In our first tour in Sicily, the white terraces on the Agrigento coast near Realmonte, called Scala dei Turchi, had “escaped” us.
Wonders between nature and an artist’s work
So on this trip, which took us to the south east of the island, from Syracuse to Marzamemi, then in its heart to Piazza Armerina and its jewel, the Villa Romana del Casale, and again to the south western coast between Agrigento and Marinella di Selinunte, we did not want to miss the appointment with this spectacular scenery.
From Piazza Armerina, therefore, we decided to go down to Gela and from there follow the coast, skirting Agrigento and the splendid archaeological monuments of the Valley of the Temples, which we plan to include in the next visit to this extraordinary land.
We have admired from afar the profile of the Via Sacra, of which the profiles of the Temple of Juno and the Temple of Concordia, the only intact building, stand out even from a distance, the eight columns of the Temple of Hercules and the four, of the 34 original, of the Temple of the Dioscuri. Despite the destruction caused by historical events and earthquakes, the symbol of Agrigento, which was defined by Pindaro “the most beautiful city of mortals, the friend of pomp”, remains one of the most photographed glimpses of Sicily. How could we not stop taking a photo too?
But time is always running out and therefore after the short stop we left to reach the first stage of this part of the journey that we wanted to call White of Sicily: the Scala dei Turchi.
This spectacular scenario consisting of white steps that open arched towards the sea as if they were the theater stalls is due to the particular consistency of the rocks. Here the rocks are in fact made of marl formed from limestone and clay and with a characteristic pure white color. It is called Scala dei Turchi because it seems that in the past the ships of the Arab and Saracen marauders found shelter in the bay.
Unfortunately, the gray sky did not allow us to admire the strong contrast between the blinding white and the intense blue of the sea which instead took on milky colors no less fascinating. But when the sun shines, the “staircase” becomes dazzling and many venture out to the beaches at the foot of the cliff to dive and swim in the turquoise waters. We, apart from the season, did not want to try to go down because, having just rained, we were afraid of slipping on wet rocks.
But we guarantee that even admired from the top these white rocks open wide to the eyes of those who face an almost surreal sight…
The other White of Sicily we want to talk to you about, however, was not created by nature but by the hand of man, that of the great artist Alberto Burri. This is the Grande Cretto, the largest land art work in the world, built where the town of Gibellina once stood, destroyed on January 15, 1968 by a violent earthquake that devastated the entire Belice Valley.
In the first decade of the 1980s, Burri decided to cover the rubble of the city that disappeared from the maps with 80,000 square meters of white cement, creating a sort of huge shroud in perennial memory of this event.
From afar, between the green of vines and olive trees on the hills, this immense “crust” appears which covers the great wound caused by the earthquake. After leaving the car at the edge of the road we walked entering the network of white roads between walls just over a meter and a half high, climbing between the cracks: the word cretto is a synonym for crack, slit in the wall.
And wandering through the white alleys of this labyrinth, the same as in the historic center of the country before the earthquake, causes stunning and makes you think about the absence of life in a place that up to 50 years ago was inhabited by about 6,000 people and of which remains memory through this work called the most beautiful concrete pouring in the world.
That in more than one point gives in to nature, making some spontaneous plants emerge in the white landscape, as if to cancel the human passage by regaining possession of the territory.
In May of this year, the Museum of the Great Cretto of Gibellina opened in the old Church of Santa Caterina, the only surviving building from the earthquake. Inside, all the design that led to the realization of Burri’s work was rebuilt, through photographic material, historical documents, models and projections.