Bagheria Sicily

Bagheria, the Sicilian “city of Villas”

May 7, 2021 By Bellarome Travel

Bagheria is a town in the metropolitan city of Palermo, Sicily. It is alsoknown as the “city of villas”, after Palermo it is the most populated municipality of the metropolitan city and the twelfth of Sicily, located on the Tyrrhenian coast of the region just 8 km from the capital. The municipality also has a hamlet, Aspra, which represents the Bagherese maritime part. Bagheria became world famous for the 2009 Baarìa film in which more historical moments that the city went through and its various social, economic and urban changes were shown.

The town is also known for being the birthplace of the director and Oscar winner Giuseppe Tornatore, the dialectal poet Ignazio Buttitta, the communist painter and politician Renato Guttuso and the photographer Ferdinando Scianna.

According to various sources, its name originates from the Phoenician term bayharia, or “area that descends to the sea”. According to others, however, it derives from the Arabic bahriyya, which means “sea side” or “marina”, or bāb al-gerib, “gate of the wind”.

Archaeological research and the numerous finds found confirm the existence of the town as early as the seventh century BC, crossed by the Phoenician-Punic, Hellenic and Roman civilizations.

The first building structures developed around the 15th century along the stretch of coast which stretches between Mongerbino and the mount of Capo Zafferano, between the gulf of Palermo and that of Termini Imerese.

Most of these were watchtowers around which the first farmhouses of farm workers who worked in the lands of the nobles arose, mainly cultivating vines, olive trees, almond trees and prickly pears.

In 1658, the count of Raccuja Giuseppe Branciforti, after the affront to the non-appointment of viceroys by the Spanish government, decided to retire to Bagheria where he built Villa Butera.

From that moment, the city of Bagheria grew in beauty and wealth, thanks also to the transfer of a small noble court financed by the count.

However, it was the nephew of the count, the Prince of Butera Salvatore Branciforti, who created the first urban plan of Bagheria, commissioning huge interventions including the construction of the main street to connect Palazzo Butera to the new Palermo-Messina road, called Corso Butera, and that of the course perpendicular to it which delimited its possessions.

He also rebuilt part of the urban center, including the Madrice Church which forms the backdrop to the “Stradonello”, the current Corso Umberto I.

After the construction of the Branciforti castle, Bagheria grew and was enriched with the construction of almost all the sumptuous villas, castles and palaces of the noble lords of Sicily, thus becoming a privileged place for the Palermo aristocracy for long holidays.

The town became an independent municipality (with the annexed hamlet of Aspra) on September 21, 1826, thanks to a royal decree signed by Francesco I. The municipal coat of arms, which follows that of the Branciforti family, is surmounted by a turreted crown with a rampant lion and a twig of vine.

An important worship in the city is the celebration of the patron saint, identified in San Giuseppe. The feast of the saint is celebrated with solemn ceremonies on the first Sunday of August, although in reality San Giuseppe falls on March 19. The religious celebrations, held in August, are accompanied by public shows that take place throughout the week preceding Sunday to culminate with traditional fireworks on Monday evening. Another event is that of the feast in honor of Maria Addolorata, who is seen as patroness of the seaside village of Aspra and is celebrated on September 15th.

Let’s begin our virtual tour in this magnificent place of Sicily!


Villa Palagonia

Villa Palagonia, known as “villa dei mostri”, is an eighteenth-century walled building located in Bagheria, Sicily.

The entrance avenue, surmounted by a triumphal arch, is in fact populated by a host of statues of deformed monsters and disturbing-looking animals, which from the two hundred that were originally today have become sixty-two and which currently constitute one of the main attractions of the villa.

The Villa was built starting from 1715 on behalf of Ferdinando Francesco I Gravina Cruyllas, prince of Palagonia, by the architect Tommaso Maria Napoli who, with the help of Agatino Daidone, took care, in 1737, of the low structures surrounding the villa and , in 1749, of the internal and external decorations, on behalf of some successors of the prince.

In particular, the nephew Ferdinando Francesco II, known as Il necromante (1722-1788), owes the realization of the extensive following of monstrous figures that surround the walls, for which the noble leisure residence is famous. He was the son of Ignazio Sebastiano and Margherita Alliata.

The villa actually stretched close to Corso Umberto in Bagheria, exactly at the height of the two pillars today indistinctly incorporated into the urban plot of the city. The main entrance was on Corso Butera, and was formed by a long avenue, now become via Palagonia, which was accessed via three main doors. From here the long avenue loomed, adorned with a dense array of monster statues, carved in limestone.

Halfway marked by the triumphal arch, which still exists, also called the arch of the Eternal Father, to whom the princes addressed the prayer of thanks, for having reached the goal. The avenue, which became an urban street, has been depleted of the many statues that adorned it. Of the ranks of monsters, sixty-two survive, but originally they should have amounted to about two hundred.

In 1885, the villa was purchased by the Castronovo family who still today, thanks to his heirs, makes it possible to visit one of the most extraordinary monuments of the European Baroque civilization, created in the land of Sicily.

Villa Palagonia served as the location for some scenes of the film Il Mafioso by Alberto Lattuada with Alberto Sordi (1962), The wedding director by Marco Bellocchio with Sergio Castellitto (2006) and Baarìa by Giuseppe Tornatore (2009).


Villa Cattolica

Villa Cattolica is an eighteenth-century villa in Bagheria built in 1736 by the prince of Cattolica Eraclea, Francesco Bonanno. Since 1830, the Bonanno family loses ownership and the villa takes on several uses: lazaretto, barracks, and finally at the end of the 1800s it was purchased by Gioacchino Scaduto who uses it as a home and a factory of canned food.

Adapted to the Baroque style, the Villa has a quadrangular shape with two parallel exedras. From one of these there is a double ramp baroque staircase leading to the upper floor, while on the other stands a large panoramic terrace with an open gallery below.

In 1973 Renato Guttuso donated many of his works to the municipality of Bagheria, and the municipality creates a museum dedicated to the painter on the main floor of the villa. The municipality finally acquired the villa in 1988 and two years later, in 1990, placed a monumental sarcophagus inside to house the painter’s remains and officially transformed it into the Renato Guttuso Museum.

The museum houses works by Onofrio Tomaselli, Silvestre Cuffaro, Domenico Quattrociocchi, Pina Calì, Vincenzo Gennaro and Giuseppe Pellitteri. Over the years other works have been accepted and exhibited inside the museum. Since the 2000s the ground floor has been occupied by a theater workshop and two pictorial workshops.

The style of the villa is reminiscent of a quadrangular castle, the walls surrounding the garden are equipped with battlements. The structure is composed of two parallel exedras; on one of them there is a large terrace above a loggia, on the other a large access staircase. At the center of the structure is the coat of arms of Giuseppe Bonanni.

Since the 1990s, the northern exedra has housed the monumental sarcophagus of the sculptor Giacomo Manzù, which houses the remains of the painter Guttuso.

From 26 December 2016, after a year and a half of closure due to the renovation works, Villa Cattolica is home to the Guttuso Museum, inaugurated on the occasion of the 105th anniversary of the painter’s birth.


Capo Zafferano

Capo Zafferano is a small promontory that juts out into the Tyrrhenian Sea, belonging to the territory of Santa Flavia in the metropolitan city of Palermo. From it, proceeding to the west, the Gulf of Palermo begins, overlooked by the Conca d’Oro.

From Palermo it can be reached by the SS 113 by accessing the road that reaches it, immediately after the crossroads for Bagheria. In its vicinity there is the town of Solanto famous for the ancient tuna fishery no longer active. Behind it is the archaeological site of Solunto.

On the coast of the promontory there are some caves that have returned the bone remains of Elephas mnaidriensis together with lithic materials from the Upper Paleolithic and ceramic fragments similar to the Culture of Castelluccio.

From a geological point of view, the promontory represents an offshoot of the Monti di Palermo, resulting from the tectonic overlap of two main domains: the Panormide Carbonate Platform, limestone-dolomitic, and the Imerese Basin, clastic silico.  The promontory of Capo Zafferano and the adjoining Monte Catalfano, with a total area of ​​321.66 hectares, have been declared a Site of Community Interest (S.I.C.).

Along the coastal strip, characterized by cliffs subjected to the action of marine aerosol, a phytocoenosis is established characterized by the endemic Limonium bocconei which is associated with various other halophyte entities such as Crithmum maritimum, Lotus cytisoides and Plantago macrorrhiza.

In the sublitoral belt a maquis dominating Chamaerops humilis, Pistacia lentiscus and Euphorbia dendroides is observed, which sometimes degrades in grasslands dominated by Hyparrhenia hirta.

Along the rocky walls, mostly exposed to the north, there is a rock vegetation that includes among the species present different endemic entities or of particular phytogeographic interest such as Dianthus rupicola, Iberis semperflorens, Asperula rupestris, Centaurea ucriae, Brassica rupestris, Seseli bocconi and Glandora rosmarinifolia.

Of particular interest is the malacological contingent of this area, with populations of endemic species such as Chilostoma planospira macrostoma, Pomatias panormitanum, Siciliaria septemplicata and Marmorana globularis and uncommon species of great ecological interest, such as Rupestrella rupestris, Hohenwartiana hohenwarti and Schileykiella parlatoris.

The striking Arco Azzurro of Capo Zafferano is famous for having been used for a television commercial for a well-known Italian chocolate company.


Guttuso Museum

The museum, structured on three floors, was inaugurated in 1973 and houses works by Renato Guttuso donated by the master to his hometown.

In addition to the production of Guttuso, representative of over forty years of activity, it also hosts works by 20th century artists such as, among others, Cagli, Mario Schifano, Onofrio Tomaselli, Silvestre Cuffaro, Domenico Quattrociocchi, Pina Calí, Vincenzo Gennaro and Giuseppe Pellitteri, Mimmo Pintacuda, Giuseppe Tornatore. Over the years other works have been accepted and exhibited inside the museum. Since the 2000s the ground floor has been occupied by a theater workshop and two pictorial workshops.

Guttuso’s works range from paintings to sculptures, from drawings to engravings and range from the works of the 1930s to the last of the Bagherese artist.

The museum also has an ethnographic section in which several exquisitely carved and decorated Sicilian carts are exhibited. On the opposite side of the entrance is the tomb of Guttuso.

The museum was closed for renovations between 2014 and 2016. The reopening took place on 26 December 2016 (Renato Guttuso’s day of birth) with an inaugural event in which several famous figures linked to the Bagherese territory took part, such as Pif (TV host), Francesco Scianna (leading actor of the film Baarìa, set in the city) and Giuseppe Tornatore himself.


Pietro Piraino Toy and Wax Museum

The Pietro Piraino Toy and Wax Museum is housed in Bagheria (PA) in the Charterhouse of Villa Butera in via Dietro Certosa n.n. [on external sites we speak of Palazzo Cutò]. The museum displays around 1600 toys produced from the 2nd century BC. to 1900, and 100 wax works, dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Attached to the museum is a multimedia room with frescoes by Velasco, a classroom for teaching, a laboratory for the restoration of waxes, wooden statues, cribs, toys, a book shop, a cafeteria and a large garden

In 1994, Pietro Piraino Papoff with his daughters Laila and Lucilla, created the Association “Toy Museum Pietro Piraino” which deals with the research, restoration, cataloging and conservation of old toys and old games. The museum has the patronage of Unicef ​​and the Ministry of Education. In 2002 he moved to Bagheria on the main floor of Villa Aragona Cutò, in Via Consolare, owned by the Municipality of Bagheria.

In March 2014, the Museum moved with its 2500 toys and 200 wax works to the final location of Villa Certosa in Bagheria, which was restored for this purpose. In the new location, the museum has a book shop, cafeteria, multimedia room, library and garden. In the adjoining laboratory nine of the twelve wax statues made in 1770 by the ceroplast Ferretti have already been recreated, now stolen and no longer existing. The three still missing by Prof. Pietro Piraino Papoff and his daughter Dr. Laila Piraino are under renovation.

The Museum exhibits, about 2000 toys and dolls, produced with different materials, such as porcelain, wax, papier mache, Lenci cloth, celluloid, wood, dating back to the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. There are also some terracotta toys from the tomb of a 2nd century girl BC is a toy gun from the Nazi extermination camp in Mauthausen.

A section is dedicated to dollhouses, complete with small furnishings inside, and miniature furniture and accessories, with porcelain and kitchen utensils, and dresses.

Some wooden toys are typical of the Sicilian peasant civilization of the early twentieth century: the cart, the small Pulcinella, the puppets, the tops, the whistles.

The automata collection features rare mechanical toys produced in the nineteenth century in France, Germany, Switzerland and Sicily; mechanical games include a bellows harmonium, a Barberia organ with hammers and bells, 19th-century German-made disc carillons, magic lanterns, scientific toys, a large space is dedicated to tin toys and model trains.

There are also 200 wax sculptures on display, the work of Sicilian and Neapolitan artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The museum houses a laboratory for the restoration of ancient toys, wax sculptures, nativity scenes and wooden statues. It also produces statues and compositions in wax from scratch following the ancient techniques and methodologies of waxing.


Villa Sant’Isidoro De Cordova

Villa Sant’Isidoro De Cordova is a villa located in Aspra, a hamlet of Bagheria and can be dated back to 1648, years in which the plain of Bagheria had become a holiday resort for the Palermitan nobility.

The current organization of the main floor of the villa can be dated to the mid-eighteenth century as evidenced by the signature and the date shown in the decoration of the large hall painted in “trompe l’oeil”: 1753.

This period is attributable to most of the works of transformation of the building, although further interventions were carried out in the second half of the nineteenth century after a Del Castillo married a De Cordova in 1849.

The family’s entrance is documented by the coat of arms painted on the ceiling of the first room, which is accessed from the monumental staircase, at the center of which the weapons of the Del Castillo, De Cordoba, Mastrilli and Paternò families are legible.

This is where the visit begins inside the rooms that obey the French rule of the enfilade, through a succession of doorways that in some cases, in accordance with the symmetry of the spaces, become double. From the large entrance hall, called the “picture gallery”, the three rooms of the east wing develop, the most private area on the main floor: a study and two bedrooms with stucco decorations, evidence of the transformations in the second half century. In the room adjacent to the master bedroom, probably the alcove, with a beamed ceiling painted with white and blue decorations that document the seventeenth-century phase of the villa, women’s clothes and a precious kit with baptism and communion dresses are displayed.

In the west wing the representative rooms follow one another: the study with the most important paintings of the house museum (Jusepe de Ribera, Pietro Novelli, Scipione Compagno), the portraits of the ancestors of the family and the ceiling decorated with tempera; the large hall with fake architecture, weapons and craters, a work signed and dated by Rocco Nobile and, in the vault, the Allegory of Justice, painted by the Tresca brothers, paved with glazed terracotta tiles; the weapons room where the family’s weapon collections and a collection of coins and banknotes are exhibited.

The wooden doors that connect the three rooms, decorated with gold leaf with polychrome paintings, refer to the types of the time: flowers, vases, phytomorphic and shell-shaped elements embellish the rooms and recall the themes of the salon trompe l’oeil.

The last three rooms house the collection of dark rooms, cameras and cameras with photographic plates and elements for photographic development and retouching, vintage toys and comics and, finally, the environment from which you will reach the panoramic terrace where both women’s and men’s clothes, hats, shoes and accessories are on display.


Villa Valguarnera

Villa Valguarnera is a monumental complex of historical, architectural and artistic interest located in Bagheria, in the province of Palermo.

Villa Valguarnera is one of the most interesting eighteenth-century villas in Bagheria, both for the architectural quality of the complex and for its position in the Bagherian landscape.

Its construction began in 1712 on a project by Tommaso Maria Napoli, architect, Dominican, designer in the same years of the nearby Villa Palagonia, in contact with the Roman environment, which introduces an architectural language of Bernini matrix and a compositional clarity close to the most advanced examples of the eighteenth century Italian and European, in particular Austrian. The planimetric composition reveals elements deriving from esoteric and alchemical matrices, such as in the claviform icnography and in the enhancement of the nearby hill (Montagnola di Valguarnera, 105 m) – on the top of which an octagonal balustrade was created – as a symbolic path from the earth to the celestial sphere, with seven rest seats in a number equal to the seven phases of the alchemical transformation.

Upon the architect’s death in 1725, the villa was not yet finished and was then significantly modified. In particular, around 1780, Giovan Battista Cascione Vaccarini was the author of the new elevations and of the oval room on the main floor. Of great interest are the theory of internal halls frescoed by Elia Interguglielmi and the marble statues crowning the attic by Ignazio Marabitti. Once the building was surrounded by a vast park, enriched with coffe-houses, statues and neoclassical architecture.

Considered already by Giuseppe Pitrè the most sumptuous of the Bagherian villas, it owes its fame also to the many famous people who stayed there.

Particularly striking is the balcony on the gulf of Termini Imerese and Monte Catalfano. The villa was built by the Valguarnera princes and is still owned by their heirs, the Alliata princes of Villafranca.

The complex has been undergoing restoration for many years.

In the 1950s they lived in Villa Valguarnera Fosco Maraini and Topazia Alliata di Salaparuta with their daughter Dacia, with the parents who resided in the villa. Although the entire park has been subject to absolute building restrictions since 1913, it houses an entire unauthorized neighborhood.

The Villa stands on the slopes of Montagnola, a high hill from which you can admire the enchanting panorama of the gulfs of Palermo and Termini Imerese, of the Soluntino hill and of Monte Catafano.

As you climb Montagnola ” the eye is lost between the two promontories in the view of the turquoise sea in the cerulean distances of light, for small valleys and coastal slopes – continues Dacia Maraini in the novel ” Bagheria ” – and, in going up , a cupid smiles slightly, a Diana invites you to hunt, a bacchante dance and a Polyphemus fisters (plays the fistula, musical instrument made of straws, used by the shepherds) almost to make us sing the breeze of Metastasio carved at his feet ” .

In the vast park that originally surrounded the villa, there were some pavilions such as two coffee-houses decorated with frescoes and covered with climbing herbs, a fountain with an imposing Neptune and some statues of the main country gods Ceres, Bacchus, Pan and Flora.

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