IN VAL DI CATANIA
Val di Catania counts some 10,000 inhabitants and owed much of its
past prosperity to Joan of Austria (1573-1630) – Charles V’s
grand-daughter and wife to Francesco Branciforte – a woman
with a strong predilection for sophisticated culture and taste for
beautiful things. Thanks to her, Militello became an aristocratic
court entering its heyday. The streets of the old town are lined
by beautiful secular and religious buildings.
Benedictine Monastery – in Piazza del Municipio. It is a stately
building, erected between 1614 and 1641, now used as Town Hall.
It has a highly decorative façade. Next to it is a church
whose façade is ornamented with rusticated window surrounds,
what is a common feature of Militello’s Baroque. Inside are
precious works, such as the Last Communion of St. Benedict, a painting
by Sebastiano Conca (third chapel on the right) and a fine set of
carved wooden choirstalls depicting the Mysteries and scenes from
the life of St. Benedict (1734). Following via Umberto, past the
1700’s Palazzo Reforgiato, you reach piazza Vittorio Emanuele.
S. Nicolò - Housed within the undercrofts of the Mother Church,
it was erected in 1721. The collection is fabulously arranged, what
enhances the beauty of the items and heightens their impact. The
display comprises a fine collection of 1600’s and 1700’s
religious vestments, prized treasures from the town’s various
other churches – notably a silver plate from Santa Maria alla
Catena, as well as the jewellery, votive and liturgical objects
of Sant’Agata. The last rooms are devoted to pictures. Among
these are an altarpiece Annunciation by Francesco Franzetto (1555),
the Attack on San Carlo Borromeo by the Tuscan Filippo Paladini
(1612), and a gentle treatment of the Immacolata by Vaccaro.
Santa Maria alla Catena – The oratory was rebuilt in 1652.
Its fine interior is encrusted with lovely stucco works by artists
from Acireale. In the upper tier are scenes from the Joyful Mysteries,
while the lower harbours various Sicilian saints surrounded by cherubs,
festoons and cornucopias. The overall effect is completed by an
elegant coffered wooden ceiling dated 1661.
left into via Umberto. Past the fine concave façade of the
Chiesa del Santissimo Sacramento al Circolo, lies Piazza Maria SS.
SS. della Stella – Built between 1722 and 1741, it features
a fine doorway and spiral columns. Inside it preserves a magnificent
glazed terracotta Nativity altarpiece (1847) by the early Renaissance
Florentine master Andrea della Robbia. The Treasury contains a fine
late-1400’s altarpiece with scenes from the life of St. Peter,
by the Maestro della Croce of Piazza Armerina, and the Portrait
of Pietro Speciale, a shallow relief by Francesco Laurana.
the same side of the square, stands Palazzo Majorana, one of the
few remaining buildings of the Renaissance age. Note its heavily
rusticated corner stones bearing carved lions. At the far end of
the building turn left, than immediately right for Santa Maria la
di S. Maria La Vetere – Largely collapsed following the earthquake
of 1693, it only conserved the wall of the right aisle. Above the
front entrance with its 16th century porch, sits a lunette enclosing
back the way you have come and turn left so as to skirt around the
ruins of the Branciforti castle (retaining a round tower and sections
of walls), pass through the town gate – Porta della Terra
– and reach the piazza beyond. At the centre of what was the
castle courtyard sits a fountain called Fontana della Ninfa Zizza,
built in 1607 to commemorate the opening of the first city aqueduct,
sponsored by Branciforte. Pass back through the Gate and turn immediately
left for the Chiesa dei Santissimi Angeli Custodi, with a wonderful
majolica floor, laid with tiles of Caltagirione (1785).
– 17km to the west. It is the hometown of writer Luigi Capuana.
It has remotest origins and was identified as the ancient Mene,
founded by King Ducetius. Past the town’s main gateway, Porta
Adinolfo (18th century), beside the Jesuit College, you reach the
main square dominated by the Chiesa del Collegio. Via Umberto I
leads to piazza Agrippina where rises the 1400’s church of
the same name. At the top of the town, next to the Chiesa di Santa
Maria, lie the ruins of a castle, where is a beautiful view over
– Located 10km to the East. It is laid out on a rectilinear
plan, around the central Palazzo of the Brancifortes, who were its
lords in the 17th century. The main square Piazza Umberto is surrounded
by noble palazzi and the Church of San Rocco, with a lofty front
elevation. The church of Maria Maggiore, dating back to the 18th
century, has an interesting façade complete with campanile.
Scordia, it is possible to drive to Palagonia without a detour via
Militello Val di Catania. The SS 5385 stretches along a nice route,
with a pleasant landscape characterized by large citrus groves,
that made famous the area, and rocky hills to the South.
– 15km North-East, it is believed to have been an important
political and religious town at the time of the Sikels. According
to local legend, it was from the bubbling sulphurous waters of the
Laghetto di Naftia that their gods, the Palici, were born and it
is to them that they dedicated the temple built on the edge of the
lake. The small lake is barely visible today, since masked by its
natural gas that is industrially exploited.
di Santa Febronia. Follow the SS 5385 from Palagonia towards Catania;
take the right fork signposted for Contrada Croce. 4.5km further
on, as the road curves to the right, look out for a track on the
left barricaded by a metal barrier. The hermitage is a 15min walk
up the track. This evocative place is named after Santa Febronia,
known locally as “a Santuzza”, her relics brought here
each year in a great procession from nearby Palagonia. The small
retreat, carved out of the rock, is of Byzantine origin. Inside,
the apse contains a fine, albeit damaged, fresco of Christ flanked
by the Virgin and an angel.
if, after exploring the town ...
and hunger sets in – The oil-mill trattoria U’ Trappitu,
at 125 Via Principe Branciforti conserves its very own olive-press,
dated 1927. Carefully converted, the building retains its original
character, with a furniture that produces an attractive atmosphere.
you have a sweet tooth – The city’s sweet specialties
are the cassatelline, made with ground almonds, chocolate and cinnamon;
the mastrazzuoli, Christmas titbits made with almonds, cinnamon
and vermouth; the mostarda, concocted from semolina or wine must,
boiled with prickly-pear extract (available around the second or
third Sunday in October, for the Mostarda festival).