A small medieval village nestled in the Madonie Park with a delightful historic centre that captivates from the first moment.
Strolling through its streets is like entering a fairy tale: it seems as if you are watching ladies and knights parading with rustling brocade robes and complicated hairstyles. The fairytale becomes reality at the beginning of the summer, when the historical processions materialise, parading among tapestries of fresh flowers in the Infiorata di Castelbuono.
As in any self-respecting fairy tale, the town is built around the imposing Ventimiglia Castle, near a Byzantine farmhouse called Ypsigro.
Built by the powerful Count Francesco I Ventimiglia in 1317 on a pre-existing 12th-century watchtower, it housed the court of one of the most influential families in Sicilian history, who were even more powerful than the viceroys! These influential counts, who rebelled against the Sicilian rulers,
also had their own Palatine Chapel, which is still to this day a precious treasure trove, decorated with enchanting stucco work on a pure gold leaf background by the brothers Giuseppe and Giacomo Serpotta (1684–87). Behind the altar is the skull of Saint Anne, the town's patron saint, inside a fine silver bust reliquary from 1521.
Today, the Ventimiglia Castle houses the Castelbuono Civic Museum with its Archaeology, Town Planning, Sacred Art and Modern and Contemporary Art sections, with a rich programme of exhibitions and cultural activities that make it a lively centre for research, meetings and experimentation.
We now come to the Madrice Vecchia (“old Mother Church”). Built in the 14th century on the ruins of a pagan temple, the church is preceded by a 16th-century Renaissance portico and enriched by a Catalan-style portal. The interior, originally with three naves, was enlarged to four at the end of the 15th century. A grandiose polyptych dominates the high altar, a masterpiece of art depicting the Majesty Enthroned with Saints, attributed by some scholars to Antonello de Saliba, by others to Pietro Ruzzolone.
Antonello Gagini’s exquisite marble statue of Our Lady of the Angels and the 15th-century fresco of the Marriage of the Virgins are other wonders to behold. Some of the columns separating the naves are adorned with frescoes of saints, among which the one depicting St Catherine of Alexandria stands out for its elegance and delicacy. The crypt is entirely frescoed (16th century) with episodes from the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
The Francesco Minà Palumbo Naturalistic Museum takes its name from the 19th-century scholar and doctor with a passion for botany, who carried out an incredible job of collecting, classifying and reproducing on panels the botanical species, reptiles and insects of the Madonie (and the journey continues to discover Sicily’s botanical gardens).
Another small wonder is the 14th-century Church of S. Francesco, with the adjoining Mausoleum of the Ventimiglia family, a late-medieval octagonal building accessed from the church through a Renaissance marble portal in Lauranesco style and housing the tombs of some Ventimiglia family members, lords of Castelbuono. Walking down the nave towards the exit, on the choir loft you can admire one of the three oldest pipe organs in Italy, dated 1547, which still has all its original mechanisms: hearing it play is like taking a step back in time.
Not far away, the 17th-century Madrice Nuova houses a precious hanging cross painted on a pure gold background and framed with thistle leaves (15th century), as well as the beautiful Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Giuseppe Velasco and two majestic Baroque altars with twisted columns by Giuseppe Serpotta.
Along the main street, we find the Fountain of Venus Ciprea (rebuilt in 1614) with Andromeda at the top, Venus and Cupid in the central niche and four bas-reliefs with mythological scenes related to the theme of love.
In the heart of the city, we also find an old Court Bank. We enter the building and from here, up a staircase, we reach the clock tower where it is possible to hear the ticking of time through the ancient device that has been counting the hours, minutes and seconds inexorably since 1885 with its continuously moving cogwheels.
Castelbuono is famous for its manna, whitish stalactites with a vaguely sweet taste that hang from the ash trees of Castelbuono and nearby Pollina. The sap of these trees emerges from the incisions made in the trunks and branches and, once dried in the hot summer sun, is collected and used as a sweetener, laxative, depurative and even in cosmetics and medicine.
Castelbuono’s manna panettone and colomba, now exported all over the world, are also delicious.
It would be wonderful to be able to come here early in the morning to see the refuse collection donkeys! Yes, it is they who carry the bags, cleaning the village from top to bottom and even in the narrowest streets, where cars cannot penetrate. But the donkeys also distribute culture: every now and then they turn into advertising agents to promote the events organised by the Civic Museum along their route.
Finally, let us take some time out, sitting in the sun at a table in the ever-popular café in the square, in the midst of this relaxed atmosphere that is simultaneously teeming with life.
Castelbuono really livens up in the summer: in July, during the Festival of Sant’Anna, with the ceremony of the handing over of the keys, the “corte dei Ventimiglia” parades through the streets of the town; in August, with the Ypsigrock Festival, the town is filled with young people and new sounds.