Rocca di Cerere Geopark
The Geopark is its own universe, another face of Sicily while also being its petrified heart.
The Rocca di Cerere Geopark extends over an area of over 1,200 square kilometres, encompassing the municipalities of the central southern part of the province of Enna and part of the protected natural areas of the same area.
Geopark conjures up images of a park dedicated to the land. In reality, behind this word there’s the link between geology and the cultural riches of cities, ancient histories, populations and unexpected sites, such as the deep and ancient connection between geology and myth about the agricultural goddesses, Demeter-Ceres and Kore-Persephone.
It was called Rocca di Cerere in memory of the place where the goddesses’ sacred enclosure stood: the highest peak of the mountain on which Enna stands, from where the priests officiated their sacred ceremonies. The view sweeps over a land that picks up the yellow of the wheat, the green of the oak woods, the silver of the olive trees and the golden ochre of the mediaeval towns, perched on the peaks.
But what is the Geopark? Let’s start with its geology, indicating a geoclimatic catastrophe that occurred in the Mediterranean 5.6 million years ago. Then the sea, left without any links, neither the Indian Ocean to the East nor the Atlantic to the West, experienced crises that led it to evaporate, leaving an immense abyss in its place, where all the salt that had previously dissolved in the seawater gathered at the bottom. Sicily has preserved the most striking examples of these Messinian evaporites. Varied white limestone mountains, gigantic chalk layers, sometimes crystalline, and salt deposits.
This geology is not only quite unique worldwide, but has been the thread in human history in these territories.
Man extracted salt, the first bargaining tool, from these evaporites, using them to preserve cheese and the earth’s many fruits. Then there’s the sulphur, the light of the underworld personified by its queen and goddess, Persephone, extracted as far back as the Bronze Age. It was a bargaining tool with the Egyptians and the eastern populations of the Greek islands and an important part of the Sicilian backcountry’s economy until almost the twentieth century..
Sulphur was the reason behind the foundation of new countries, the opening of new roads and railways, as well as the link in the long, enduring epic saga in “Carusi di Pirrera“. These are protagonists of modern Sicilian literature by great authors like Giovanni Verga and Luigi Pirandello, with Rosso Malpelo and Ciaula.
Thus, it’s geology that was not only linked with the people’s lives, but also geology that came to be seen as divine: the Rocca di Cerere is the same immense rock that looks down upon the fields from above, the agricultural goddess that becomes agriculture.
Let’s visit the most important places in this great Geopark, which is one of the largest in Europe. There’s the large Parco minerario di Floristella mining park, the nearby lake, Lago di Pergusa, a nature reserve and the mythical spot where the young Kore-Persephone was kidnapped; the same Rocca di Cerere holds the remains of the ancient acropolis and the immense Lombardi mediaeval castle; the Capodarso Valle dell’Imera Nature Reserve; the Boschi di Rossomanno woods with the archaeological area and the fascinating dancing puppets, natural sculptures made from sandstone rock or, again, the Riserva del Monte Altesina nature reserve, the point where the Arabs divided it into three valleys: Val di Noto, Val di Mazara and Val Dèmone.
In the area, many cities arose by the command of princes and tyrants who needed hands to work the lands. So, around the cliff, you can see Calascibetta, inhabited since the Bronze Age, practically a symbol of Sicilian prehistory, which was then re-founded by the Arabs, as evidenced by its name.
Finally, there are the historic centres, some unknown but full of examples, from ancient Enna and Assoro, to the mediaeval Aidone, and Piazza Armerina, to the founding cities of Valguarnera, Villarosa, Nissoria and Leonforte.
Due to the extraordinary nature of its geological heritage, the entire Rocca di Cerere Geopark protected area was chosen from the ten World Geoparks established in Italy by UNESCO in 2015.