Castiglione di Sicilia rests upon a hill on the north side of Mount  Etna, right in the middle of a valley laying between Randazzo and Taormina, carved out by Alcantara River.

Seen from a distance, it is the archetype of the  hilltop village, full of small houses perched along the slope.

The first, significant evidence of its urbanisation, date back to 1092, when Ruggero I (Roger I), in one official document, named it “Castrileonis“, i.e. Castle of the Lion.

The heart of every town is its square, so it is for piazza Lauria in Castiglione. On this beautiful central square, paved with lava stone, just where nowadays stands the auster Town Hall, people once kept their Peculio (main city wheat deposit) for their sustenance in case of food shortage.

Madonna della Catena and Lauria Castle

Madonna della Catena and Lauria Castle

Not far stands the seventeenth-century Church of Sant’Antonio. Climbing up a steep and narrow road, you find yourself in front of the apse of Church San Pietro which dates back to 1105. There are many religious places in this small village, right next to San Pietro stands the eighteenth century church and the adjoining monastery of San Benedetto.

Descending from another side of the square, we find the church dedicated to San Marco, having Norman origin and dating back to the XII century. From here, a narrow staircase branches off and leads to the ruins of a Byzantine fortification that the locals call Castidduzzu (Castelluccio).

Moving away from the central square, along a scenic road, you’ll also find the Basilica di Nostra Signora della Catena and then, on top of a crag, the castle of Roger of Lauria dating back to the XII century.

Castiglione - Maria SS della Catena - ph. Michele La Rosa

Castiglione – Maria SS della Catena – ph. Michele La Rosa

Leaving the village you will reach one of the most beautiful places in the town, where it endures what is perhaps the true symbol of Castiglione: “U Cannizzu“.

This is a sandstone tower built between the 12th and 14th century, probably a part of a more complex fortification called the “Cittadella“. The tower was outside the town and was probably the first stronghold to be conquered by King Federico III of Sicily, when in 1301 he reclaimed the fiefdom from Roger of Lauria.

Finally, unexpectedly, right in the middle of the countryside, there is the cube of Santa Domenica, also called “a cubula” by local people. Cubes are chapels built by Byzantine monks between the 7th and 9th centuries. This one,  unusually larger than many others,  has a Greek cross plan and a square layout and, according to tradition, its apse faces east while its central door faces west. The Cube of Santa Domenica is a national monument since 31 August 1909.

Cuba di Santa Domenica - andras_csontos

Cuba di Santa Domenica – andras_csontos

Castiglione has a long and rich cooking tradition, recalling the millenary  people who have passed through here.

Let’s start with the entirely homemade macaroni, seasoned with pork ragout and baked ricotta and then let’s go on with the tagghiani with nettle and wild rabbit. We can also taste exquisite confectionery delicacies such as cuddureddi, rice zeppole, sciauni (fresh ricotta fritters), hazelnut, almond and pistachio pastries… everything   accompanied by a glass of good and heady Etna D.O.C. wine.

This is the land of nerello, cataratto and carricante, a native grape variety that grows here only.  For this extraordinary wealth of grapes, Castiglione, a must-see for those who follow the Route of Etna wine, is the seat of the Regional Enoteca for Eastern Sicily.