Unusual Places and Itineraries

Magna Via Francigena: the stages

An unusual way to discover Sicily is the Magna Via Francigena. A journey from Palermo to Agrigento crossed by travelers and pilgrims for millennia. This ancient 183 km long route winds through nature and history, landscapes that, as yesterday as today, lead to a dimension of travel with a genuine taste. The Magna Via Francigena connects the Cathedral of Palermo to the Cathedral of Agrigento, crossing three provinces and involving the Agrigento municipalities of Cammarata, San Giovanni Gemini, Santo Stefano Quisquina, Racalmuto, Grotte and Joppolo Giancaxio. Before discovering some of the attractions that await you along this journey, let’s explore together the fascinating history.

Magna Via Francigena: the history of a route

Already used by the Greeks for its strategic function, it was with the Romans that the Agrigentum-Panormus road fully assumed the form of a path: this is witnessed by the miliarium near Corleone, the only milestone existing along the sicilian walk. With the Byzantine domination, the Via Francigena was recognized as odos basiliké, the royal road, controlled and crossed by the highest positions in the domain. Panormus became Balarm with Muslim rule and was connected to Agrigento, the new Kirknt, through the tarik al askar, the way of armies, to indicate the ancient path between the two strongholds. The arrival of the Normans confirmed the strategic use of the road, along which hundreds of churches and abbeys were built, in order to convert the people back to Christianity. It was finally around the 12th century. that, under the court of Constance of Altavilla, mother of Frederick II, there was the first translation into Viam Magnam Francigenam Castrinovi, a name used throughout the Middle Ages. A Via Francigena of lesser fame and importance than that which for centuries has led pilgrims to Rome from Canterbury, with a less religious history perhaps, but with a crucial historical value for connections and cultural contamination from the Tyrrhenian to the Mediterranean.

Today the Magna Via Francigena is a naturalistic, spiritual, adventure and discovery path that continues to travel the ancient “Regie Trazzere” (cataloged by the Bourbons in the late nineteenth century) to unite Palermo with the Agrigento coast, on a journey in the hinterland able to show the authentic essence of an ancient and fascinating Sicily.

The Magna Via Francigena stages

Divided into 9 stages of approximately 20 km each, it reaches the province of Agrigento after crossing the destinations of Palermo, Santa Cristina Gela and Piana degli Albanesi, Corleone, Prizzi and Castronovo.

The Agrigento way begins with the ascent towards the countries of Cammarata and San Giovanni Gemini, on the slopes of the homonymous Monte. To welcome the pilgrims, among colorful murals and prickly pears, there is the ancient Norman Castle with the ruins of its tower. The walk inside the town of Cammarata, through the narrow and characteristic streets of the historic center, then leads to the nearby San Giovanni Gemini, more modern and full of attractions. A recent variant leads pilgrims to discover the ancient Hermitage of Quisquina, in a path between the woods and the reserve of the Sicani Mountains. Already in the territory of Santo Stefano Quisquina, the Hermitage is located near the cave in which Santa Rosalia, beloved patron saint of Palermo, took refuge for most of her life.

The journey towards Agrigento sees the stage of Sutera, and then returns to the province of Agrigento with the municipality of Racalmuto, the hometown of famous novelist Leonardo Sciascia. This last city enchants for the variety of its churches, for the characteristic fountain “Novi Cannola” and, obviously, for its Chiaramontano Castle. The walk to the penultimate stage involves crossing the nearby Grotte, climbing towards Comitini and crossing the characteristic Aragona; the city founded in 1600 by the Naselli princes, rich in churches and monuments.

All in the direction of the next destination: the small town of Joppolo Giancaxio, from the characteristic central square and embellished, just on the outskirts, by the restored Castello Ducale Colonna. The last km of walking see an alternation of the Sicilian countryside, crossed by the Akragas stream, and of tufo yellow paths, in a last ascent towards the magnificent of the Cathedral of San Gerlando that stand tall on Colle di Girgenti dominating from nine centuries the old town center of Agrigento. This brings us to Agrigento on a fascinating path, to get to know the essence of Sicily, in a journey of beauty and emotion.

This is what Davide Comunale, Researcher Archaeologist and President of the Association “Amici dei Cammini Francigeni di Sicilia” told at the time of his “opening” in 2017:  «The route touches a whole series of small towns where until a few years ago it would have been difficult to think of taking someone to walk. It is a journey that seeks to rediscover the origins of our Norman history and our relationship between the Arab and Muslim components. Those coming from abroad or from Northern Italy found themselves walking along our path were astonished to encounter landscapes that were beyond their expectations. The Franciscan paths are paths of resistance, the resistance of people who want to make the best of their territory known and invest energy because they believe ».

 

 

 

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