Petralia Soprana


The air is rarefied, the balconies are full of flowers, and silence reigns. Petralia Soprana is ready to reveal itself in all its beauty

There’s a surprise with every step you take: here a two-light window in the Palazzo Averna; there a small courtyard with an ancient bench and a pot with a climbing jasmine.

Village life revolves around the houses, and round the stories of the people who inhabit them.

According to historians, Petralia Soprana, in the province of Palermo, is probably the heir of ancient Petra, founded by the Sicani people of the Madonie mountains.

Conquered by the Arabs, it was called Batraliah, from Batra, “pietra”, meaning stone, and liah, “alta”, meaning high.

The Normans rebaptised it Petra Heliae (stone of Elijah) in honour of the prophet.

Here, you’re in the heart of the Madonie Mountains, on a natural balcony. You can admire Etna in all its magnificence.

First things first.

There are three panoramic viewpoints: that of Loreto, u castru, from which you can look over at Etna, Enna, Caltanissetta and the valley of the river Imera; that of del Carmine, u carmini, which has a view of western Sicily in the direction of Palermo; and finally, that of Piazza Duomo, which faces east, towards Gangi, taking in Etna in the background.

Next to u castru is the highest part of the village, probably the site of the Sicilian and then Roman fortification known as Piazza Loreto. In Piazza Loreto you can admire the symmetrical façade and majolica spires of the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Loreto, affiliated with the more famous Santuario di Santa Maria di Loreto “in the Marche”, rebuilt in late Baroque style and with a Greek cross plan. Inside, its highlights are the marvellous 16th-century marble altar (known as “cona”) by Giandomenico Gagini (which depicts four episodes from the life of Jesus), the 17th-century wooden sculptures of Santi Cosma e Damiano and two statues of saints attributed to Philip Quattrocchi da Gangi.

Leaving Piazza San Michele, named for the 17th-century church dedicated to the saint, with its central circular fountain, you arrive in Piazza del Popolo. Here you’ll find the neo-Gothic Palazzo Municipale, once a Carmelite convent, and the two Palazzi Pottino of the Marquises of Eschifaldo. One of these is publicly owned and hosts temporary exhibitions and, at Christmas, the magnificent nativity scene, the Presepe d’Incanto. The other, owned by the Pottino heirs, has magnificent 19th-century rooms on its main floor which can be visited on a tour of the museum. Its exhibits include period furniture, including the table service with which Prince Umberto II of Piedmont was served.

Continuing along the Via Generale Medici, you reach a small piazza dedicated to Frate Cappuccino Umile Pintorno da Petralia, the creator of 33 carved wooden crucifixes, scattered throughout southern Italy and abroad. His work as a sculptor began in 1623, the year of the Black Death in Sicily.

In the adjacent Piazzetta Ruggero VII, there’s the Oratorio delle Anime Purganti with a large bell gable. Next to the Oratorio, in Piazza dei Quattro Cannoli, there’s the baroque fountain in Billiemi marble, the village’s only source of water until the 18th century.

In Piazza Duomo there’s a spectacular architectural theatre overlooking the Chiesa Madre dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul: it has a colonnade and two bell towers, one from the Norman era, with an Arab-style window, and the other from the 18th-century. The wooden entrance door in the façade bears squares carved in the Catalan-Gothic style. Inside, the three naves are supported by twelve pillars, representing the Apostles. In the right aisle you can admire the painting of the Deposizione di Cristo dalla Croce, attributed to Josepe de Ribera known as Lo Spagnoletto, the Madonna fra gli Angeli by Gaspare Vazzano, known as Lo Zoppo di Gangi, and the first crucifix carved by Frate Umile da Petralia (1623). All the characteristics of his style are already present in this work, such as the life-sized Christ and the extreme realism of his features and gestures.

Continue and you arrive in the Chiesa del Salvatore: the only church in the Madonie mountains with a Hellenistic plan. According to some, this corresponds to that of the mosque on which the Christian building was rebuilt and consecrated by the Normans. The church was enlarged in the second half of the 18th century and today holds some interesting paintings and sculptures, including the statue of San Giuseppe by the sculptor Filippo Quattrocchi.

On the opposite side of the Norman Porta Seriy, the last of the six ancient entrances to the village, there’s the Chiesa di San Teodoro. The current configuration of the building dates back to 1759 but the bell tower was originally one of the towers of the historic centre’s old medieval walls. Inside, there’s an interesting medieval sarcophagus.

Not far from the centre, there’s the Convento dei Frati Minori Riformati. This convent and the annexed church were built in 1611 at the behest of several noblewomen and Frate Umile da Petralia spent the first years of his novitiate here. The church’s magnificent façade with its floral ornaments and bas-reliefs is reminiscent of the exuberant, decorative Spanish Churrigueresque style.

The nearby 18th-century Villa Sgadari is one of the most beautiful Baroque villas in the Madonie mountains and houses an exhibition of Sicilian carts and puppets.

As you walk through the village, you can admire the other small buildings worthy of note, such as the Palazzo Pottino Marchesi di Irosa, the Palazzo Vigneri in Piazza Quattro Cannoli, and the Palazzo Sabatini-Salvia in Piazza San Michele.

The entire village is characterised by a succession of alleys lined with the typical terraced houses with towers: these include the house of Vittorio Cerami, the painter from Petralia, a survivor of the naval Battle of Cape Matapan during the 2nd World War. His house still contains some of his paintings and letters written from the war front.

Near the hamlet of Raffo, a large rock salt mine is still used today for the production of the famous “Sale di Sicilia”. Inside, you can visit the Museo del Sale which houses a collection of salt sculptures created by artists from all over the world.

Not far from the historic centre, in the village of the same name, there’s the Chiesa della Trinità, which contains an 18th-century baptismal font.

The village produces extraordinarily high-quality bread products made with durum wheat semolina. It still has wood-burning ovens in which loaves leavened with criscenti, a homemade sourdough starter, are cooked. You’ll also find many milk and dairy products here, such as provola, a stretched-curd cow’s milk cheese, goat’s cheese made with lactic acid fermentation (in the French way), and unpasteurised milk products of varying maturities.

Share this content!