Choosing for alternative route may be the chance of receiving pleasant surprises, if you don’t.
Visiting Sicilian hinterland offers you the opportunity to discover something new on this island. Nature, art, history, food: four cardinal points whose coordinates point straight to Caltanissetta.
1 – Castle (or fortress) of women
According to the Norman historian Goffredo Malaterra, the name Caltanissetta derives from the Arabic Qal’at an-Nisa, which he translated into Castrafeminarum, literally “castle (or fortress) of women”, at the foot of which stands the cemetery which houses valuable funeral chapels. A visit to the castle is almost mandatory and from there you can go to the city centre.
2 – Triton Fountain
Since 1956 the centre of the Piazza has been dominated by the Triton Fountain, located between the Santa Maria la Nova Cathedral and the Church of San Sebastiano. The present Fountain, a monumental work by the sculptor from Caltanissetta Michael Tripisciano (1860-1913) and the architect Michele Averna, depicts a bronze horse tamed by a triton and threatened by two sea monsters.
Behind the fountain today stands the Cathedral, Santa Maria La Nova built in 1570. From 1718 to 1720 the Flemish painter Guglielmo Borremans frescoed the vault and the pillars. The layout of the church is a Latin cross with three naves and four chapels on each side. It is highly recommended for you to turn your gaze upwards to enjoy the frescoes in tromp l’oeil style painted by Borremans. These represent: “The Triumph of Religion”, “The choir of virgins and virgins”, “The Immaculate Conception”, “The Coronation of the Virgin” and finally, “The Triumph of San Michele over the rebellious spirits.” Inside the Mother Church there are many, both pictorial and sculptural, works. Among the former must be included the paintings depicting the “Madonna del Carmine” by the Tuscan painter Filippo Paladini displayed in the left transept and those of the painter from Caltanissetta V. Roggeri. In the chapel to the right of the central altar is a statue of 1627 by the sculptor S. Li Volsi depicting Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron of the city ever since. Whether it is history or legend, he avoided the spread of the plague within the walls of Caltanissetta. The latter carried in procession on 29 September, the day dedicated to the saint.
3 – Historical centre
A walk through the historic centre of Caltanissetta allows you to enjoy the view of beautiful buildings built by nobles and rulers, that were intended to be admired. From Piazza Garibaldi it branch off into two streets: Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Umberto I. On Corso Vittorio Emanuele you come across the prestigious Teatro Regina Margherita, of 1870, dedicated to the consort of King Umberto of Savoy, Queen Margherita after whom the theatre is named. It is one of the oldest theatres on the island, a jewel nestled in the heart of the city The sober and austere façade conceals Baroque features typical of the nineteenth century architecture.
Today, after a lengthy restoration, it has resumed its function as a stage for art. The Corso is closed from the façade of the Church of Santa Croce, the former seat of a Benedictine monastery, founded in 1531. The other half of the Corso is, on the other hand, mainly commercial: full of shop windows and stores. It is designated, on particular days and times, as a pedestrian area. A large open space has been created which allows you to walk around with confidence even when the road is open to traffic.
4 – Palazzo Moncada
Corso Vittorio Emanuele intersects with Corso Umberto I. In the corner between the two streets is the Palazzo del Carmine, home of the town hall. A little further on, on the same side of the street, you will come across the Matteotti ascent where the headquarters of the prestigious Palazzo Moncada are located.
The original design intended the Palace to be a closed block, built on three floors, with a large courtyard in the centre; of the latter there only remains a few elements that hint at the presence of large arches. Between one floor and another anthropological and zoomorphic corbels are inserted supporting a balcony. Today, it has been restored and is used as a theatre, multiplex cinema and museum and hosts a permanent exhibition of works by the artist from Caltanissetta Michele Tripisciano who lived in Rome between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
5 – Sant’Agata al Collegio
Sant’Agata al Collegio is noteworthy with its two rows of steps leading off left and right from a central staircase which is accessed by an iron gate.. This building also takes us back to the Moncada family. There are notable internal details, from the polychrome marble to the frescoes.
The layout is a Greek cross and it is divided into three naves: the central one focuses the eye straight on altarpiece, the painter Agostino Scilla from Messina, depicts the martyrdom of Saint Agatha where her breasts were removed; the side aisles, on the other hand, greet the other chapels, including that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The one to the left leads to the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. Inside we can admire a very valuable decoration of mixed polychrome marble: among these a precious altarpiece that represents a “bestiary” of exotic birds placed in the Chapel of S. Ignazio, to the left of the entrance. Above the altar, there is a marble bas-relief depicting S. Ignazio in the act of writing the rules of the society of Jesus. Below, next to the globe, there are four female figures depicted which symbolise the four known continents. Frescoes enrich the walls, some of which are “signed” by Borremans.
6 – Diocesan Museum of the Episcopal Seminary
Diocesan Museum of the Episcopal Seminary of Caltanissetta, covers an area of ten rooms and two galleries on the ground floor of the monumental Episcopal Palace. It exhibits more than five hundred works of art from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century.
Paintings, sculptures, silver, liturgical vestments and artefacts of applied art, from the churches of the Diocese of Caltanissetta, offer an overview of the different artistic – cultural realities in the area, and trace the history of the local church.Standing out among the valuable works is a sixteenth century copy of the Spasimo di Sicilia (Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary) by Raphael, two silver shrines of the sixteenth century by Nibilio Gagini, an ivory casket from the workshop of Embirachi, a core group consisting of paintings from the seventeenth century by Vincenzo Roggeri of Caltanissetta and a rare coral vessel of the eighteenth century.There is also a contemporary art section that houses, among others, the Malatiello by Vincenzo Gemito, a head of the Virgin by Michele Tripisciano and a statue of San Michele by Giuseppe Frattallone. This part of the collection also includes bronzes and paintings by important artists from the Brera Academy such as Aldo Carpi, Silvio Consadori, Eros Pellini and Enrico Manfrini.
7 – The Church of Santo Spirito
The Church of Santo Spirito was built by Ruggero the Norman in 1095 on an existing fortified Arab farmhouse. Its purpose was to christianise the conquered island and convert the peasantry far away from the city. In early Christian style, it has a simple and severe Romanesque structure, with a single nave ending in three apses. Legacies of Arabic craftsmen are the square tower, the loopholes and the obtusely pointed arches.
Inside the Christ Pantocrator stands out. It was a fresco that originally stood outside the church but it was removed, brought inside and replaced by a copy. There is also the baptismal font, made of Norman tuff stone of Muslim imprint; a rare tin chalice from the twelfth century; the Crucifix “of Staglio”, of Spanish matrix, dating from the fifteenth century; a baptismal font for baptism by immersion; a funerary urn in marble with inscriptions from the Roman period, from the cemetery which was located behind the church; on the left of the altar there are two frescoes depicting the symbols of the passion and death of Christ and St. Augustine in the study. A fifteenth century fresco called The Mass of San Gregorio. The statue of Madonna delle Grazie (Our Lady of Grace) is a statue from the 1500s made from multicoloured painted terracotta. In that century it was thought that coral would protect children from disease and in fact the child has a coral branch around his neck.
Around 150 metres away is the Regional Archaeological Museum of Caltanissetta. It houses artefacts dating from the Neolithic period, originating from archaeological sites of Sabucina, Gibil Gabib, from Mount Capodarso and Mount San Giuliano. Going back to the famous company Averna, producer with the same name of Amaro (Italian herbal liqueur) known all over the world.
Perhaps you already know that Sicily is a land full of religious festivals, frequently born from ancient rites related to agriculture. They are felt deeply by the citizens and are a source of a large influx of tourists and visitors. The most impressive is Settimana Santa (Holy Week)! It includes various processions and rituals starting from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. The rituals, in fact, begin already months earlier, the Easter holidays are instead concentrated in this Holy Week. The events are many and although it takes some physical exertion, it is worth following them all from start to finish.
8 – The procession of the Black Christ
It is worth paying a visit to the museo delle vare, currently housed in the basement of the Church of San Pio X. Good Friday is the most heartfelt and evocative day of the procession of Caltanissetta: the procession of the Black Christ. It is a wooden crucifix, barely 85 cm tall, which was found by two fogliamari – gatherers of wild herbs – in a cave, located between two candles and blackened by their smoke.
It was cleaned up several times but the crucifix promptly returned to its dark colour, hence the nickname of the Black Christ and also its veneration as miraculous. The Black Christ, called Lord of the city, was the patron of Caltanissetta until 1625, when it proclaimed the patron Saint Michael the Archangel, who had indicated where there was a victim of the plague just outside the city walls thus preventing the spread of the disease in Caltanissetta.
9 – The Mineralogical Museum
The Mineralogical Museum, palaeontological and of the Sebastiano Mottura sulphur mine, known as the mineralogical museum of Caltanissetta, houses within it a rich collection of minerals and a permanent exhibition dedicated to mining technology for extracting sulphur in Sicily.
The mines of Gessolungo and Trabonella can be observed from the outside, taking advantage of the wonderful countryside views of Caltanissetta.
10 – Market Strat’â Foglia
In the historical center of Caltanissetta there is a Street, rich in colors and scents, that can take the visitor or the occasional passerby into an attractive and charming dimension. This is the Consultore Benintende street that, since the end of the eighteenth century, hosts the historic Market Strat’â Foglia.
From Piazza Mercato Grazia until Berengario Gaetani Street, the whole Consultore Benintende street is full of vendor stalls of fruit and vegetables, but there are sellers of cheeses, vegetables and various objects. In addition to the stalls, in the market there are also bakeries, butchers and fishmongers, and exotic food shops, just a sign of a multiethnic society.
Formerly, the market was intended for the sale of wild herbs performed by fogliamara, the characteristic carers during the religious procession of the Black Christ on Good Friday, but it was also home of several taverns frequented by the miners who worked in the sulfur mines in the nearest area of Caltanissetta.
In the old quarter of San Rocco, the market is characterized by the presence of some places of historical and artistic interest, such as the eighteenth-century Natale Cosentino palace, made up of two wings connected by a terrace, the secondary entrance to the nineteenth-century Benintende Palace, and four votive shrines, dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, among which there is that of the Holy Family with a folk picture painted on glass.
Villages and the surroundings
The impressive Mussomeli, perched on a mountain, is a village rich in history and art.
Its territory was inhabited by Sicani, Greeks, Romans and Arabs and in every corner you will find traces of these ancient presences. The Manfredonico Chiaramontano Castle is a symbol of the power of the feudal barons and a majestic building which has survived very well preserved. It was built in 1364 by Manfredi II Chiaramonte and it is located on a spur of limestone rock about 80 metres high. It is located on the outskirts of Mussomeli and is a clear example of Gothic art due to the typical pointed arches and mullioned windows that characterise it. What a beautiful castle! It is a little bit away from the traditional routes but we suggest you see it!
The village of Santa Rita is a group of houses nestling in the Agrigento countryside. One of the many places potentially condemned to be abandoned.
In this place an ancient bakery survives, contrary to any logical assumption, deciding in 1999 to recover the traditional bread-making techniques, choosing stone-milling, studying ancient flours and yeasts derived from Sicilian ancient grains, and using only wood oven to produce ancient bread, of the type that lasts a week. It’s worth a visit to enjoy this delicious creations baked in the traditional methods and with natural products and to enjoy the quiet of the village life. Here you can also visit the new Micro Intangible Museum of Wheat and Bread.
It is also well worth going on a bike ride along the roads between the wheat fields and crops of peaches.
Sutera, a medieval village with just over 1,000 inhabitants, is part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
It has three districts Rabato, an Arabic neighbourhood where the spectacular Presepe vivente (live nativity scene) is set each year as well as Rabatello and Giardinello. It is beautiful with old houses, churches and narrow streets, courtyards and steep cobbled staircases.
The gastronomy of the Sicilian interland area has always been based on humble foods linked to the production of the land. Food that today is making a mark among modern and rich gastronomic creations, among them is the Cuddrureddra of Delia near Caltanissetta, a Slow food product.
It is a delicious fried biscuit that is traditionally made during the carnival period. Another typical sweet from the Caltanissetta area is the Arabic cubaita. It is made with caramelised sugar and sesame, Caltanissetta nougat with almonds, pistachios and honey.