THE WRITERS’ ROAD, THE SS640

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The Strada degli Scrittori or Writers’ Road is the 640 highway that runs from Caltanissetta to Porto Empedocle, going through Racalmuto, Favara and Agrigento. It crosses the Valley of the Temples and connects the places where some of Sicily’s greatest and most beloved authors lived. It is a route rich in artistic, monumental, archaeological and natural beauty, as well as the delicious food and the excellent wine tradition.

The journey on the Writer’s Road starts from Porto Empedocle harbour, and travels through the places described in the novels by Andrea Camilleri. The Scala dei Turchi (Turkish Steps), is a stunning cliff wall that rises steeply from the sea on the Realmonte coast and just a short walk away there is the kaleidoscopic salt cathedral, built in a salt mine, in which sculptures, bas reliefs, stoups and sacred items are carved.

A must-see en route is Vigata, the town of the famous saga of Andrea Camilleri Il Commissario Montalbano. It is in Marina di Girgenti, the current Porto Empedocle, where the
majestic Tower of Charles V stands out and where the events of La strage dimenticata, his other novel, took place. Luigi Pirandello also spent his childhood in Vigata.

A combination of myth, history and literature stretches from the contrada Caos, where Luigi Pirandello’s birthplace is located (near Villaseta in Agrigento), to the old town of Girgenti, whose characters have inspired novels and short stories: here we find the Lucchesiana Library, the Church of Itria (where the writer got married), the family home in Pirandello street, the Church of San Pietro, courtyards, narrow alleys and amazing landscapes as described in his novels, such as those of Viale della Vittoria or Piazza Sinatra.

The Writers Road continues through the mythical Kolibethra garden, grown in a small valley between the temple of the Dioscuri and the temple of Vulcan. This area was built by the tyrant Theron in Greek times and it was a water gathering place. Then it was turned into a kind of Eden garden; today it has been restored and enhanced by the Fai.

This is how Pirandello writes about the Kolibethra garden in his novel The Old and the Young: “…The ancient famous Colimbètra of Akragantina was really much lower down, at the lowest point of the plateau, where three small valleys join and the rocks split and the line of the rugged ridge, on which the Temples rise, is crossed by a wide opening. In that place, now called Abbadia bassa, the Akragantines, a hundred years after the foundation of their city, created the fish market, a large water basin that extended to the Hypsas and whose dam contributed, together with the river, to the fortification of the city…“.

Back on the SS640 is Agrigento. It’s Cathedral is the setting of the Italian novel “Uno, Nessuno, Centomila“, by the best selling author Andrea Camilleri. It is also “Commissario Montalbano” and the setting of “The Gattopardo”. Agrigento Cathedral’s bell tower houses the devil’s letter, a mysterious letter written by Suor Maria Crocifissa, the character described by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel.

Another place that inspired “Il Gattopardo” is Palma di Montechiaro, about half an hour from Agrigento. Don’t miss a visit to the Monastery where the cloistered nuns make the delicious almond biscuits, also known as ‘Ricci del Gattopardo‘, famous throughout the world for being mentioned in the novel. You can still ask for these sweets from a small window with strong bars, and they are offered through the ‘rota degli esposti‘, just as they were centuries ago. Also worth a visit are the Ducal Palace and the Castle.

Upon leaving the centre of Agrigento, take the Moselle junction in front of the Rupe Atenea and reach the Moses countryside where Baron Agnello’s country mansion is located.
Among granaries, olive groves and fallow fields, are the places where Simonetta Agnello Hornby grew up, and where most of her novels, such as “Un filo d’olio“, are set.

The Writers’ Route also offers the chance to enjoy the charm of the hinterland village, which, thanks to modern urban projects, are now very interesting centres. An example is Favara, the town of the writer Antonio Russello, where the most degraded neighbourhoods have now become an open-air museum of contemporary art: the Farm Cultural Park.

The route continues towards Racalmuto, where there is a commemorative statue of Leonardo Sciascia walking along the main street of the town, absorbed in his thoughts and with his usual cigarette between his fingers. The monument was created by the artist Giuseppe Agnello. Among the many places of interest in Racalmuto are the Chiaramontano Castle and the Regina Margherita Theatre, a small theatre that was a cinema during Leonardo Sciascia’s childhood. The tour continues at the Leonardo Sciascia Foundation, an elegantly restored former power station, a real treasure trove for the writer’s fans and scholars.

Just outside the town, along the main road to Montedoro, there are the Sicilian tombs called Grotte di Fra Diego La Matina. Their history is told by Sciascia in his novel “Morte dell’inquisitore” (Death of the inquisitor). Not far away there is the country house where he loved to spend time writing and meeting his friends, including well-known writers of the time.

Further along the national road, is Caltanissetta, which Sciascia described as the “little Athens”. This is where Piermaria Rosso di San Secondo, a great playwright and author of “Marionette, che passione!“, was born. His birthplace is in the Santa Lucia district. Caltanissetta was also the birthplace of the poet Stefano Vilardo, Sciascia’s “lifelong friend”, and Emanuele Macaluso, politician and journalist.

Among the delicious dishes mentioned in the novels of our writers there are the cavatelli of Agrigento, the oranges of Ribera, the peaches of Bivona and the grapes of Canicattì. There are also the sardine meatballs and the cantaloupe melon of Licata. The cuttlefish soup in Siculiana Marina and the sweet and sour rabbit in Sant’Angelo Muxaro. Racalmuto is known for the stigghiola and the lemon taralli. Castrofilippo offers ‘u pitaggiu with broad beans, peas and artichokes. The fabulous fava bean soup comes from Raffadali. Tagano di Aragona is a savoury cake mainly eaten during Easter together with biscuits made by the nuns from Palma di Montechiaro. Ricotta cheese roll and nougat is made in Caltanissetta. There is a sweet couscous made by the nuns of Santo Spirito in Agrigento. They also make cuccureddi, ancient sweets of Delia. The people of Milena produce the famous ‘mbriulate.

In Favara, the typical traditional cake is the Agnello Pasquale (Easter Lamb). It is a cake made of royal pastry and pistachio, covered in the so-called ‘velata’ (icing) and richly adorned with little bells, silver beads, ribbons or small red flags. The recipe of this dessert dates back to the early 20th century, when it was prepared by the nuns of the Collegio di Maria in the ‘Batia’ district of Favara, to commemorate Jesus as the Lamb of God. Every year at the Castello Chiaramonte, it is possible to watch the preparation of the cake and taste it at the Sagra dell’Agnello Pasquale (Festival of the Easter Lamb), which takes place every annually during the holiday period.

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