PILGRIMS’ WAY: THE ITINERARIUM ROSALIE
There is a different way of travelling. It is a way that is as old as mankind, but it always gives us new answers. Let’s rediscover together the pleasure of travelling by walking. Walking allows us to stay away from the hustle and bustle of cities and the race against time in our hectic lives. As we walk, we experience the time of nature around us and the time of our thoughts.
In this route, we will follow one of the most significant paths of faith in Sicily: the Itinerarium Rosaliae. It is the way walked by Saint Rosalia, from the Hermitage of Santo Stefano di Quisquina (Agrigento) (where she took refuge for twelve years after refusing to get married in Palermo) to the Sanctuary of Monte Pellegrino (Palermo). It was here that the Saint died at the age of forty in 1170.
It does not matter whether you are a believer or not because “there is no sorrow that does not ease and slowly fade away as you walk” (R. Battaglia). We can also decide to travel the route by bicycle or on horseback. On the way, we will encounter ” regie trazzere”, mule tracks, paths and disused railways. The trail runs through the Monti Sicani Park, reserves and nature areas, crossing 14 municipalities for about 185 km. We will live an unforgettable experience immersed in nature but also in culture, traditions, flavours and art.
We leave from the Hermitage of Santa Rosalia, in the municipality of Santo Stefano di Quisquina, on Mount Cammarata (AG). This mountain is the highest peak of the Monti Sicani, and here we can admire a beautiful oak forest. The monastery dates back to the 18th century and is located next to the cave where Rosalia lived. Inside, we can still see a Latin epigraph written by the Saint. Let’s now take a path that leads to a stream at the bottom of the valley. We wade across the watercourse to reach the provincial road that leads us to the Castagna and Altavilla districts, inside the Monti Sicani Park. We reach the Convento di Mélia. The convent was probably an ancient Basilian monastery, and here we will find plantations of azederac, the ‘rosary tree’. Before the invention of plastic, the stones of the tree’s fruit were used to make rosaries. From this point, we also enjoy the view of Lake Fanàco. The place naturally offers a contemplative and meditative atmosphere. We set off again to Borgo Riena. The hamlet dates back to the Fascist era, but it is abandoned since 1950. Passing through it, we will feel like stepping out of time. We are now close to Monte Carcaci. Walking among holm oaks and downy oaks, we reach the village of Prizzi, one of the highest municipalities in Sicily (996 m above sea level). We follow the course of the Raia river towards Lake Gammàuta and arrive at Palazzo Adriano, in the Valle del Sosio (this valley is of great palaeontological interest because it contains the oldest and most precious fossils in Sicily). Palazzo Adriano is part of the eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi. It has Arbereshe origins. Though the native language isn’t spoken any longer (15th century Albanian), a large part of its population still practices the Byzantine rite. We head towards Portella Fontanelle and descend towards the centre of Burgio. Here we take the “regia trazzera” and head west towards Portella Rossa. In the locality of San Carlo, in the woods of holms and downy oaks, we can visit the ruins of the castle of Cristia. The climb becomes steep and takes us north to Chiusa Sclafani. Amidst canyons and cherry trees, the route crosses the village streets. Walking through the town, we climb north again and head towards Bisacquino. We continue along an old railway road, which leads us to Santa Maria del Bosco (an ancient Benedictine Abbey). Proceeding, we reach the railway station of Contessa Entellina, which was the first colony of Albanian foundation in Italy (1450).
Let’s take a moment of rest, sipping some wine from the area, one of the DOC zones of western Sicily . We can relax among religious Greek rite buildings and archaeological sites.
We still follow the old railway road. Crossing agricultural landscapes, mountains and hills, we reach a regia trazzera that leads to Ficuzza. This small village is home to the Busambra fortress and the imposing Real Casino di Caccia, a royal palace built in 1799 at the behest of King Ferdinand III. Inside, on the right side of the manor, we can visit the small Church of Santa Rosalia. We cross the Bosco della Ficuzza Nature Reserve, with its typical gorghi (small ponds). Then we head towards the lake of Piana degli Albanesi, enjoying a beautiful view of the Moarda peaks. We arrive at the town of Piana degli Albanesi, the most important and famous centre of the Sicilian-Albanian community. We continue in the direction of the Serre della Pizzuta Nature Reserve (an area rich in wild orchids and inhabited by martens, weasels, foxes and many birds species). We reach the Norina lodge, the visitor centre and the Pozzillo refuge. After crossing a dense wood, we arrive at Portella Pozzillo, where we can enjoy a breathtaking view of Palermo.
We pass through the citrus groves of the Oreto Valley on our way to Monreale. Take some time to visit the famous Cathedral. From Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, we take a beautiful road that connects Monreale to Palermo. The street dates back to the mid-1800s and is rich in beautiful marble and stone fountains. The route ends at the slopes of Monte Caputo, from where we continue straight on towards the sea until we reach Palermo. We are now in the last city on our Itinerarium. We enter the Cathedral, where we pay homage to the mortal remains of Santa Rosalia. They are kept in the right-hand nave, in a silver urn shaped like a vessel. Local devotees take the sacred rests in a procession during the famous Festino. Once in Palermo, we can take time to visit the squares, monuments and markets. We set off again towards the Parco della Favorita, the city’s green lung. Inside the park, on Via Bonanno and at the foot of Monte Pellegrino, we find the Bourbon staircase. The staircase is also known as the acchianata and leads straight to the Sanctuary. The path is quite steep in the first part but becomes gentler as we approach the destination. The sacred place is at an altitude of 429 metres, and it dates back to 1625. The Shrine leads to the entrance of a cave. Here the mortal remains of the Saint were found. There is a mystical and meditative atmosphere in the grotto. Let’s now enjoy the destination we have reached, feeling that something within us has changed. Who knows if it is because of the closeness to the Saint or the beautiful path we have walked.