Sambuca the Sicilian medieval village and its gems

Sambuca di Sicilia is an Italian town of 5.792 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Agrigento in Sicily.

The third Sicilian municipality after Gangi and Montalbano Elicona, located between the priceless beauties of the Selinunte Archaeological Park and the splendid sea of ​​Menfi, Sambuca di Sicilia boasts a beautiful name with an exotic charm and clear origins and at the same time only plausible.Sambuca

Zabut, as it was called, was the Arabic name of the castle, derived from its founder, the Emir Al-Zabut “the splendid”; and yet, for others, the toponym recalls the presence of elder trees or the shape of its urban layout which is similar to the sambuca, a musical instrument resembling a small harp that tradition attributes invented by the Greek lyric poet Ibico.

The Islamic population lived in Zabut until 1225, when, after two long years of resistance, was forced to surrender to the imperial army of Frederick II, while leaving intact the signs of Arab domination in the local culture. After the destruction of Adragna in 1411, the survivors moved to the fortress of Zabut which first became a barony and then a marquisate until the 19th century, doubling its name in Sambuca-Zabut in 1863.

Around 1510, there is news of a Jewish presence in the area, testifying that, by now, Sambuca is a consolidated point of attraction. Its building expansion is also significant. In fact, Palazzo Panitteri was built as an outpost of the castle of Zabut, which, in the following century, was to be found in the center of the town. As various censuses attest, Sambuca tends to increase its population and expand its urban fabric.

During the seventeenth century Sambuca still grows towards the valley of the hill on which it stands and a main axis is created, the Via del Corso, along which all the noble buildings and places of worship rise. In this way the city center is transferred, from the Arab area towards the quadrilateral which houses the church of Carmine, the monastery of Santa Caterina and the Ciaccio and Beccadelli palaces. The marquisate of Sambuca, on 16 September 1666, passed, due to a marriage, to the Beccadellis of Bologna, who subsequently rose to the rank of princes with the principality of Camporeale. The title is still held by the heirs today.

Of Arab origins, to distinguish it from the Tuscan municipality of the same name, “Zabut” was added in 1864 from the name of the ancient castle so called by the Emir Al Zabut; but in 1923 it took on its current name.

Struck by the 1968 earthquake, Sambuca (from the name of the ancient farmhouse of La Chabuca, which probably took its name from the emir who built the castle, Al Zabut) has been able to be reborn while preserving its ancient structure that has developed on a basis desired by the Arabs who founded it.

For some years the country has been experiencing a sort of rebirth, thanks to the purchase and renovation of buildings in the alleys of the historic center by some foreign citizens: a small community made up of Swiss, German, French and Lithuanians. A community that today seems destined to grow with the arrival of non-European citizens.

Arrivals that certainly do not manage to compensate for the slow depopulation of the Belicino center: according to Istat out of 5,834 inhabitants, there were more than 300 foreign citizens residing in Sambuca at the end of 2018.

Sambuca was elected as the most beautiful village in Italy in 2016.

Let’s discover together this lovely Sicilian medieval village!


Church of San Giuseppe

The Church of San Giuseppe and the adjoining Church of Jesus and Mary, both built in the eighteenth century, are the only ones to have withstood the earthquake of 1968. The oldest is the second, inside which valuable stucco decorations and an eighteenth-century canvas are preserved, depicting Jesus and Mary, attributed to Fra Felice da Sambuca.

The Church of San Giuseppe was built in 1715, with a façade marked by three orders, of which the last, now lost, housed the aedicule with the statue of the saint.

The interior has a single nave and preserves valuable eighteenth-century works of art: a polychrome wooden statue depicting Saint Lucia and attributed to the sculptor Filippo Quattrocchi; a canvas depicting Sant’Eligio; a small wooden statue by an unknown artist depicting San Biagio and a large altarpiece with the Marriage of Joseph.

The interior is remarkably interesting, with extraordinary frescoes from the Palermitan school: from a wooden statue of St. Joseph, to a fresco on the vault of Fra Felice, an esteemed local painter of the Baroque period.

On the presbytery of the church, however, there is the figure of the Eternal Father, of interesting workmanship.

The Church houses the painting dedicated to the Sambucese nun Vincenza Maria Amorelli who lived between 1737 and 1824.

The architectural composition of the pictorial trompe-l’oeil evokes the architectural style of the well-known Fercolo di Maria SS. of the audience to which Sister Vincenza was devoted.

The theatrical style of eighteenth-century illusionist painting follows the stylistic lines of the presbytery of the Church of San Giuseppe in Sambuca and arrives at a due symbolic and architectural continuity for the entire liturgical hall.


Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

The church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria and the remains of the monastery of the Benedictine Order constitute a monumental aggregate located in via Umberto I, adjacent to today’s Piazza della Vittoria in Sambuca di Sicilia.

The founder of the female institution in 1515 was Giovanni Domenico Giacone of Ireland with buildings and inheritance. From Sciacca, Sister Maria Ludovica Bufalo was called to inaugurate the work and become its first abbess.

Benefactor and patron don Pietro Beccadelli, Marquis della Sambuca, patron who enriched the monastery and the church with revenues, paintings, a cycle of frescoes and works of art.

In 1721, the marriage of the prince with woman Marianna Gravina Lucchesi, daughter of the prince of Palagonia.

The 1968 Belice earthquake seriously damaged the monastic structures which were soon demolished, in their place stands the Piazza della Vittoria and the war memorial. The temple was provisionally cordoned off and subsequently supported by a concrete wall. The interior of the church is in a state of decay. The rectory is also in serious abandonment.

The main façade bordered by sturdy corner pilasters in stone, has an isosceles staircase that connects the roadway to the floor of the nave.

Portal with architrave surmounted by window with grate. The perspective at the top is closed by a simple cornice.

Counter-façade: Choir closed by a theory of grates and a lunette occupied by a monumental radial grille. At the sides of the large arch there are two holy water stoups.

Rectangular layout with a single nave. Two marble altars per side wall, Burgio majolica floor dating back to the second half of the eighteenth century.

The stucco decorative apparatus was one of the first early works by Vincenzo Messina, a pupil trained at the Serpotta school. The ornaments include statues in the round depicting the allegories of the four incarnate Virtues placed on the sides of the first two altars of the nave.

A profusion of caryatids on columns, candelabra, scrolls, shells, frames, crowns, stems, festoons, garlands, shelves, pinnacles, pendants, cherubs and little angels, broad bricks, curls, volutes, coats of arms, weapons, details finished with phytomorphic leaf motifs acanthus.

Cycle of frescoes, on the vault the mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Fra Felice da Sambuca is depicted.


Carmine Church

The Carmine Church, located in Corso Umberto I in front of Palazzo Ciaccio, formerly the church of S. Antonio Abate, was built in 1530 by the Marquis of Sambuca Don Salvatore Baldi Mastrantonio. In 1615 the church was enlarged by the Marquis Don Vincenzo Baldi Mastrantonio, who also built the new convent of Carmine (the old one was, in fact, located in the S. Elia district adjacent to the church of S. Lucia) and was dedicated to Maria SS. of the Assumption.

The Marquis Don Ignazio Baldi Spatafora Centellis, knight of Malta, in 1633 made a new extension to the church with the construction of two other naves and two side chapels. The Madonna del Carmelo was placed in the chapel on the right and the marble statue of Maria SS. of the Audience that was carried in procession from the Cellaro tower to save the Sambucesi from the plague of 1575-76. In the years that followed, the church underwent several renovations, including in the early 1900s the original facade was replaced with the current one, in neoclassical style, the work of local craftsmanship, led by the sculptor Salvatore Affronti.

In 1981, the painters Tommaso Montana and Enzo Maniscalco restored the apse of the sanctuary. A last important restoration of the Sanctuary of Maria SS. of the Audience took place in 1986/87 by the Maggio Giovanni company, based on a project by the architect Marisa Cusenza, during the archpriesty of Don Angelo Portella. Today the church is in excellent architectural condition and its interiors are embellished with interesting decorations in pure gold and precious stuccos by Sambucese artists, whose maintenance is entrusted to the brotherhood of Maria SS. of the Audience which often intervened with restoration works.

Inside, you can also admire important works of art: the marble statue of the Madonna dell’Udienza placed on the main altar of the central nave, where it was placed after the coronation of 1903, an event commemorated with a plaque placed on the left wall of the presbytery; while on the right wall another plaque commemorates the decree of the proclamation of Maria SS. of the Audience to the main patroness of Sambuca Zabut.

The Carrara marble statue depicts the Virgin holding the child in her arms on whom the head slightly reclines. The Virgin, dressed in a high-waisted tunic, according to Renaissance fashion, is almost entirely covered by a heavy cloak with a wavy drapery that suggests the position of the body. The face of the Madonna is delicately drawn in an oval pattern, the sad gaze is turned downwards. The Child holds a symbolic apple in his right hand, while his left sinks into the palm of the mother’s hand. Both the Madonna’s dress and the cope are enriched with gilding in imitation of phytomorphic motifs. Much of the polychrome coating has survived.

The plinth of the statue has an octagonal base and in the middle band is decorated in bas-relief with a nativity scene. The composition is flanked by two seraphim, also in bas-relief. The work is attributed to Antonello Gagini. Finally, two beautiful funeral monuments close the central chapel: that of Dr. Antonio Oddo on the right and that of the distinguished Vito Oddo on the left side. In the chapel of the left aisle, where before the coronation the statue of Maria SS. Audience, today you can admire a magnificent wooden crucifix from the former convent of Santa Maria del Gesù.

In this chapel, some tombstones from noble tombs also testify to stories of illustrious Sambucese noble families: Baldi Centellis, Beccadelli, marquises of Sambuca. The chapel in the right aisle is dedicated to the Madonna del Carmelo surmounted by two winged putti in stucco that support her crown, the latter by the artist Salvatore Affronti.


Palazzo Sambuca

Palazzo Sambuca (known as Torre Maniace) is a late Baroque palace located in the historic center of Palermo, in via Alloro in the Kalsa district.

The Palazzo was built by the Marquises of Sambuca. The most illustrious exponent of this family was Giuseppe Beccadelli of Bologna, born in Sambuca on 2 July 1726. In 1777 he was invested with the Marquisate of Sambuca as his father’s eldest son and universal heir.

He died in Palermo in 1813 and was buried in Sambuca in the Capuchin Convent. The construction of the Palace took place over a fairly long period of time and on pre-existing buildings that occupied an entire block delimited by the Vie Beccadelli, Baglio Grande, Pietro Caruso and Corso Umberto I.

The construction of the palace, in its current configuration, dates back to 1778, the year in which the Bologna family incorporated the Saladin house, also exponents of the Palermitan nobility, into their home. In this radical modification, the Maniace Tower of 1039 which once stood near the Policii gate is also incorporated. The unification project, commissioned by Giuseppe Beccadelli, prince of Camporeale and marquis of Sambuca, is due to the architect of the senate Carlo Chenchi.

The planimetric system undergoes an interesting development on two courtyards, with a gallery-vestibule that connects them. The ground floor is partly intended for the horsewoman with cross vaults supported by fourteen columns. The main floor is reached via a single ramp staircase. Going along the building lengthwise, from via Alloro to via Riso, there is a succession of halls decorated with stuccoes and frescoes and furnished, in the past, with fine carpets and furniture from France according to the fashion of the time but also made in Sicily thanks to to the expertise of local workers.

The building overlooks three streets with stylistically different facades. The façade on via Alloro is composed with a classic eighteenth-century three-level layout. On the ground floor there are two main portals with polycentric arches and piers with contemporary decorations and eight entrances arranged symmetrically with respect to the central opening; on the upper floor, aligned with the openings on the ground floor, there are the large windows of the noble floor, all decorated with “Marie Antoinette” style garlands, which are repeated on the openings of the second floor. The façade on via Vetriera is characterized by the splendid terrace overlooked by the reception rooms with a neoclassical front, typical of Chenchi’s architecture. On the left, the music pavilion, testifying to the cultural interests that the Beccadellis cultivated. Little remains of the frescoes in the halls, while no evidence has come of Olivio Sozzi’s work in the palace.

The palace was severely hit during the bombing of 9 May 1943. The right wing was destroyed, and the rest of the palace remained in ruins for many years.

The area also included the Church of San Sebastiano, the Pietro Caruso Hospital, other ancient buildings and finally the Becadellian massif. Of great beauty are the Catalan staircase inside the courtyard and the monumental central balcony depicting the family coat of arms.


“Palazzo Panitteri” Archaeological Museum

The Panitteri Palace is one of the most important monuments of the city. Built as an outpost tower along the walls that surrounded ancient Zabut (today Sambuca), it later became the home of various prelates, including Ciandro, Don Giuseppe Maria Panitteri, from whom the palace took its name.

The structure is characterized by lines drawn from the late Renaissance mixed with announcements of the imminent Sicilian Baroque: the main entrance portal at the top of which is the coat of arms of the Panitteri family is a living testimony.

The building retains the original quadrangular plan with a large internal courtyard onto which large warehouses open. A Catalan-style staircase leads to the main floor, now home to the Palazzo Panitteri Archaeological Museum. In the courtyard, a short underpass leads to the garden where various examples of Mediterranean plants stand out.

The “Palazzo Panitteri” archaeological museum was inaugurated in 2013 and collects valuable finds from the archaeological site of Monte Adranone. The emblem of the museum is the Demeter with Fine Hair.

Among the finds it is possible to admire bronze belts, strigils, furnishings, Attic ceramic vases and vases of Punic origins, Doric and Ionic columns and capitals.

The exhibition itinerary extends between the rooms of the seventeenth-century Palazzo Panitteri, which belonged to important Sambucese families.

The building, consisting of two levels, has a quadrangular layout with an internal courtyard enriched with Mediterranean ornamental plants. Access to the main floor is via a Catalan staircase.


Teatro Comunale L’Idea

The Teatro Comunale L’Idea is a theater in Sambuca di Sicilia, built between 1848 and 1851. The name of Comunale dates to 1886, the year in which the municipality bought the theater. The Theater was built between 1848 and 1851 at the expense of a group of bourgeois, open to artistic, literary and patriotic influences, but also creator of independent promotional initiatives.

In fact, the great Sicilian theaters such as the Massimo and the Politeama in Palermo, the Bellini in Catania and the Regina Margherita in nearby Girgenti were born almost simultaneously. The Municipal Theater has the classic horseshoe shape with a flattened dome vault, three tiers of boxes, the stalls, a large stage.

It passed into the property of the Municipality on February 2, 1886, and over the years it underwent major restorations. The first took place at the end of the 19th century. The second recently, in the early 1970s, having been damaged by the earthquakes of January 1968.

After the restoration, the facade has not undergone major changes. Only the main entrance, in fact, has been enriched with an elegant glass and wrought iron dome.

A white marble staircase leads to the theater entrance. Crossing the main entrance, you enter an atrium to the left of which is the ticket office and from which three staircases develop, one main and two laterals, from which one enters the stalls and boxes respectively.

Internally it has the classic horseshoe shape with a flattened dome vault and in it you can distinguish three orders of boxes, the stalls and a large stage. Worthy of note are the liberty style illustrations frescoed by the master Domenico Ferrara.

The interior is illuminated by a grandiose Bohemian glass chandelier. A white marble staircase leads to the entrance of the theater. From the hall, through three staircases, one main and two side ones, you enter the stalls and / or boxes. Internally it has the classic horseshoe shape with a flattened dome vault and in it you can distinguish three orders of boxes, the stalls and a large stage. It can accommodate about two hundred and fifty people.

The interior is illuminated by a grand Bohemian glass chandelier. Today, the theater is managed by the municipal administration which every year organizes theatrical seasons with actors of national level.

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