The History of Sciacca

Sciacca was formerly situated in the territory of Selinus, which included the famous “Baths” known since antiquity as the “Thermae Selinuntiae” and “Aquae Selinuntiae”, located about twenty miles east of Selinus. We don’t know with absolute certainty when Sciacca was born, but the most likely hypothesis is that it was a place founded or rather “repopulated” by the inhabitants of “Selinunte” after their city was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. Many of those who managed to escape the massacre, says Diodorus [90-27 BC],  sought refuge in Agrigento, but when the Carthaginian storm passed, most of them returned to rebuild their town or to find a new place in the surrounding area, creating a new village which was called “Sciacca”.  Turning to historical data, we see that the antiquity of Sciacca is attested to by writers such as Pomponius Mela (first century AD), who wrote that “inter Pachynum et Lilybaeum Agragas est et Heraclea et Thermae”, namely that “between Pachino and Lilibeo there were three cities, that is “Agragas”,”Heraclea”and “Thermae” (“Terme=Sciacca”) and by Strabo (58-25 BC) who mentioned the “Thermà Selinoùntia”, (“Baths of Selinunte”). After the destruction of Selinunte many took refuge to “Thermae”, which became more populous. Since it is a border town (see etymology below – the name probably refers to ‘The Separating”), it was for a long times fought over among the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and finally by the Romans, who conquered it after the First Punic War. With the Roman conquest, Sciacca became an important city, a role it held through the centuries, as the main “post office” town in Sicily. The fall of the Roman Empire also marked the end of the prosperity of Sciacca, who suffered destructive invasions by the Vandals and the Goths.  Defeated by Justinian, Sicily come under the dominion of the Byzantines. During the Byzantine rule some hermit monks settled in the territory of Sciacca, including San Calogero, who christianized some people in several places of Sicily. He stayed in Sciacca as a hermit in a cave on Mount Kronio, now also known as Mount San Calogero. However it was the Arabs that marked forever the history (other than the name) of Sciacca. Since the 9th century they had began a policy of expansion in the Mediterranean and in 827 conquered Mazara and finally, with a widespread penetration in eastern Sicily, in 840 they also conquered “Thermae”, which became under their rule “As Saqqa” or Sciacca. The Arabs later fortified the city with massive walls and a tower, which were further strengthened under the Normans and Frederick II (1194-1250). Count Roger (1031-1101) built the famous “Old Castle”. Sciacca was dominated by the Normans and their descendants for many years. In particular, it was ruled by the descendants of Giliberto Perrollo, a Burgundian who came to Sicily in the wake of Count Roger, whose daughter he married. From 1208 Sciacca and Sicily was ruled by the powerful figure of Frederick II and then by his descendants, until the advent of Charles of Anjou (1226-1285). Sciacca also participated in the so called “War of the Vespers” against the rule of Anjou. Then the city was ruled by Guglielmo Peralta, who was responsible for the construction of the “New Castle”. Throughout the 16th century Sciacca was the center of the struggles between the powerful local families of Peralta, Perollo and Luna. Between the 17th and much of the 18th and 19th centuries the city was ruled first by the Spanish and then by the Bourbons, until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Luna Castle

Luna Castle, perimeter’s part of the ancient city walls, stands on a rock in a dominant position at the top of the north-est part of Sciacca. The massive medieval Castle of Sciacca was built in 1380 by Guglielmo Peralta, Earl of Caltabellotta, who became one of the four deputies of Sicily Kingdom after the death of King Federico III (1377). The Castle passed to Luna Earls when Nicolo’ Peralta, son of Guglielmo, died and one of his three daughters Margherita married Artale Luna, who was Catalan and uncle of King Martino. The Castle stands on solid rocks, in a dominant position at the top of the east part of the city and it is a perimeter’s part of the ancient city walls, which still exist in part today.
It consist of four parts: the walls, the tower, the Earls palace and the cylindrical tower. The walls, that were an external defense, had polygonal plan and consisted of high and solid walls. Within the perimeter of the walls there was the main tower, with a quadrangular plan, which far exceeded the height of the buildings complex and whose function was to supervise the walls, the outwards and the internal courtyard. It remained intact until 1740, the year when an earthquake damaged it violently, so that just the base remains today. While a cylindrical tower on two floors still exists, in the south part of the walls’ perimeter. The Earl’s palace, with a rectangular plan, was in the west part of the Castle between the main tower and the cylindrical one. It was composed of a ground floor, used as servants home, and an upper floor where the Earl lived with his family. Today it remains the high external wall with four large windows.  The entrance was located in the north part of the Castle and it was equipped with a draw-bridge. In this way people used to entered the courtyard where, in the south part, there were stables and soldiers rooms as well as a chapel dedicated to S. Gregorio and also, at the right side, there was a staircase that guides to the floor of noblemen. General the Luna Castle of Sciacca hasn’t a disproportionate dimension but, not without its monumental nature, it represents one of the interesting examples of civil and military architecture of 300 existing in Sicily. Because of its dominant position over Sciacca, it constitutes a characteristic and suggestive element of the panorama, to whom it gives lustre, importance and an unmistakable shape. The Luna Castle is linked with the legend of the “Case of Sciacca”, a bloody battle between two noble medieval families (Luna family of Catalan origin and Perollo family of Norman origin) which afflicted the city for two centuries.

The Doors of Sciacca

Sciacca, formerly, was delimited by defensive walls in the event of external attacks. To enter and leave the country the people used the doors, called: Porta Palermo, Porta Salvatore, Porta di Mare, Porta Bagni, Porta S.Calogero. The Porta Palermo was built during the reign of Carlo II of Borbone in 1753 and retains the wooden doors and the symbol of the reigning family: the eagle with outstretched wings. The Savior door is the most ornamented door. Porta San Salvatore is the oldest of the gates of Sciacca and leads directly into the historic center of the city. Besides being the oldest is also the most beautiful, with its purely Renaissance style with two columns and an arch. At the base of the two columns there are two elephants that seem to support the construction. The façade is finely decorated with arabesques, rosettes, leonine heads and low reliefs representing two lions. On the upper part there are three coats of arms representing the ancient coat of arms of the city, that of the house of Austria and that of the Sotomajor family who wanted the construction of this door. The above doors we have indicated some information and the S.Calogero Gate are the only ones we still keep today.

The Enchanted Castle

At the slopes of Kronio Mount and a few kilometers from Sciacca, there is the “Enchanted Castle”, a charming open-air museum , full of mystery and fascination. A wonderful place invented by the creativity of man and nature where, besides olives and almond trees, you can find heads engraved in stone by the local artist Filippo Bentivegna, called “Philip of the heads” (Filippu li testi). His sculptures are various and they represent known and unknown characters. He gave them invented names and they symbolized the subjects of the reign where he was the “King”. In fact, Filippo loved to be called by people “His Excellency”. People say he used to wander around city streets with a short stick in his hand that he held like a scepter proclaiming himself “Lord of the Caves”, because of the numerous tunnels he used to dig looking for energy. A few sculptures of F. Bentivegna are exhibited in the “Art Brut Museum” of Losanna, made in memory of Debuffet.

The “Stove of San Calogero”

With a height of 395.48 metres, the hill is composed mostly of limestone. It is a nature reserve administered by the state forestry agency of the Regione Siciliana. On the mountain is the “Sanctuary of San Calogero,” from the 16th century, the Antiquarium and various natural caves which emit geothermal gas, the most well-known of which is the so-called “Stove of San Calogero”. The cave with this name is 9.4 metres long and 4.2 metres wide and reaches a maximum height of c. 4 metres. Inside the temperature varies between 36 and 42 °C, depending on the season and time of day. Because of the high temperature, people once spent time in the cave, which was created by Daedalus in the territory of the Sicans according to legend, as a cure for arthritis rheumatism, gout, and sciatica. Seats, benches and drilled holes into which effected limbs must have been inserted were carved in the interior walls. The basilica sanctuary of San Calogero was built in 1530 and belonged to the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance from 1948. Pope John Paul II raised it to the status of a minor basilica in 1979. It contains a statue of the saint, made by Antonello Gagini.

The Coral of Sciacca

The Sciacca Coral has its roots in an exceptional historical period due to the emergence of a volcanic island from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, later called Ferdinandea. The island, now submerged, is located off the Mediterranean between Sciacca and Pantelleria. According to legend, this authentic underwater treasure that has unique characteristics in the world, was discovered around the area of ​​the island Ferdinandea in 1875, by a captain of the paranza, called “Bettu Ammareddu” who was fishing with Bertu Occhidilampa and Peppe Muschidda , when he suddenly lost the necklace: a gift, a sign of love and a good luck given to him by his beloved Tina. He dived into the water to look for his necklace and discovered the coral fields. The poem entitled “La corallina” by the poet of Sciacca Vincenzo Licata describes the moment of discovery. Sciacca coral, a variety of the corallium rubrum, is composed of long, tapered branches and its size generally does not exceed 8-9 millimeters in diameter. The main coral bench, Banco di Graham, is located 30 miles from the coast of Sciacca. Its color is exceptional and different from all other types of coral ranging from paler to the most intense pink salmon, sometimes presenting yellow spots tending to brown or even black. As a fruit of nature and the sea, each branch is a unique and inimitable piece, an originality that Conti Creazioni expresses in equally exclusive processes that enhance its essence.

Carnival of Sciacca

The Carnival of Sciacca Carnival is an event that takes place in Sciacca in Agrigento province. Be the first to speak of it was, in 1889, Giuseppe Pitre who nodded in his work Library of Sicilian folk traditions.
But the origins of the Carnival of Sciacca, a city in the province of Agrigento, dating back to a period much earlier, perhaps Roman times, when the Saturnalia were celebrated, and their king was sacrificed; or better, with more probability, to 1616 when the viceroy Ossuna determined that the last day of celebration everyone had to dress up in costume. To be noted that there is a rivalry with the Carnival of Acireale, though the latter is considered the more beautiful Carnival in Sicily and in the top three at the national level.
The first manifestations are remembered as a popular festival, which were eaten sausage, cannoli and a lot of wine; and the people poured on the streets, disguised in various ways. Later they were the first decorated floats paraded at best, who wore masks on chairs around the restrict streets of the city. Currently Carnival starts on Thursday before Lent with the symbolic keys of the town to the King of Carnival Peppe Nappa, a character adapted from Saccensi as local mask that opens and closes the festival. Ends on Shrove Tuesday when the carriage Peppe Nappa is burned in the square. The start of the procession of floats, led by the carriage of Peppe Nappa, is from the Piazza Friscia. Since then, the carriage of Peppe Nappa begins to distribute wine and sausages prepared on the grill for the duration of the carnival. The contribution made by the art of Sciacca to the local carnival – for books, music, ballet, models, representations, movements and choreography – has allowed these could compete successfully at national and global level with many other similar event.

The Port of Sciacca

The origins of the port of Sciacca are very old, dating back to the twelfth century and at that time it was only a small cove, near the cliff of San Paolo, rudimentary equipped for the landing and loading of ships. The current port was built at the end of the nineteenth century on the remains of the ancient cliff, now submerged. Sciacca is the second fishing Navy of Sicily. The fishing Navy consists of about 180 boats that every year land on the docks more than 4,000 Tons of bluefish: the types of fishing practiced are the “strascico”, the “sottocosta” and “palangaro”. The variety of fish falls it belongs in the family of bluefish, then worked in the many fish industries and exported all over the world: Sciacca is infact the first blue fish European producer.

Ceramics of Sciacca

Walking through the historic center of Sciacca it isn’t impossible to notice the presence of numerous stores of colorful ceramics of the most varied shapes and sizes.
Ceramics, in Sciacca, is an important element of attraction for all those who wish to own at least one object of the vast and valuable Saccense ceramic production, which also boasts ancient origins. Between the ‘400 and ‘600 centuries the ceramics of Sciacca was already known throughout Sicily and saccensi ceramists were commissioned to produce vast majolica productions destined to decorate palaces and churches of many cities. Many names have come up to us of the masters who are responsible for having been able to raise the ceramics of Sciacca to the dignity of art; these include the names of Nicola Lo Sciuto, the Lo Piparo brothers and Lo Boj, the maestro Scoma and Giuseppe Bonachia, called Maxierato; the latter, is especially known for having mainly made that kind of ceramic typical of Sciacca called “quadro maiolicato” usually depicting religious subjects taken from the stories of the old and the new testament. The teacher ceramist artisan have been competent, over time, to unite, to the high quality of the raw material, a skilled mastery in the creation of individual objects. Today, around thirty artisan shops produce tableware, statuettes, furnishing ceramics, floors, unique pieces for street furniture, etc. Sciacca is today not only the sea, spas and cultural heritage, but above all crafts, the most genuine: ceramics.

Church of our Lady Of Good Help

Founded in 1108 by Giulietta la Normanna, daughter of Count Roger in the center of the ancient Ruccera district. Signora di Sciacca from 1100 to 1136, embodies the personal events with Roberto I of Bassavilla, a bond opposed by his father, with those of the penitent sinner, to whom he dedicated the largest temple among those sponsored and built in the Lordship of Sciacca. Another version attributes the building to Father Ruggero d’Altavilla as a vow of thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary under the title of the “Assunta”. It was the custom of the members of the Altavilla family to raise churches and cathedrals in the places where the bloodiest battles against the Arab invader took place, an event which took place in the long process of re-Christianization of the island. However, on the 1st of February 1626 the entire population started a pilgrimage, called “U Vutu”, from the Church of Saint Augustine to the Mother Church and on the following day the statue of the Madonna joined the pilgrimage, carried by a large group of sailor. On arriving in the Piccolo Maestranza area, a flash of lightening fell from the sky and hit the Madonna’s feet and at that exact moment a cloud of smoke was released that spread across the whole city and all the citizens of Sciacca recovered from the plague. As a result Our Lady of Succour became the Patron Saint of Sciacca and twice a year, on the 2nd of February and the 15th of August, a festival is celebrated in her honor.

The Beaches of Sciacca

The variety of sea and coasts allows you to meet all the different needs of tourists who come to our city.
Near the city, also accessible by foot, the first beach we meet is that of the stazzone, just after the beach Salus, the Tonnara and Foggia, all characterized by sandy beaches. The towns of San Marco, Renella, Maragani, are characterized by small and large aperture sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky, considered paradises for swimmers and divers.
To the east of the city, following the old road to Ribera, we first find the Sovareto beach with fine sand, continuing on the same road with entrances leading to small and wide creeks we find Timpi Russi, San Giorgio all with fine sandy beaches. In almost all the places described above it is possible to find stand, restaurants and beach resorts.

The Ferdinandea Island

Once upon a time, in the waters not far off the coast of Sicily, there was an island called Ferdinandea. It was located right where the Mediterranean Sea narrowed between Sicily and Tunisia —a strategic position for any naval power who wished to control traffic in the Mediterranean. A tugboat for sovereignty, between four powerful nations, began as soon as the island was discovered, but it didn’t last long. Less than six months later, the island had sunk back into the sea. Now almost two hundred years later, the same territorial squabble is poised to begin again, as Ferdinandea island rises, palm to palm, towards the surface. The story of Ferdinandea island begins on July 1831. It started with a series of tremors and a pungent smell of sulfur. Clearly, somewhere a volcano was erupting. Nothing unusual about that. Sicily is volcanic, and the residents were accustomed to eruptions, big and small. But there were no signs of eruption anywhere on the island. Throughout that month of July and the next, the island continued to grow, now a prominent landmark visible from the Sicily coast. And it was still active, spewing lava and hot ash from its mouth-like crater. It eventual reached a height of 63 meters and a circumference of 4.8 km. There was a summit on the northeastern side with a plain in the middle, where two small pool had formed, the larger of which was 20 meters around and 2 meters deep. The first to lay claim on the island were the British. A Navy ship landed on the island, planted the British flag and announced it as British territory, naming it Graham Island for the First Lord of the Admiralty. The King of Sicily, Ferdinand II, considering this an violation on Sicilian waters, dispatched a corvettes to claim the new earth. He named it Ferdinandea, in honor of himself. The Spanish showed an interest too. The last to arrive on the scene were the French, who compared the eruption to a bottle of champagne being uncorked and named it Ile Julia, after July, the month it first appeared. In 2000, renewed seismic activity around Graham Island led volcanologists to speculate that the seamount might once again become an island. To prevent a repeat of the disagreements, this time Italy acted swiftly by sending a team of divers to plant Sicily’s flag on the rising seamount in advance of its expected resurfacing. In addition, a marble plaque, bearing the inscription “This piece of land, once Ferdinandea, belonged and must always belong to the Sicilian people, it was lowered between the waves. This plaque was reportedly destroyed within months, possibly by fishing gear but it could also have been vandalism.