A journey to the places that inspired Quasimodo poetry


Salvatore Quasimodo was a Sicilian poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. He was born in Modica ( which was then in the province of Syracuse) in 1901. He loved to define himself as a “Syracusan” to feel like a “Sicilian-Greek“. He stayed in Modica only a few months after his birth: his father, a railwayman, was constantly travelling around the island (and Salvatore was always with him), then the young poet left Sicily after finishing high school. Throughout his life, Quasimodo told about the distant images of Sicily in his verses: let’s follow the memories framed in his poems.

Tindari, I know you / mild between broad hills, overhanging the waters / of the god’s sweet islands. (Wind at Tindari)

The first stop is Tindari (a hamlet of Patti, ME). In the Poem “Wind at Tindari” Quasimodo recalls a particular moment of his spirituality, during an excursion with some writer and poet friends.

Tindari is set on a coastal promontory that rises to an altitude of 268 m above the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Marinello Lakes Nature Reserve. If you like outdoor walks, take the ‘Coda di Volpe’ trail that connects the Nature Reserve to the ancient town of Tyndaris ( hiking shoes are highly recommended). The route offers stunning views of the Gulf of Patti and the Aeolian Islands. Don’t miss to stop at the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna, and then visit the archaeological area of the ancient Tyndaris, where you can discover its Greek origins.

Next stop is Roccalumera, his family’s birthplace, where the Salvatore Quasimodo Literary Park is located. Housed in the premises of the former railway station and on the wagons of a vintage goods train, it preserves documents, memorabilia, writings, audiovisuals and the Milan studio that belonged to the poet. The visit continues inside the Saracen Tower, which inspired the poem “Near a Saracen tower, for his dead brother”.

At the banks I hear the water murmuring / my Anapo (L’Anapo)

For years and years, I have been sleep in an open cell of my land (Insomnia – Necropolis of Pantalica)

Even / my fathers for thousands of years laid / their dead on high to hide them / in the burrows of the Pantàlica hive (Le arche scaligere)

We now move on to the Necropolis of Pantalica, near Syracuse. It is one of Sicily’s most famous protohistoric locations and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The images of this land, its open air tombs and the sound of the Anapo river come back several times in the memories of Quasimodo. Wear your hiking shoes to visit the place and, if it is summer, bring a swimming costume too.

There is still the wind that I remember […] / the wind that stains and scours the sandstone, / and the heart of gloomy columns, telamons, / overthrown in the grass. (Streets in Agrigentum)

Here is the telamone / a stone’s-throw from Hades (Temple of Zeus at Agrigentum)

These are two different memories of Quasimodo, both of them are related to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. If you’ve never been here before, you cannot miss visiting this area. Take a walk through history, among perfectly preserved Greek temples and centuries-old olive trees.

On the sand of Gela, the colour of straw / I lay down as a child on the seashore / […] There Aeschylus, exiled / measured verses and disconsolate steps (To an enemy poet)

In Gela, Quasimodo lived some of his childhood years. In this city the great tragedian Aeschylus died in exile in 456 B.C., and the Sicilian poet remembers him with pride and glory.

Gela was founded in 688 BC by settlers coming from Greece. Its origins are still clearly visible today. Take time to visit the beautiful “Greek baths“, a thermal site dating back to the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. Then visit the Acropolis, where excavations have brought to light a city quarter from the 4th-century BC. Finally, do not miss the ‘Thymoleon walls‘, one of the most outstanding and best-preserved examples of ancient military architecture. According to some, it dates back to the 5th century BC.

If you love nature, head for the Biviere Lake Reserve, just outside the town centre. Here you can take a closer look at egrets, herons, black-winged stilts, cormorants, avocets and many other species of birds.

Perhaps / it gives breath from the plains of Acquaviva, / where the Plàtani rolls shells / under the water and between the feet of the olive skin children. (What do you want, shepherd of the air?).

An ancient memory appears in the poetry: Acquaviva Platani. Before ending the itinerary, stop to enjoy the peacefulness of this small village. As we stroll around, we will see the Ducal Palace, the Clock Tower, the baroque Mother Church (which houses some interesting sculptures, such as the wooden crucifix by M. Caltagirone and the statues of St Joseph and the Immaculate Conception by Bagnasco). Just outside the town centre, in the areas of Vignazze, Solfara, Cubuluni and Corvo, we can visit some interesting Neolithic tombs.

Of all the hands that raised walls / on this island, Greek hands or Swabian / Saracen hands or hands of Spain […] now I see /those that laid down houses / on Trabia’s shore.[…] Beyond the houses […], lies dead Sòlunto./ I climbed that hill one morning / with other lads, through / inner silences. I had / yet to discover life. (On the island)

We are now at the end of the itinerary, back on the Tyrrhenian coast, in Trabia (PA). The town is known as the land of spaghetti: the most famous pasta in the world. That’s because in 1153, the Arab geographer Al Idrisi was in Trabia and he wrote about the presence of a “thread-like pasta” (in Arabic itriya), which actually are what we now call spaghetti.

In Trabia, we can relax on one of the many beaches: Vetrana, with its very fine sand and shallow water, or Scoglio and Pietra Piatta where the beaches are pebbly.

From Trabia proceed westwards to the ancient city of Solunto, Today it is an archaeological site with impressive ruins. Here we can admire richly decorated dwellings with mosaics and wall paintings from the Roman era, the Hellenistic theatre, the gymnasium and the agora.

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