with a bell tower (unusually placed in the rear side of the building) and an attached sacristy. The façade is in smooth plaster, with a terminal gable in the form of a small triangular pediment. The portal in stone ashlars is decorated in bas-relief. An imposing organ was installed in 1810 on a mezzanine built above the entrance door.

Maria SS. della Grazia, built in 1773, rises to the west of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III and was saved from abandonment in 1947.

It was built on the remains of a primitive rustic church of the feudal Niscemi by the will of Baron Iacona with the consent of Prince Ercole Michele Branciforte. The façade was completed in the 19th century and is divided into three orders, the last of which houses the belfry and the second an aedicule with the statue of San Gaetano.

The interior has a single nave, with barrel vaults and rich, typically Baroque fresco decoration. It is referred to, albeit inappropriately, as the Church of Santa Lucia.

In the historic center, there is also the Museum of Rural Life traces the peasant civilization of Niscemi. The pieces contained there were donated by some citizens to the local Lions Club which cataloged them. Currently, of the approximately 2,000 pieces present, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage of Caltanissetta, with its own decree, has bound over 650. One wing of the museum is used as a conference room and periodically hosts cultural events that see the citizens of Niscemi participate.


Malerba Palaces

Malerba Palaces were built between the middle and the end of the nineteenth century in via Regina Margherita, where there are two of these buildings, the first (Palazzo Alfonso Malerba) built in 1835 was presented as a compact block with a single floor and sober in the warm decorations.

Pilacane stone, with an elegant round arched entrance door in the central part resting on fins and piers, enriched on the sides by two Tuscan columns in the round on slender and high pedestals that made the portal slenderer.

All the balconies supported by shelves in ace with the doors on the ground floor, were framed by simple and elegant jambs and architraves that ended with a triangular-framed tympanum. It was one of the few buildings equipped with toilets, having a well in the entrance hall that was used to draw water for domestic use.

It is said that between the mouth of the well and the water level a tunnel had been dug that led out of the town to be used in case of danger.

The building was demolished by the municipal administration in 1966 for alleged instability and today only part of the northern facade remains; the second (Palazzo Antonino Malerba) built in 1890 and which introduced some new architectural elements in the traditional typology of the Niscemese palaces, consisting of two floors with decorations in white stone from Comiso and terra cotta from Caltagirone, with a large door leading into a entrance hall facing a garden.

The staircase leading to the rooms and halls of the noble floor begins on the left side.

A third building, the only one renovated and which is now a private residence, was built at the beginning of the twentieth century on the corner of via Mazzini and via Buonarroti.


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