Gangi, a small village which stands on a promontory in the province of Palermo, became famous the world over after being nominated the most beautiful village in Italy. It stages one of the island's most famous and most eagerly anticipated events: the staging of the wonderful live nativity scene which attracts thousands of tourists.
It's a little gem, full of historical heritage and traditions. According to legend, its was originally the mythical city of Engyon founded by the Cretans near the spring of the same name.
Just outside the town, among the dense network of sheep tracks, there’s the Santuario dello Spirito Santo, a shrine linked with a legend about a miraculous painted effigy of the Eternal Father found on a boulder by a farmer. This is now located in a niche within the Baroque building. As you enter the village’s streets, there’s the Torre dei Ventimiglia, a well-known noble family in medieval times. The tower was built in various periods due to the continuous structural failures which, it’s said, annoyed Count Ventimiglia. Legend aside, the tower has a refined style: it’s divided into three tiers and is surmounted by an 18th-century clock. It’s incorporated into the Chiesa di San Nicolò, Gangi’s cathedral. This church, commissioned by the Knights of Jerusalem, houses the works of Zoppo di Gangi, a well-known local artist, and the painter of many other works scattered in neighbouring villages. Zoppo’s identity remains a mystery to this day.
There are two noble residences to explore. There’sPalazzo Sgadari, which takes its name from one of the village’s most important families, and today houses the rooms of the Museo Archeologico, full of finds from the area, the Pinacoteca Gianbecchina art gallery, the Museo delle Armi and, lastly, the Museo Etnoantropologico, a small treasure trove exhibiting objects related to cereal farming, bread and sheep farming which used to be an integral part of the village’s economy.
The other is the nearby Palazzo Bongiorno: this displays the 18th-century architectural refinement of Gangi in all its aesthetic splendour! The residence of the Bongiorno family, this was an important centre of culture. Its outer appearance conflicts with its interior: the former is rough, unrefined, natural stone, with wrought iron balconies, while the latter is a real riot of ceilings, with stuccoed and frescoed walls in the Baroque and Neoclassical style.
Standing at the top of the town, there’s the castle, originally the residence of the Ventimiglia family and an example of late medieval architecture.
There are many types of food to try during the various festivities. At Easter it’s customary to eat u fasciddatu, a type of bread whose dough is made with water, semolina and natural and dried yeast: the decorated circular shape, 45–50 cm in size, is kneaded manually and weighs 2 kg. For the Festa di Sant’Isidoro, you should drink unpasteurised milk and sample taralli, a type of cracker typical of Gangi, made with eggs, sugar and flour. At Christmas tradition dictates cucchia, a shortcrust pastry filled with almonds, raisins and dried figs.
In autumn, mastazzolabiscuits, made from sugar, flour and boiled must, are eaten at harvest time. In the prickly pear season, mastacuttè biscuits are eaten, made from flour, sugar and prickly pear juice.