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Sikania. In bicicletta da Palazzolo A Noto



N°10 October 1993 - Pagg. 25-30


(text by Giuseppe M. Licitra – Photos by Alfio Garozzo)

The Iblei mountain relief occupies the whole south-eastern corner of Sicily. It appears like a vast plateau culminating in Monte Lauro, 986 metres high, and sloping towards the edge with a series of stepwise faults, and delimited on the outside by a high fossil "cliff" (an ancient rock line) at the foot of which there extends a modest coastal plain. The surface water system, characterised by deep valleys with almost vertical walls, referred to as 'cave' ("gullies"), developed along the preferential directions of the fault lines; and seeing the imperviousness of the whole area, precisely the gullies constituted, until recent times, the only routes penetrating into the region, causing relative isolation and singular homogeneity in language, culture and traditions, making it a true island within the island.
The 1693 earthquake, which was set off precisely by the particular tectonics of the Iblei and destroyed all towns and villages in this corner of Sicily, contributed much to the consolidation of the singular architectural homogeneity, since in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries all these places were rebuilt in that elegant and original Baroque which reached its greatest expression in Noto.
A visit to the natural and artistic beauties of the Iblei area may even take several days, but a not too difficulty bike itinerary (almost all on tarmac, with descents prevailing over climbs) makes it possible to visit two of the most significant towns in the whole area: Palazzolo Acreide and Noto, respectively the starting point and end of the itinerary.
Palazzolo, set in the heart of the Iblei, descends directly from the ancient Akrai, founded by the people of Syracuse in 664 B.C., as a defence against the Siculo town of Pantalica and for control of the road westward. The town was first destroyed by the Arabs, who rebuilt it as Balansùl; and then again by the terrible earthquake which brought an upheaval to the whole south-eastern part of the island in 1693. The old part of the town now has the elegant and original Iblei Baroque look, but there are also very important vestiges of antiquity, like the acropolis with the Greek theatre and the Bouleuterion (senate meeting house), and the Intaglianta and Intagliatella quarries, with tombs from the Christian and Byzantine epochs.
After a visit to the old part and to the museum-house of the ethnologist Antonino Uccello, you start pedalling from the gate of the acropolis, and ride through the town to get to state highway 287, the main road of our itinerary. You proceed for some kilometres on a restful quasi-plateau which slopes gently to the east. To the right, set right in its rock bed and shown up only by the luxuriant vegetation marking out its course, there runs the Manghisi stream, which is to intersect the road under an old bridge about 15 kilometres from Palazzolo. Here you leave the tarmac road for the first time, and for about two kilometres you go along a track which flanks the stream at the bottom of the gully, until it "dies" amid the vegetation, which is as thick and impenetrable as a primeval jungle. Coming back onto the tarmac road, you go for about five kilometres until you come to a turning on the left, where a rusty sign for tourists invites you to a long digression (12 km. per stretch) towards Cava Grande (the big gully).
From here to the Cava Grande belvedere (two more turnings, on the left, clearly marked) only curiosity and available energy will decide the number of digressions to be made along the numerous tracks starting from the provincial road, some of which, on the left, afford magnificent views of the Manghisi canyon, which gets deeper and deeper, and the tributaries on the right. At the belvedere, you can stop to admire the superb panorama. The bed of the Manghisi (here referred to as Cava Grande) winds under your eyes two hundred metres below, at the bottom of a spectacular canyon marked by countless pools and little waterfalls, with rich aquatic fauna. The gully is a special nature reserve, entrusted to the custody of the Forestry Commission.
If you make a visit to the gully – this must be made on foot, and you can leave your bike at the refreshment place at the belvedere – this takes up the rest of the day, so that when you come back it pays to go to Avola (12 km., downhill), where you can spend the night. If instead you have made do with enjoying the panorama from above (possibly with a good pairs of binoculars), you can go back along state highway 287, for another four kilometres. The next turning is on the right, immediately after Villa Vela. A sign indicates the shrine of the Madonna della Scala, and it is only after entering the diversion that you glimpse the sign for Noto Antica (old Noto), half-hidden among olive leaves. After a brief stop at the shrine to admire the image of the Madonna, which is believed to date from the Byzantine epoch and, according to a legend, was found on a rock nearby, you go another four kilometres as far as the ruins of old Noto, on the Alveria hill.
The Porta Reale (royal gate), at the back of which the tower of the fortress still generates a sense of awe, leads into the ancient town that gave the name to the Val di Noto (Noto valley), one of the administrative divisions of the island made by the Arabs. Today there remain but a few ruins wrapped in ivy and brambles, marking what was once one of the most important and richly endowed strongholds on the island.
From the hermitage of the Madonna della Provvidenza, high up on the rock spur dominating the Asinaro stream, you can see the valley in all its wild beauty, as far as the sea. Leaving your bikes with the custodian of the hermitage, you can get down to the bed of the stream along a rough path; here you can still make out the remains of ancient mills and tanneries, and wandering aimlessly among these millenary stones wrapped in vegetation, you almost feel as if you were in a jungle in Guatemala. The earthquake of 11 January 1693 destroyed in a few seconds what men had taken thousand of years to build, and only the ruins of the fortress, and a piece of the wall of the Jesuit monastery, now recall the site of Neetum, dwelt in since prehistoric times.
After getting back your bicycles, you set out along a white track in very good condition which starts to go downhill from the aedicule of the Madonna. After about one kilometre the descent becomes very steep, and for a few hundred metres you find yourself jumping up and down on very hard cobblestones, which however soon give way to smooth cement, down to the bottom of the valley, where, after a small ford, you come back onto tarmac. There is nothing much to say about the rest of the itinerary; you proceed amid citrus plantations and vineyards as far as the non-descript suburbs of modern Noto. From the Villa Vela diversion, the distance altogether is about 23 kilometres.
Noto, rebuilt in the valley starting from about 1695, has been damaged by time and neglect, as well as by the 1990 earthquake; but despite the blemishes, highlighted by fences and scaffolding around churches and mansions, the town still exerts a subtle fascination on the visitor, who is enchanted by the fantastic battlements that a thousand faceless and nameless chisels have engraved forever in its honey-coloured stones. And so, though tired by the long ride, you cannot avoid wandering at sunset around the paved roads of this town which has caught the sun in its churches and mansions, stopping to admire the picturesque Piazza del Municipio (Town Hall square), where the original Senatorial Building, dedicated to the Siculo king Ducetius, faces the picturesque cathedral church, the symbol of temporal power opposing spiritual; or the incredible ledges that support the balconies of Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata.
And at the end of this roaming, which is full of surprises, you can sit down exhausted at a table at the Caffè Sicilia, in the avenue, to enjoy a priceless lemon "jelly"

The best period for this excursion is spring or late autumn, away from the fierce heat of summer (with temperatures which may exceed 40 °C). You only need some light clothing integrated by a pullover and a K-way in case there should be a shower; light shoes (unless you want to go down to Cava Grande) and a helmet. If you make the excursion on the third Sunday in May, you can assist at the traditional "flower procession" in Noto.
Palazzolo is connected to Syracuse every day by AST coaches, which also go to Noto and Avola; to the latter two places there are also various local trains, connected with the long-distance trains to and from Syracuse for the most important places on the mainland.
Modest but satisfactory accommodation is available: at Palazzolo there is the Hotel Anapo (tel. 882286) and the "La Torre" camping site (from May to October; tel. 882789); in Noto, the Hotel Stella (tel. 835695); at Avola, the L'Ancora (tel. 822875) and Mignon (tel. 821788) hotels and the "Sabbiadoro" camping site (from May to October; tel. 822415). The area code is 0931.
There are plenty of family-run eating places at Palazzolo and in Noto.
Anyone requiring something more sophisticated can try "La Trota" (tel. 875694) on the banks of the Manghisi, about 5 kilometres from Palazzolo, along state highway 287, where, inside a natural grotto, very fresh locally bred trout are served in a thousand different ways.


Visit the website

Inclusion in the prestigious World Heritage List UNESCO "Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto": Caltagirone, Militello Val of Catania, Catania, Modica, Famous, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa Ibla, Scicli.

An archaeological zone between most ancient in the Italian panorama, with a beautiful greek theatre, roman-hellenistic road.

One of the most famous and appreciated attractions of Palazzolo Acreide is certainly "House-museum of Antonino Uccello). During the years of passionate and hard work, the Sicilian ethnologist, has collected and put in order interesting testimonies and precious materials about the life and folk wisdom.

The site hosts 12 large reliefs called "Santoni". It is the greatest sanctuary to date uncovered, dedicated to the cult of the oriental goddess of fertility Cibeles.

The ruins of the Norman castle and the surrounding medieval urban planning structure.

An historical center of great architectonic value, strongly characterized from a Baroque architecture, fruit of the reconstruction post-earthquake of 1693 and, subsequently,  from the season of the Art Noveau.

The religious manifestations like the festivity of S. Paul and S. Sebastiano, known in all the Sicily.

International Youth Festival of Classical Theatre.
Every year, during May, at greek theatre many groups of highschools students from all over Italy and the rest of Europe perform tragedies and comedy by classical authors.

The several exhibitions proposed by the House-museum "Antonino Uccello", the agricultural and food- Review of the products and typical food... and more...

Carnival is very lively in Palazzolo Acreide and is one of the oldest in Sicily. As well as the parade of the allegorical cars and groups dressed up, you may taste in various food festivals the typical Palazzolo's food products like the sausage, trout pastry, macaroni, cavatieddi (a typical local pasta) and cannoli.

A extremely varied landscape, with the  Natural Reserve of Cava Grande and the Natural Reserve of the Anapo-Pantalica.

The presence, in the beam of little kilometers, archaeological and historical important archaeological zone like Kasmenai, Ancient Avola, Castelluccio, Pantalica, the several bizantine churches, etc.

The St. Lucia watermill, is one of the four water-mills started by the torrent Purbella. It dates back to the XVI century. It is perfectly kept, plunged in an uncontaminated valley, shaded by oak-trees and walnut-trees.Inside the building is the Museum of the Millstone where permanent displays and millstones of different shapes illustrate the development of the cereals grindind technique, from pre-history up to hydraulic energy.









Centro di documentazione multimediale su Antonino Uccello e sull'area Iblea e le province di Siracusa e Ragusa. Visite virtuali dei beni archeologici, artistici, etnoantropologici, storici, naturalistici.


Andrea Latina


Centro Studi Iblei


Istituto Studi Acrensi