Cefalù, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, is one of the busiest holiday destinations and resorts on the island. Is located on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70 km from Palermo.
Kephaloidion and Coephaledium for Greeks and Romans, meaning head or also top, extremity. Gafludi for the Arabs, fortified city and abundant waters.
The city is dominated by a monumental rock that rises up to 270 metres in height already known to the Phoenicians as “promontory of Hercules” on which the Temple of Diana stands, a megalithic building linked to the worship of the water, as indicated by the nearby cistern dating from the ninth century BC. The historic district is lying in the shadow of this bastion and clings around its beating heart which is undoubtedly the Duomo, a gigantic cathedral built by Roger II, the Norman.
According to a legend, the cathedral would be built in this city and not in Palermo, the capital of the kingdom, following a vow made to the Holy Saviour by Roger himself, who escaped a storm and landed on the beaches of the village. More likely are the motivations of a political-military nature, given the connotations of the territory and the undeniable characteristics of an natural fortress and the off the scale proportions of the Basilica, all magnified by the old city megalithic walls whose testimonies remain along the cliffs of the Giudecca (Postierla) and at the ancient Porta Terra (today Piazza Garibaldi).
While it may seem strange, this symbol of the power of a Norman king, he found inspired protagonists in the work force and in the real Islamic architects. The design outline, in fact, is the same one as other masterpieces of Palermo, inspired by the magnificence of the zirid and hammadid fortress-palaces typical of the Maghreb. Severe buildings, compact in the block of the two towers but bright due to the gold of the walls and the reflections of the mosaics. Inside, the imposing colonnade marks the rhythm of the environment and leads our attention to the benevolent gaze of the Christ Pantocrator, a beautiful Byzantine mosaic on a gold background with inscriptions in Greek and Latin. The wooden cross hanging in the central apse is attributed to Guglielmo da Pesaro. Also remarkable is the cloister adjoining the cathedral, decorated with columns and carved capitals and the Romanesque font.
There are many sights to see in medieval Cefalù as well.
There is the Palazzo Maria in Piazza Duomo and the Osterio Magno in Corso Ruggero of the thirteenth century, owned by Count Ventimiglia wth its two beautiful thirteenth century two-light windows and one mullioned fourteenth century window.
Entirely carved out from the rock and active until recently, is the Medieval washhouse. After descending its suggestive lava stone, curved steps, we find ourselves in a half-covered space hosting a number of ancient basins, fed by the Cefalino river that flows out from twenty-two iron lion-shaped mouths.
In this special setting, full of history and culture, we are thrown back to past times, among songs screams of the Sicilian laundresses, busy in their daily ritual.
The covered area is surmounted by a large arch with a strong Arab influence. On the right side of the entrance a singular inscriprion brings us back to an ancient legend: “Here flows Cefalino, healthier than any other river, purer than silver, colder than snow “. Legend has it that Cefalino generated from the unceasing tears of a nymph who repented having punished with death the infidelity of her beloved.
It’s absolutely a must see in Cefaù, for a magnificent taste of Sicilian Medieval life.
Moving on to the baroque of Cefalu, we find the façades of the Monte della Pietà (1716) and of the beautiful Church of Purgatory (1668) as well as countless portals, corbels and other architectural details that adorn the streets and squares of the old town, which is still in the medieval layout.
It would be a shame to go away from Cefalu without making a trip to the Mandralisca Museum to enjoy the extraordinary “Portrait of an Unknown” by Antonello da Messina and, for connoisseurs of this type of thing, to wander into the rectangular crypts of the Church of Purgatory wicth houses completely dried corpses.
After this interesting immersion in art and culture, you just have to look for a good spot in front of the wonderful sea and order fresh fish while waiting for the sunset and for the spectacle of the port being lit up which illuminates the night.
One of the delights of the village is the “pasta taianu”, that is pasta in the pan: layers of pasta with meat, fried eggplant, pine nuts, raisin and pecorino cheese baked in a large crock.
Food is culture and tasting it is a way of visiting and knowing the history of Cefalù.
Some of Cefalù dishes recall its buildings, as the carne murata (walled meat) that evokes a Norman stronghold made of layers of meat, onions and potatoes with battlements of fresh basil, oregano and pepper.