Petralia Soprana

Petralia Soprana, stone village in the Madonie Park

June 23, 2021 By Bellarome Travel

Petralia Soprana is an Italian town of 3.153 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Palermo in Sicily.

It is part of the Madonie Park and is the highest town in the Madonie.

The town is included in the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy and has been proclaimed “Borgo dei Borghi 2018”.

Petralia Soprana

It is generally identified as Petra, the Sican city. Diodorus Siculus reports that in 254 BC, during the First Punic War, after the conquest of Palermo they handed the town over to the consuls Aulus Attilio and Gneo Cornelio, passing under Roman domination.

Petra, one of the main suppliers of wheat to Rome, was included among the civitates decumanae, that is, among the cities subjected to the annual tithing tax in kind.

Numerous dominations followed one another during the Middle Ages, including Byzantines, Muslims and Normans.

In the 9th century, during the reign of the Aghlabids it was called Batraliah. After the conquest by the Normans of Ruggero, count of Altavilla, which took place in 1062, the town was fortified, and took on the aspect it still retains in the 21st century, with the castle, towers and bastions, and “Latinized”, with the construction of several churches. Ruggero assigned it to his nephew Serlone.

In a document dated 1258, Petra “inferior” (Petralia Sottana) and Petra “superior” (Petralia Soprana) appear for the first time, originally almost certainly a single community.

In 1258, it became part of the heritage of the Ventimiglia counts of Geraci Siculo, to then pass to the county of Collesano, of the heritage of the Centelles, the Cardona, the Moncada and the Alvarez of Toledo, until the abolition of feudality in 1817.

In July 1943, Petralia Soprana suffered a heavy shelling by the Anglo-American artillery because around the country there were some German positions that were trying to stop the advance of the Allies. A German cannon was placed among the trees of Villa Sgaderi, another at the Pinta, these cannons were then identified by the Americans thanks to a “stork” plane and bombed. During the bombing of the Second World War the inhabitants of Petralia Soprana returned to take refuge in the natural caves and in those carved into the rock.

Let’s begin our tour in this jewel of Sicily!


Cathedral of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

The cathedral of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is the main place of worship (madrice or matrix or mother church) located in Piazza Duomo in the town of Petralia Soprana.

It was rebuilt in the 14th century at the behest of the Ventimiglia family, with a Latin cross plan and three naves. It has two bell towers on the façade, one from the fifteenth century and the other from the eighteenth century, connected by a portico of 18 columns made by the Serpotta brothers. In the eighteenth-century bell tower in 1998 there is a bell weighing 18 quintals (“Union bell”).

Inside, are preserved seventeenth-century paintings and the first Crucifix attributed to Brother Umile from Petralia.

The Mother Church of SS. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, in Piazza del Duomo, is probably of late medieval construction. Rebuilt later, it underwent changes inside and became two naves; it also saw other transformations and extensions at the beginning of the 18th century, when it was embellished with Baroque stuccoes.

At the end of the 18th century the external portico, the work of the Serpotta family, and the bell tower to the east were added.

The entrance portal is from the fifteenth century, while the interior, now a Latin cross and divided into three naves, houses the “Madonna dell’Udienza” by Antonello Gagini, the “Madonna della Catena” by Giorgio da Milano, a Pietà by Giuliano Mancino , a wooden tabernacle by Pietro Bencivinni and the first of 33 wooden crucifixes by Frate Umile da Petralia.

It still houses one of the works created by the Zoppo di Gangi, Gaspare Bazzano: The Madonna degli Angeli with Saints Chiara, Francesco, Antonio and Pietro d’Alcantara from 1620.

Inside, we can admire the largest organ in the area, dating back to 1780, and the work of Giacomo Andronico.


Church of Santa Maria di Loreto

The Church of Santa Maria di Loreto is a place of worship located at the end of via Loreto in the town of Petralia Soprana.

Among the etymological origins of the name Petralia, one of the many hypotheses suggests that it derives from the existence of the church and convent of Sant’Elia built around the year 850 in Petralia Sottana. A further supposition has it that both Petralia owe their name to an impervious cliff or cliff of land called the stone of Elijah, a clear reference to the prophet Elijah.

The cult and the veneration of the biblical character were probably introduced by primitive hermit cells of Carmelites, religious communities later attested in this temple. Order established in the ancient church of Maria Santissima Annunziata del Carmelo, documented on today’s “Piazza del Popolo” until 1929, when it was razed to the ground. Square overlooked by the Town Hall, an institution established in the structures of the former convent of the Discalced Carmelites erected in the 16th century.

Although the Order of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel is attested and documented in Sicily following the return of Queen Adelasia del Vasto after the events resulting from the unfortunate marriage with Baldwin I of Jerusalem, it is nevertheless probable that nuclei from Mount Carmel had already colonized the island settling to spread conversion Christianity.

On the other hand, in the Norman era the disagreements between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land worsened, tense relations that will turn into expulsions and persecutions that subsequently resulted in the bloody crusades, events that oblige entire monastic communities to take refuge elsewhere.

In fact, Carmelite confessors and spiritual assistants were part of the sovereign’s retinue upon returning from Jerusalem, religious who during the last year of the queen’s voluntary exile in the city of Patti, spread the principles and rules in the two capitals of the Kingdom.

In 985, the medieval Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi documents a fortified part of the town facing south (conurbation) with a fortress and a church. In the particular historical context, the city, in the hands of the Arabs for over a hundred years – having been conquered by the Muslims in the second half of the 9th century – had been renamed by them b.ṭralîah.

The suffix of the Arabic transliteration leads to a pre-existing denomination of the locality, referring to the common biblical prophet, a name already widespread in an earlier era.


Church of the Santissimo Salvatore

The Church of the Santissimo Salvatore is a place of worship near Piazza Duomo near the mother church in the town of Petralia Soprana.

Construction probably built on a pre-existing structure, according to tradition used as a mosque.  Building later transformed into a church by Count Ruggero and elevated to the title of Palatine Chapel, first with reference to the ancient fortified building placed on the fortress facing south, a building documented in 985 by the medieval geographer Al-Muqaddasi in the b.ṭralîah Arabic.

Subsequently, only in the Norman period was the extra portam castle located to the north built in a higher position, a building landed by the Magnus Terremotus in terra Xiclis of 1542, from the intense swarms of earthquakes which culminated with the destructive events of 27 March and 8 June 1638. , from the earthquake documented in the city chronicles of March 1647, with the devastation caused by the earthquake of the Val di Noto in 1693, finally by the endogenous agents of a thunderstorm in 1891, which decreed the almost total demolition of the ruins at the end of the nineteenth century.

In 1066, the court chronicler Goffredo Malaterra, documents the primitive manor, in the same way as Filippo Cluverio and Tommaso Fazello, the latter with his reconnaissance and in-depth studies, frames the locality and fortress in Ptolemy’s treatises of Geography.

The elliptical interior is marked by eight pillars that determine radial chapels of different sizes, the structures support the central dome. The internal surfaces have an elegant stucco apparatus embellished with gilded reliefs.


The internal architecture reflects the Borrominian style introduced on the island, inspired and / or the result of contamination with reference to contemporary monumental poles of the capital, Catania and many other smaller towns of the Val di Noto, especially in relation to the large reconstruction interventions carried out following the devastation caused in much of Sicily by the earthquake of 1693.


The Convent of San Francesco dei Frati Minori Conventuali

The convent of San Francesco dei Frati Minori Conventuali was founded in 1484, on the proposal of the Jurors of the University of Petralia Sottana who granted a communal land located in the ancient square, as a building area.

The Convent of the Reformed Friars Minor was built in the early seventeenth century thanks to the onerous offers by the noblewomen of the town, confirmed by the consent of Don Antonio Moncada, lord of Petralia at that time.

A church was built inside the building, annexed to the presence of an atrium and a field, which later became a park.

The beauty of the structure is visible from the facade of the church, richly decorated with bas-reliefs with floral motifs, and from the columned cloister inside the garden.

In the second half of the 1600s the decorative apparatus was transformed to follow the stylistic trends of the period, making the church of San Francesco one of the highest examples of Barocchetto Madonita.

The main façade is adorned with a beautiful white stone portal rebuilt in 1896 and on the left, a plaque dated 28 April 1862 is embedded where the “information between the ancient measures with the decimal metric” is reported.

The internal walls of the church have a dense decoration with frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis, the Virgin, Jesus and significant moments for the Franciscans attributed to Gaspare Vazzano.

The chapel and the main altar were remade by Baron Egidio Pucci who acquired the right of patronage in 1711 and the walls were re-frescoed with a decorative cycle dedicated to moments in the life of Christ Child and the Paradise of the Lord.

As an altarpiece there is an eighteenth-century canvas depicting Sant’Egidio recently attributed to Antonino Grano (eighteenth century).


MACSS Contemporary Art Museum SottoSale

The museum contains the rock salt sculptures released by the International Rock Sculpture Biennial (the fourth edition will take place in 2017) during which renowned artists internationally arrive in Raffo, they choose from the local mine the blocks of salt to work and sculpt for the alleys of Petralia Soprana, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, and then relocate them again in the womb of the earth.

That of rock salt is a geological exceptionality of the Madonite territory that requires, due to its irregular crystallization material, a different approach from the one with which compact and non-transparent materials such as marble or stone are faced.


The field was formed over six million years ago by a series of rare geological events and by the drying up of the Mediterranean Sea. The very pure rock salt deposit hosts – by concession of the Italkali Society, the MACSS (Museum of Contemporary Art Under Salt), a unique case in the world. It is the only contemporary art museum inside an active mine.

Here, there are 30 works, the result of 4 biennials (2011-2017), which unfold along a very particular artistic, natural and geological path. A suggestion that in about an hour allows you to learn more about the geological history of Sicily, enriched by testimonies of contemporary art.

Light footsteps in silence, silky sound and breath. It is a leap in time, in the bowels of the earth to discover salt and its age-old secrets. Eight levels, dug up to the heart of the earth, and more than 80 km of tunnels make up the Italkali di Raffo salt mine (a hamlet of Petralia Soprana) which is located on the Madonie mountain range.

A geological site that was formed five million years ago following the drying up of the Mediterranean Sea.

A very pure rock salt deposit where that white powder is still extracted today which, two thousand years ago was worth like gold, was a currency of exchange for Roman soldiers paid, in fact, with salt (hence the word salary).

But what surprises the visitor is what it houses (courtesy of the Italkali Society) inside: the Museum of Contemporary Art Sotto Sale, the MACSS, which with its rock salt sculptures represents a unique case in the world of a museum inside an active mine.

A path made of lights, shadows, and suggestions, allows you to admire thirty masterpieces resulting from the mastery of internationally renowned artists who have modeled, working blocks of rock salt, works of breathtaking beauty. Among the sculptors present, at the last Biennale (2017), artists such as the Cameroonian Patrick Tatcheda or the French Philippe Berson and the Mexican Juan Esperanza and Sicilians Giuseppe Agnello, Domenico Pellegrino, Giacomo Rizzo, Nicola Busacca and the Milanese artist Michele Soddu. A guided tour, lasting about an hour, which allows you to discover the geological history of Sicily enriched by contemporary artistic testimonies.


Palazzo del Giglio

The history of Palazzo del Giglio, seat of the Town Hall of Petralia Sottana, is curious. Where the municipal building now stands was the hospital of San Giuliano, a single body with an adjoining church, which has now disappeared. The hospital building was remodeled and enlarged in 1671.

In 1862, with the transfer to the state property of real estate, the Church of San Francesco was sold by the Administration of the Fund for Worship to the Municipality of Petralia Sottana. To build Corso Paolo Agliata and the town hall.

The then Mayor Raffaele Rampolla proposed an exchange to Abbot Pucci: the parish would regain possession of the church of San Francesco in exchange for the church of San Giuliano. The proposal is accepted by the counterpart, approved in the City Council on 21 July 1869 with a contract approved in 1870. The Church of San Giuliano then becomes the property of the Municipality, premising the enlargement of the Corso building in that point and transforming, over the years, the entire body of the hospital and the church in the Town Hall.

The Palazzo called del Giglio, taking its name from the municipal coat of arms representing a lily on a red background, housed the Circolo dei Civili on the ground floor until the postwar period, then the post office.

Now the building is used entirely for offices and municipal services.

Inside there are precious works among which we remember a Murano chandelier in the Mayor’s Room, the canvas depicting the Dormitio Virgini by Giuseppe Salerno and an imposing Bourbon filigree eagle.


Villa Sgadari

On the edge of the inhabited center of Petralia Soprana, immersed in a quiet countryside, stands Villa Sgadari: the building is partly submerged by an abundant spontaneous vegetation that seems to have taken over that stone body that inevitably shows the signs of time and abandonment. The villa, once the suburban residence of one of the most prominent families of the small Madonie center, is now owned by the Madonie Park Authority: it is an important example of late eighteenth-century architecture which shows, however, the signs of decay and abandonment, and above all the signs of indifference.

We know practically nothing about Villa Sgadari, except that it belonged to the homonymous family originally from Petralia Soprana and that it was built (as far as we can see) during the second half of the eighteenth century: it does not seem a coincidence, however. , the stylistic similarity between this country house and the Bongiorno palace in nearby Gangi. In fact, rummaging through the archive papers we find that in 1728 don Matteo Sgadari, son of don Francesco and of woman Caterina Palazzotto and Sgadari terre Petralie Superioris, married woman Giuseppa Bongiorno, sister of the then seventeen year old baron Francesco Benedetto Bongiorno: this takes on a more relevant aspect if we consider that another brother of the bride (and therefore Sgadari’s brother-in-law) is the still child (he is only six years old) Gandolfo Felice Bongiorno, future scholar and above all an architect in the Madonite field.

Numerous documents confirm that from the middle and almost to the end of the eighteenth century the architect Bongiorno was involved in various design enterprises in Gangi, Geraci, Polizzi Generosa and in Petralia Soprana itself: we think that he may also have been a designer of the family palace erected in Gangi between 1754 and ’56 and, given the numerous similarities with the Petralese villa (in the solutions of cornices and pilasters, cantonal, cornices and balconies), we can imagine that Bongiorno may have indulged the desire of his brother-in-law (or some other member of the Sgadari family) to build a small house near Petralia Soprana and who therefore conceived the design. It is obviously a conjecture that has yet to be verified.

The imposing building, still compact in its eighteenth-century bulk, shows the main facade artistically composed with goose-breasted balconies supported by artistic stone corbels: the moldings of the cornices that frame the numerous openings underline the refinement of the architectural solutions.

Villa Sgadari presents itself today in a state of absolute abandonment. Uninhabited and neglected for decades, the building does not hide the signs of decay: there are many cracks in the walls and just as many are the ruined parts and disconnected blocks; several parts of the roofs have collapsed under the weight of the centuries while nature has slowly run its course, insinuating itself with its roots right into the wall connections. On closer inspection, the ancient building, once full of life, resembles a mute ghost observing the inexorable passage of time waiting to reach the end of its slow agony.

The villa was recovered by the Madonie Park Authority and was inaugurated in May 2012.


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