Bagheria, or Baarìa in Sicilian, is a densely populated town in the province of Palermo, famous for its splendid historic villas and 18th-century palaces, for being the birthplace of the painter Renato Guttuso and for the films that have depicted it, such as Baarìa by Giuseppe Tornatore, and others, such as The Wedding Director by Marco Bellocchio. The writer Dacia Maraini, who was related to the powerful princes of Alliata, also lived here during her childhood.
Let’s visit this extraordinary town through its enchanting villas.
One of the city’s most famous historical residences is Villa Palagonia, also known as Villa dei Mostri.
Superb and eccentric, designed by illustrious architects, it was already a destination for Grand Tour travellers in the 18th century and was known as “the most original place in the world and famous throughout Europe”. The walls of the villa were, in fact, scattered with many statues in “pietra d’aspra” (rough stone) representing monsters of all kinds, anthropomorphic figures, dragons, snakes and scary animals, knights, ladies, musicians and various caricatures, so much so that a rumour spread that, in order to take revenge for its extreme ugliness, Francesco Ferdinando Gravina and Alliata VII Prince of Palagonia, heir to the family title and owner of the villa, had scattered the villa with caricatures of friends and acquaintances; but it is more likely that it was just the typical 18th-century taste for the horrid and the astonishing.
The villa is accessible through an archway with statues of warriors on either side. Noteworthy is the double-flight staircase in limestone under the magnificent princely coat of arms of the family.
Also worth mentioning is the Hall of Mirrors, whose walls are covered in coloured marble and decorated with marble high reliefs depicting the family ancestors and the rulers of Europe. The vault of the room is decorated with mirrors depicting fantastical birds, fruit and flowers. The remaining rooms contain frescoes on mythological themes.
Let us now admire Villa Valguarnera “in all its beauty”. Villa Valguarnera of the princes Alliata di Villafranca is a magnificent work of art of the Italian 18th century. Its plan has elements of an esoteric matrix, and its very shape was conceived as a symbolic path from the earth to the celestial sphere, with the enhancement of the adjoining high ground known as the “montagnola” from which the view of Bagheria is dominated.
Once through the huge iron gate, supported by two pillars of Aspra stone, the long avenue begins. The large oval hall, by Vaccarini, is decorated with frescoes and paintings by the family’s illustrious ancestors. One of the owners, Prince Francesco Alliata, was the founder of the legendary Panaria Film and has been honoured by Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. The villa was the subject of a Dolce & Gabbana commercial directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, with music by Ennio Morricone and the extraordinary participation of Sophia Loren.
An absolutely unique and evocative place, not only for its aesthetic beauty and the harmony of its architectural forms, but for the intellectual stimulus of being in the middle of an important part of Italy’s cultural history.
Built in 1736 by Francesco Bonanno, Prince of Cattolica, Villa Cattolica is reminiscent of a castle with a quadrangular base.
The presence of the “Camera dello Scirocco”, a sort of artificial cave built under the mansion as a shelter for the days when the Sirocco blows from Africa, is unusual. It houses many important works by the neo-realist painter Renato Guttuso, born in Bagheria in 1912, which trace his artistic production from the beginning of his career to his last phase, including: Paracadutista, Fichidindia, In the Room Women Come and Go and Women Rooms Objects.
In the garden of the villa is the artist’s tomb, the work of sculptor Giacomo Manzù. The collection officially became the Renato Guttuso Museum in 1990 and also contains valuable works by masters of contemporary painting such as: Carlo Levi, Corrado Cagli, Carla Accardi, Antonio Sanfilippo, Angelo Savelli, Salvatore Scarpitta, Edouard Pignon, Sergio Vacchi, Armando De Stefano, Mario Schifano, Franco Angeli.
The villa is a magnificent treasure trove of art that is absolutely unmissable.
Palazzo Butera is Bagheria’s oldest stately residence, built by Giuseppe Branciforti, Prince of Pietraperzia and Count of Raccuja, who, having lost all hope of ever claiming the Sicilian throne, decided to retire to his estates in Bagheria.
Conceived as a castle, with two crenellated towers guarding the courtyards, the entrance door bears the nostalgic inscription “O Corte a Dio” (O Court to God). Inside, there is a rich picture gallery showing, among other things, the plans of the vast possessions of the powerful Branciforte dynasty: Butera, Mazzarino, Grammichele, Militello and others.
Its rich salons, with frescoes and precious crystal chandeliers, evoke a lost time of patrician festivities with ladies and knights dressed in rustling taffeta, as in the ballroom scene of Visconti’s The Leopard. The terraces, with wrought-iron railings and old tiles, are well preserved and on 14 July you can enjoy the fireworks display of the Santa Rosalia Festival.
And now let’s take a step back in time among the porcelain dolls, automatons and old mechanical toys. Let’s visit the Pietro Piraino’s Toy and Wax Museum in Bagheria. There are many occasions for games and festivities during the celebrations of the patron saint, or sacred and secular festivities.
Don’t forget to visit the seaside village of Aspra, known for its limestone quarries and for its anchovies in salt and oil, exported all over the world. It is home to the Anchovy Museum founded by Michelangelo Balistreri.
Let’s take a relaxing stroll along the seafront and enjoy an excellent ice cream: doing so at sunset will be an unforgettable experience!