Water and fire could be the landmarks of Acireale. Its origins are described in the legend of the shepherd Acis and the nymph Galatea: one of the most fascinating myths of Sicily.
To reach the historic centre of Acireale, we leave the fishing village of Santa Maria La Scala and proceed along the Strada della Marina, with Mount Etna, “a Muntagna“, dominating the background.
Along the provincial road, we visit the small Church of Santa Maria della Neve. It is also called Grotta because it is located inside a lava cave. The church houses the eighteenth-century nativity scene of Acireale. Inside we can admire natural size wax statues.
In a few minutes, we arrive at the beautiful Piazza Duomo, considered the centre of the city. The poet Quasimodo used to sit at a bar table during his stay in Acireale, you can do the same while enjoying your time in this amazing square. From Piazza Duomo, you can also start your trip to the places of Quasimodo’s poetry.
The Cathedral dedicated to Maria SS. Annunziata was built at the beginning of the 15th century. Inside the Church is one of Sicily’s magnificent sundials. The work is by the Danish astronomer Peters. The sundial is made of marble, represents the twelve zodiac signs and is on the transept floor.
Next to the Cathedral stands the Basilica dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, with its
imposing bell tower.
We stroll past the Town Hall, in front of the Modò Palace and the buildings of the historic centre. Looking up, we can admire the wrought-iron lacework of the balconies and church balustrades, carved from black Etna stone and white Syracuse stone. Angels, floral decorations and masks embellish the 18th-century buildings. Others paper-mâché laces adorn the parade floats of Sicily’s most beautiful carnival, while perfumed ornaments decorate the flowered floats of the Festa dei Fiori.
Near Piazza Duomo, in the old theatre of Don Emanuele Macrì, is the Museo dei Pupi (Museum of Puppets). As we enter, we begin a fascinating journey into the history of the Paladins of France and Sicilian traditions. The Opera dei Pupi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Zelantea Library and Art Gallery is located in Via Marchese di San Giuliano (the ancient Via Xiphonia) and has a book collection of over 200,000 texts. These include precious incunabula and sixteenth-century books. In the museum section, we can admire the 18th-century carriage of the Senate of Acireale, a collection of weapons, the torso of Julius Caesar, and minerals, coins and fossils exhibitions.
We walk up Corso Umberto, which is the city’s main street, past noble buildings with elegant façades until we reach the central Piazza Garibaldi. We stop at one of the town’s kiosks to taste u cor’i cani (dog’s heart), a thirst-quenching drink made with granita, lemon and water, flavoured with mint syrup.
We arrive at Villa Belvedere. The view from the balcony is extraordinary, like gazing out from the bow of a ship. On clear days, the view sweeps from Taormina to Syracuse. Further down is the magnificent Oriented Nature Reserve of Timpa, the hill formed some 200,000 years ago by the lava streams.
We reach the most beatiful and easy path by crossing the bridge over the Strada Nazionale (National Road), coming from Via Romeo and taking the Chiazzette direction. This is the eighteenth-century Spanish path that for a long time remained the only link between Acireale and the sea, in the seaside village of Santa Maria La Scala. We immediately come across the Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio, which has a pretty terrace overlooking the Ionian Sea. The church has a simple façade, but its interior will leave us speechless: it is an explosion of colours with the majority of its surface area covered in frescoes.
The memory of our visit to Acireale will certainly be very sweet. You can taste the soft almond paste or the royal pastry with its delicious and colourful shapes. Or maybe you can try the zeppole which are typical of St Joseph’s Day. But you can also enjoy a bite of the so-called desserts of the Dead.
Are you looking for some dinner suggestions? You can eat fish accompanied by “u trunzu“: kohlrabi with unique characteristics, protected by the Slow Food Presidium and only grown in the Acireale area.