San Marco d’Alunzio is an Italian town of 1.877 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Messina in Sicily. It is part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
It is a municipality in the Nebrodi Park. The village of San Marco d’Alunzio is perched on Mount Castro, which is located in the Nebrodi Park and from where you can also see the Aeolian islands. The landscape is fascinating, and there are alternating caves and buttresses, carved by the Favara, Difesa and Platanà streams. The town of the village already existed in Roman times and was called Alontion or Aluntium. However, it was in the Norman era that San Marco became its name.
Its foundation dates to the 4th century BC. and during the period of Greek domination it was a flourishing center called Alontion (Αλοντιον) and it was beating its own currency.
During the Punic wars it was conquered by the Romans, who proclaimed it an autonomous municipium, renaming it Aluntium and, in this period, the town experienced an artistic and economic development of which there is still evidence in archaeological monuments and in a vast epigraphic literature. It will also be mentioned by Pliny and by Cicero himself in the famous trial against Verre who seized the treasures of numerous Sicilian cities.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire (in the 6th century AD), in a period of full decline, a community of Byzantine refugees from Sparta came to Aluntium who called it Demenna, and then from the Arabs who surrounded the town of walls and they made it the political and administrative center of a vast area of Sicily called Val Demone.
According to historian Ali Ibn al-Athir, the Muslims attempted a first siege in 901 and succeeded in putting the inhabitants to flight the following year. But the Byzantines again managed to resume it by forcing the Muslims in 910 to new battles until the final submission.
The Normans, defeated the Arabs, made it their center of government and called it San Marco in honor of the evangelist and in memory of the first city conquered in Calabria. From the 11th century it was the domain of Roberto il Guiscardo degli Altavilla, who chose it as a starting point and as a military garrison for the conquest of Sicily. In this period the monastery of Benedictine nuns was built with the adjoining church of the Santissimo Salvatore.
In 1061 Roberto il Guiscardo founded the first Norman castle in Sicily, dedicating it to San Marco, thus erasing the memory of Demenna, in order to eradicate the memory of the Arab era. In 1150 the geographer ibn Idris described it as: “prosperous location, with a flourishing silk production and with an arsenal on the coast for the construction of canals with woods taken from the rich inland woods.”
Let’s begin our trip in this wonderful Sicilian medieval village!
The Temple of Hercules
The temple of Hercules of San Marco d’Alunzio dates back to the 4th century. B.C. Most likely used for sports activities related to the cult of Hercules, it is Doric in style, with a rectangular plan, with a pronaos on the front, an “antis” structure and with side walls ending in two doors between which two columns rose. Its construction, with an isodome structure, is in rectangular tuff stone blocks, a particular type of spongy travertine extracted, probably, from a quarry in the Rosemary valley.
Today there is only one cell, a sacred area reserved for priests, (originally located within a large sacrificial area) and transformed by the Normans into a Christian church dedicated to San Marco Evangelista, which maintained the role of Matrix until the sixteenth century.
The Greek temple of Hercules was built in the 4th century. B.C. on a rocky step overlooking the town. For historical-artistic and architectural value, it is certainly one of the most important Aluntian monuments since, being the only well-preserved in the province of Messina, it represents a great testimony of the classical age in the Messina area.
Most likely used for sports activities related to the cult of Hercules, it was in Doric style, with a rectangular plan, with a pronaos on the front, an “in antis” structure and with side walls ending in two doors between which two columns rose. Its construction, with an isodome structure, is in rectangular tuff stone blocks, a particular type of spongy travertine extracted, probably, from a quarry in the Rosemary valley.
At the beginning of the 1600s, the portal was enriched with Baroque-style friezes and marble decorations, but in the following centuries the church suffered serious damage, reaching total abandonment in the 19th century when many blocks were taken for use in other buildings. Today there is only one cell, a sacred area reserved for priests, (originally located within a large sacrificial area) and transformed by the Normans into a Christian church dedicated to San Marco Evangelista, which maintained the role of Matrix until the sixteenth century. The restoration of 1969 allowed this ancient Doric temple to continue to live defying the centuries.
Science Museum in Palazzo Grimaldi
The Renaissance historian Palazzo Grimaldi in San Marco D’Alunzio, in the heart of the Nebrodis, after forty years, has reopened its doors, becoming the singular seat of the Museum of Science and Technology: “IDEA”.
IDEA is part of the Aluntian project “Kilometer of Culture” included in the wider “San Marco 2020” initiative, capable of revaluing the territory of San Marco through art in its many forms.
Three hundred square meters, over thirty works representing the major discoveries of Archimedes, Pythagoras, Plato and studied by the staff to interact with the visitor. An interactive museum, in fact, designed to make the viewer reflect on the causes and effects of everyday reality, with the aim of helping to exercise the user’s mind to dynamism, stimulating creativity.
The basic rule of the museum is “forbidden not to touch”. Contrary to what generally happens in museum structures, here the works must be touched, the user must literally get in touch with them.
Each room, one color. Each work is proposed for the viewer to discover “what to do, what happens, what to note”.
The museum presents itself as an informal laboratory and is characterized by its interactive approach, aimed at making us understand the link between the causes and effects of phenomena that affect almost all of our daily reality.
From 30 April 2016 it is possible to visit the first permanent exhibition created by the IDEA Museum entitled The Science and Technology of Magna Grecia and the Roman Empire. The exhibition was curated by Prof. Salvatore d’Arrigo, engaged for thirty years in the creation of educational workshops aimed at students of all ages, from primary school to university.
In addition to the IDEA Museum, within the Kilometer of Culture it is possible to visit GADAM Contemporary Art Gallery (free admission), Sacred Art Museum, MAB Archaeological Museum, the Municipal Library, S. Maria delle Grazie Church, Mother Church , Church of the Aracoeli and its crypt, the Badia Grande, the Church of the Santissimo Salvatore and the church of S. Teodoro, among the most beautiful art churches in Sicily and the Temple of Hercules, the only Greek temple in the province of Messina.
Rocche del Crasto
The Rocche del Crasto are a great rock formation of great beauty of the Mesozoic era, consisting of gray and shiny crystalline rocks and white and pink dolomite limestones, often with green and red shades, located close to the inhabited centers of Longi, San Marco d’Alunzio and Alcara Li Fusi.
The hiking itineraries recommended by the Nebrodi Park are three, and are developed along paths in Zone “A” of the Park.
They allow to connect, through naturalistic routes and multiple road networks, the inhabited centers directly with the tops of the Rocche del Crasto.
The three itineraries, although apparently demanding due to the differences in height and length, do not present great difficulties as they take place on easy paths and are equipped with wooden signs and signs, placed along the way, which facilitate their use.
The paths wind through crops, arid meadows and limestone rich in the spring period of a great variety of flowers and colors, but also of aromas and perfumes.
Among the most important floristic presences: anemone orchids, primroses, cyclamen, thistles, krokus, romulee, different species of cruciferous, leguminous and euphorbiaceous plants. Among the latter, the most widespread is the Euphorbia dendroides, which represents the most significant essence of the Rocche del Crasto. There are also broom and holm oak spots, perched in small splits of ridges and cliffs.
Many animal species can be observed with a little foresight. In particular, there are numerous raptors, among which in addition to the kestrel, the hawk and the sparrow hawk we find the golden eagle and wonderful specimens of griffon vulture. And still the imperial crows, the hoopoe and many other species of smaller birds.
Other animals present, although more difficult to meet, are hares, rabbits, foxes, porcupines, weasels, hedgehogs, martens. On the other hand, many domestic animals such as cows, horses, goats and sheep are easy to meet, left to graze quietly between the plains and slopes of the mountains or near the typical rural settlements and I drank.
The path alternates the great pastures with the peaks. Along the whole itinerary there are also multiple water sources, and there are several wooded areas. The views over the large valleys complete the show for the visitor. The view from above on the sea and on the Aeolian Islands, and the flight of griffins cause hikers unique and unusual sensations.
The Museum, established in 1997, is housed in the former Benedictine Monastery, built in the 16th century on a Byzantine-Norman church and inhabited by the nuns until 1866. Restored and re-functionalized between 1994 and 1997 with community funding (PIM), today includes three large halls, three halls and services for over 700 square meters. surface.
Unique by type in Sicily, it has an architectural structure of great interest, divided into three sections: Archaeological, Byzantine-Norman figurative arts and the Middle Ages in the Nebrodi. The “Archaeological” section includes a rich lapidary from the Greek-Roman era, numerous architectural elements as well as ceramic finds dating back to the period from the 4th century BC. B.C. to the III sec. A.D.
The most interesting pieces are a sacrificial altar dedicated to Augustus and a Corinthian-style terracotta capital, both dating back to Roman times. The finds collected in this room, of testimonial importance, bear Greek and Latin inscriptions. A room, then, houses a large number of finds from the necropolis, some ceramic fragments and bronze seals from the Middle Ages.
The “Byzantine-Norman Figurative Arts” section is located in the former church known as the “Four Holy Doctors of the Eastern Church” because of the very precious frescoes depicting these characters from the Eastern church. Here, the pictorial cycle from the central apse of the Norman church of S. Salvatore extra moenia, rebuilt by Margherita di Navarra and whose structure is located just outside the town, has been reconstructed.
In the same room, there is another fresco from the rediscovered church dedicated to S.Basilio di Cesarea. The “fresco” paintings placed here offer opportunities for comparison with other examples of medieval painting from the Nebroid area. The “Middle Ages in the Nebrodi” section includes some finds and a rich iconographic documentation that document the most singular aspects of architecture, sculpture, minor arts and culture of the entire Nebroid area until 1300 – 1400. The collection is very interesting. of about 200 coins dating back to the period between the 5th and 15th century AD. C., there are also two gigantic amphoras found in Tusa and dated from the 14th-15th centuries.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to virtually visit the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, thanks to the two multimedia stations created with the community project, presented by this museum as part of the “RAFFAELLO” community program, entitled “Interactive Network of Bizantyne Art” and in transnational cooperation with the Byzantine National Museum of Athens and with the Institute of Byzantine and Neollenic Studies of the University of Vienna. Some cisterns from the Hellenistic period and a Hellenistic-Roman mosaic floor were found in the area surrounding the museum and the church of S. Teodoro, which, suitably lit, act as an itinerary outside the building that houses the rooms of the museum.
Castle and Church of San Marco
In the highest part of the village, you can find the ruins of the San Marco castle together with its church. From 1090 to 1112 it was the residence of the Altavilla family giving it considerable importance.
The castle dates back to Norman domination and construction took place in 1061. The latter, built on the ruins of a previous fortification, was ordered by Roberto il Guiscardo. The structure in the following years was used as a seat of government and town hall until the 12th century, when it became a state prison.
We know what we know about the structure only from its remains.
Note the presence of a courtyard from where various stairways to the upper floors, reserved for the nobles, departed. Limestone has been widely used in the castle, especially around windows and entrance doors.
The walls finally surrounded the building by binding in some places to the rocky walls.
Leaving the ruins of the building, visitors can finally observe the church of San Marco, built on the ruins of a Greek temple.
Although the church is currently inaccessible due to the collapse of the roof, it still retains the walls of the original Greek structure.
Church of Madonna Annunziata
One of the most relevant from an artistic point of view is the Church of the Madonna Annunziata.
This building was born on the edge of the town, probably on the remains of a pagan temple, and has a single nave and a rather simple structure.
Although the church does not emerge for its size, it features precious Byzantine frescoes and a beautiful statue of the Virgin in white marble, dating back to the fifteenth century.
On the pedestal of this there is also a bas-relief of the medieval San Marco.
The church, located at the beginning of the town as a guard of the town, was probably built on the remains of a pagan temple but over the centuries it has undergone several transformations, some of which are documented by Byzantine frescoes found under the plaster of the walls.
It is a small, single-nave church that houses a beautiful 15th-century statue of the Virgin in white Carrara marble on whose pedestal, in bas-relief, a medieval city is depicted; the hands and head of the statue are in plaster because the originals were destroyed during a Saracen raid.
The church over the centuries it has undergone several transformations, some of which are documented by Byzantine frescoes found under the plaster of the walls.
The small church has a single nave which houses a beautiful statue of the Virgin in white Carrara marble from the 15th century (from the Gaginian school) on whose pedestal, in bas-relief, a medieval city is depicted; the hands and head of the statue are in plaster because the originals were destroyed during a Saracen raid.
Parish Museum of Sacred Art
The Catholic religion has developed very deep roots in this area. For this reason, the church of San Giuseppe became the current Parish Museum of Sacred Art.
The museum displays works from churches throughout the area dating back to around the 15th century. Among these are wooden statues, noble coats of arms, robes worn in ancient times by priests and even a canvas from the Deposition.
In the silver room there are also trunks, tabernacles, chalices and monstrances all dated between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Inaugurated in 1996 in the ancient church of S. Giuseppe, it houses over 500 works from the Aluntine churches: noble coats of arms in stone, sacred vestments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ex voto, reliquaries, bronze tabernacle doors, bells and wooden statues from the XV to XVII century, including a beautiful Madonna Odigitria.
In the silver room, trunks, tabernacles, chalices, monstrances by seventeenth and eighteenth-century Messinian and Palermitan silversmiths.
San Teodoro Church
Built between the 13th and 9th centuries, it houses an interesting artistic heritage. The church, built on a Greek cross, was part of a Benedictine monastery; on the first arm of the Greek cross there is a paved floor that allowed cloistered nuns to participate in religious services through recently restored wooden jealousies.
The plan of the Greek cross church has a central octagon and four sturdy pillars which support as many lowered arches on which rests a drum closed by the dome.
The first arm of the Greek cross is covered by a barrel vault, on which there is a paved floor that allowed cloistered nuns to participate in religious services through recently restored wooden jealousies.
There are wonderful biblical bas-relief representations, made by Don Corrado Oddo in the eighteenth century, representing Judith winner of Holofernes, the manna in the desert, and four scenes depicting the Parable of the prodigal son.
There are also astonishing biblical bas-relief depictions, made in the eighteenth century, some paintings including the martyrdom of St. Theodore and a precious gilded wood ciborium with a silver tabernacle of the eighteenth century.