On the summit of Monte Castro, surrounded by the Nebrodi mountains, there's an ancient village overlooking the sea and the Aeolian Islands.
San Marco D’Alunzio (Messina) emerged in the 4th century BC under Greek domination and was known as Alontion. Its historic centre has twenty-two churches and other sites of cultural interest.
In the highest part of the town, you can visit the ruins of the Castello di San Marco, built by Roberto Guiscardo in 1061 over a pre-existing castle.
In the lower part of the village, the Chiesa di San Marco Evangelista stands on a pre-existing structure of an entirely different type: the Tempio di Ercole, built in the Doric style with a rectangular plan. The remains of the temple’s cella are inside the church. Another artistic gem is the Chiesa di San Teodoro, also known as the Badia Piccola and connected to the Benedictine monastery which today houses the Museo Bizantino-Normanno. Here you can really get a feeling for the history which made this small Sicilian village great over the centuries.
The beauty of the Chiesa di San Teodoro is due to the Byzantine decoations: it has a Greek-cross plan and a central octagonal space with eight enormous supporting pillars. The entire area is surmounted by a paved floor reserved for the cloistered nuns who could attend Mass without being seen by the faithful. There are beautiful frescoes, such as the one depicting the Madonna with delicate hands, whose face has unfortunately been lost; the base features a representation of the separation between heaven and earth symbolised by the Four Doctors of the Orthodox Church: San Giovanni Crisostomo, San Gregorio Nazianzeno, San Basilio Magno and Sant’Attanasio.
Likewise in the centre of the village, there are two other gems to explore; along the picturesque village street, there’s the 16th-century Chiesa di San Giuseppe, an example of Baroque architecture, the interior of which houses the Museo d’Arte Sacra. The museum recounts the ecclesiastical history of the village through the works and creations of local artists.
On the last Friday in March every year, this village, one of Italy’s most beautiful, celebrates the ancient and moving ritual of the Festa del Santissimo Crocifisso di Aracoeli e Processione dei Babbaluti; a unique festival, which inaugurates Sicily’s Easter rites. If you’re in the area around this time, don’t miss it!
After art, tradition and history, it’s time to immerse yourself in the food and sample the local country cuisine.
One typical product is San Marco salami, produced from top-quality beef by the traditional methods of the colonising Normans. Don’t miss the maccheroni al tegamino and the homemade pasta or Sicilian desserts, such as cannoli, pignolata dough balls, or biscuits with milk or vermouth.
You can also try cheeses such as tuma, ricotta and pecorino, and other dishes such as lattupitte (bread dough fritters). Last but not least there are cured meats, sauces and the Nebrodi black pig as a main course.
Then work it off byhiking in the Nebrodi Mountains!