The advice to know the deepest Sicily is to explore the hinterland, a universe of colors, flavors and art, often little known.
Right in the heart of the island is Piazza Armerina, which emerges among the verdant Erei Mountains and, although better known for the marvelous polychrome mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, it houses churches and monuments in the city center in front of which one remains enchanted.
Crossroads of peoples and history
Walking through the spiky streets that rise towards the top of the town where the Cathedral, the elegant Palazzo Trigona and the Aragonese Castle are located, you immediately realize how much history has passed from here: the Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese, the Spanish viceroyalty, the Bourbon domination, the Risorgimento up until the most recent history. In the ball of streets and squares, all periods are revealed to the most attentive visitors on a journey that leads back in time.
We have arrived at dusk, when the sixteenth-eighteenth-century settlement spread over three contiguous hills with the houses huddled against each other, shines with a thousand lights under the protection of the castle and the cathedral.
The town is one of the most important historical sites in the whole of Sicily. Suffice it to say that the polychrome mosaic floors of the Villa Romana del Casale, with hunting scenes, girls in bikinis and even an erotic scene, are extended to 3500 square meters, distributed among 60 rooms.
But as we have already mentioned, the historic center of the village also hides precious treasures such as the enormous Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria SS. of the Victories which took more than a century to complete, from 1604 to 1719.
The bell tower is unique, 40 meters high and built in Gothic-Catalan style, the same as the fifteenth-century church on which the cathedral was built by Baron Marco Trigona, who at his death in 1598 instituted a legacy for the construction of a religious building more sumptuous of the previous one.
Inside, which presents itself with various styles ranging from Gothic to Baroque and is decorated with very delicate colored stuccos, there are valuable works of great artistic and cultural value such as the Crucifix on board from 1485 painted on both sides by the so-called “Master of the cross of Piazza Armerina” and the main altar with the Byzantine icon of Maria Santissima delle Vittorie, patroness of Piazza Armerina.
On the same square, on which the statue of Baron Marco Trigona watches over and from which the panorama of the surrounding territory can be admired, rises the majestic Palazzo Trigona della Floresta, built by Matteo and Ottavio Trigona in 1690 and shortly after restoration work that lasted for years, is the site of the city’s Archaeological Museum.
The imposing building belonged to the most important noble family in Sicily and was built of terracotta bricks and local sandstone.
Spread over three floors, it houses a splendid courtyard, while the frieze of the family stands on the architrave of the central balcony. We suggest a kind of fun “treasure hunt”: look for the black golden eagle with spread wings with the shield from the blue background around both outside and in the city.
The coats of arms of this family are everywhere, from the Cathedral to many other churches and on the doors of numerous civil buildings. And even on the facade of the country residence that hosted our second #sognidoro in Sicily: Villa Trigona, an eighteenth-century mansion where the noble family spent the summer.
On the opposite side the village is dominated by the Aragonese Castle of the fourteenth century. It has an intriguing history of transformation that lasted for centuries, passing from a defensive structure to a prison in 1812. The castle was recently purchased and after years of neglect a total restoration is underway.
The whole center is full of churches so that Piazza Armerina is called the “city of a hundred churches”. Our advice is to discover its charm by getting lost in the dense and suggestive ups and downs of streets and alleys, in search of the elegant buildings and churches that hide behind every corner.
Among these is the Commenda of the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta dedicated to St. John the Baptist and built between the end of 1100 and the beginning of 1200 as a hospice for pilgrims and a place of gathering and hospitality for crusader knights.
Despite the bare and austere aspect it is a place of great charm: its history linked to that of the Crusades testifies to the contribution given to them by the people who left Sicily for Jerusalem. A curiosity: in 2007 the church was used as a set for some scenes of the film “Caravaggio” broadcast on Rai.