Piazza Armerina is rather overshadowed
by the fabulous Roman villa of Casale, yet its attractive historic
centre, clustered around a Baroque cathedral, is worthy of interest
in its own right.
The town comes to life on 13 and
14 August when the townsfolk don medieval garb in order to re-enact
the arrival of the Gran Conte Ruggero d’Altavilla and his
palio and its legend – It all stems from locals’ admiration
for Great Count Roger; In those days, the town was held by the Saracens,
the infidels, so the Norman advance in Sicily was considered as
a kind of holy war. Very soon, the inhabitants of Piazza rose in
revolt acclaiming Roger Guiscard de Hauteville (known in Italy as
Ruggero d’Altavilla) as their leader. On arrival, the paid
mercenary/condottiere gave the town a banner which earned great
admiration from the faithful. This would be furled and put away
until the mid-1300’s, when it was recovered and borne with
great ceremony to the town church. As if by a miracle, a plague
which was then decimating the town, suddenly died out and the banner
became a cult object. According to tradition, the standard in question
is the one bearing the Madonna delle Vittorie now in the cathedral.
The little town is visible from
a good distance away, with, at its centre, the Duomo dominating
the highest point (721m). Around the great church grew up the old
town threaded by a jumble of narrow medieval streets, lined by fine
Renaissance and Baroque town houses.
Duomo – The monumental Baroque
building, crowned with a great dome, towers over its own piazza,
an open space which is also overlooked by the Baroque Palazzo Trigona.
current church was built on the 15th century foundations of another
church, from which a bell-tower survives down the right side, with
Catalan-Gothic windows on the two lower levels and Renaissance equivalents
above. The front elevation comprises a broad façade ornamented
with pilasters and engaged columns; a sandstone string-course articulates
the horizontal planes balancing the important emphasis given to
the elegant central doorway. This is framed by spiral columns, surmounted
by a single wide, square window, with the eagle above, the heraldic
emblem of the Trigona family who originally commissioned the church.
A number of notable works of art is preserved inside. On the right,
the baptismal font stands through a Gagini-style Renaissance archway.
Above the main altar, at the far end of the nave, sits the Madonna
delle Vittorie, the Byzantine image which is popularly linked to
the banner given by Pope Nicholas II to his legate Roger I at the
council of Melfi, which was the capital of the Norman Kingdom of
Puglia. The little chapel to the left of the chancel is a fine painted
wooden cross from 1455, with the Resurrection depicted on the back.
Overlooking the nave there are two gilded wooden organ cases: one
ornamented with a medallion enclosing the Trinacria, the ancient
symbol of Sicily (on the left), the other bearing Count Roger on
horseback (on the right).
A walk through the streets –
In Via Cavour, behind the Duomo, stands a 17th century Franciscan
complex (now a hospital); its sandstone and brick church is marked
by a bell-tower with a conical spire covered in maiolica tiles.
The south face of the convent buildings is graced with an elegant
balcony supported by Baroque brackets.
on down the street to Slargo Santa Rosalia and Palazzo Canicarao,
which now comprise commercial offices (Azienda di Promozione Turistica).
The main buildings enclosing Piazza Garibaldi include the Chiesa
di Fundrò, dedicated to St. Roch, and the 1700’s Palazzo
di Città. Turn down Via Vittorio Emanuele which opens out
before two church fronts face to face: Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio
di Loyola is preceded by a staircase that divides into two above
the first flight; the Chiesa di Sant’Anna with a noticeably
convex façade. Above, towers the solid, square profile of
the Aragonese castle (1392-96m). From here, return to Piazza Duomo
so as to take Via Monte down to the Chiesa di San Martino di Tours,
which was founded in 1163.
On the western side of town, at
the far end of Via Sant’Andrea, stands a 12th century hermitage,
called the Eremo di Sant’Andrea, and, a little furhter on,
the precincts of Santa Maria del Gesù (1600’s), now
sadly abandoned but which preserves nonetheless its fine portico
with a loggia above.
Villa Romana Del Casale
Scivoletto e Michelin Italia. Le foto sono di proprietà
dei rispettivi autori. Ogni riproduzione non autorizzata verrà
perseguita a norma di legge.
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Guide of Sicily
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