Racalmuto is the town of birth of Leonardo Sciascia, an Italian author whose works have been translated into many languages and who has produced world famous novels such as il Giorno della Civetta” and A Ciascuno il Suo, describing the contradictions of the Sicilian society in the sixties. Although his novels are inspired by his hometown, which he calls Regalpetra, and directly refer to the Sicilian reality, indirectly they address vaster contemporary issues. In Sciascia’s novels Sicily and its problems are often used by the author as a metaphor for more complex situations. The Sciascia Foundation, which promotes both the thought and the literary works of the author, boasts a collection of 5000 books, over 200 portraits of writers, Sciascia’s correspondence with the most important intellectuals in Italy after WWII, many photos and other personal belongings. Go ‘back to school’ at the “General Macaluso” Elementary School and take place at a desk in the classroom where the young Leonardo Sciascia taught in the 1950s: the classroom is a small “museum of memory” and is part of the historical and biographical itinerary proposed by the Sciascia Foundation.
The town of Racalmuto has ancient origins, as testified by its name which derives from the Arabic “Rahal Maut “which can be translated “Ruined village“. When the Arabs arrived in this fertile area in the 9th century they probably found the ruins of an ancient abandoned village, perhaps of Sican origin. This theory is supported by the presence of a vast Sican necropolis consisting of caves of various sizes in the nearby Sacchitello district; the most famous of these caves is the so-called cave of Frà Diego La Matina. Legend has it that in the 17th century this cave offered a temporary place of refuge to Frà Diego La Matina, an Augustinian friar from Racalmuto who managed to escape from the Steri prison in Palermo, the seat of the Inquisition, where he had been locked up for heresy. Diego La Matina is one of the most controversial and interesting personalities in the history of the Sicilian inquisition, almost remembered as a hero by Leonardo Sciascia in his Death of the Inquisitor, for having managed to kill his inquisitor, Juan Lopez de Cisneros, with a torture iron just before being conducted to the stake.
Racalmuto is renowned for its excellent extra virgin olive oil and for a dessert with a centuries-old tradition: Taralli. These exquisite and soft lemon glazed biscuits are an authentic delight, celebrated even in the works of Leonardo Sciascia and in Andrea Camilleri’s Racconti di Montalbano. An inimitable delicacy not to be missed.
The historic center of Racalmuto develops around the medieval castle which was originally built by the Normans and fortified and extended by Chiaramonte in the 14th century. The castle is largely intact and is used nowadays for exhibitions and cultural events. The main parts of the castle have been preserved and it maintains its irregular pentagonal shape composed of a central block surrounded by cylindrical towers. The castle overlooks the valley and the 19th century Fountain of Novi Cannola, a suggestive and imposing public fountain which draws its water from a stream and owes its name to its nine jets of water.
Another fascinating fortress stands out on the top of a rocky peak about 5 km east of the town: it is called the Castle of Gibellina or Castelluccio Svevo. It was initially built on the remains of a pre-existing Saracen fort in the first half of the 13th century as a watchtower but was soon transformed into a real fortress by the powerful and noble family Chiaramonte. From the inner courtyard a staircase leads to the lookout tower and to the patrol walk which, needless to say, offers a spectacular view over the rolling landscape which embraces all the castles and watchtowers of the area and on clear days reaches as far as Mount Etna.
Teatro Regina Margherita is also worth a visit! The 19th century theatre is a true little gem with two tiers of balconies: a miniature version of Teatro Massimo in Palermo. Several of the churches in town exhibit paintings by Pietro D’Asaro, a famous 17th century artist who was born here and who was clearly inspired by Caravaggio; the most important are in the Chiesa Madre and the Santuario di Santa Maria del Monte. The Santuario, dedicated to the Holy Mary, is also particularly noteworthy due to the 16th century statue of the Madonna by Gagini. This statue is celebrated every year on the second weekend in July: the festivities last for several days and are called Festa della SS Madonna del Monte.
On Friday canon shots and drummers herald a solemn procession which makes its way through the main streets of the town: the drummers are followed by groups of young people dressed in historical costumes and the procession is closed by the statue of the Madonna drawn by two oxen. Saturday is the day of the candles (“Cerei“, or “Cilii” in Sicilian dialect): the ritual procession is composed of three confraternities bearing burning candles and a symbolic battle for the conquest of the flag to honour the Madonna. On Sunday, during the Holy Mass, the population offers the Madonna various gifts (“prummisioni“), passing by the principal staircase of the Sanctuary. The festivities are concluded on Sunday evening with a triumphant procession which bears the statue of the Madonna towards the final fireworks on a festive chariot in the shape of a vessel.
Racalmuto: distance from Agrigento approx. 22 km.
Contacts of organizations and associations which offer tourist information and other useful services:
Municipality of Racalmuto: telephone reception
Pro Loco Racalmuto:
+39 0922949018 / +39 3201868786
Comune di Racalmuto: the coordinates indicate Santuario SS Madonna del Monte
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N 37° 24' 31.68''
E 13° 43' 54.63''