Thanks to its landscapes and unique glimpses, Sicily inspired several directors and scriptwriters that decided to bring cinema on the island. Million people dreamt while looking at these locations, it was a way to export national beauties beyond the national borders.
Films that became immortal, frames that even after decades are still in our memory. It’s the power of cinema, of the so-called seventh art. Sicily, thanks to its delicate and impetuous charm, has been able to be both protagonist and a shy extra.
Let’s discover together the most famous sets, those places that framed some unforgettable scenes of the Italian cinema.
It’s one of the cult movies that marked the history of cinema. This masterpiece directed by Luchino Visconti in 1963 represents Sicily in the middle of the 18th century, they melancholically witness the end of the aristocracy and the rise of a new social class, the bourgeoise.
The locations chosen for this film are mostly located in Palermo, in some scenes taken outside it’s possible to recognize piazza della Vittoria allo Spasimo, piazza della Marina and Piazza San Giovanni Decollato. Regarding the interior locations, Villa Boscogrande and Palazzo Gangi are renowned. The first one, because of the occasion, was restored in less than one month and had to represent the residence of Salina family. Unfortunately, the structural conditions of Villa Lampedusa in the ‘60s – in other words the real mansion of these nobles from Palermo, impeded to use it. Palazzo Gangi, instead, is well-known thanks to the final scene of the ball in which Claudia Cardinale and Burt Lancaster are the main characters. The interior rooms were furnished ad hoc and the director required an old-style enlightenment with the candles.
Ciminna, a village located approximately 40 km southeast of Palermo, was the set used for the shots in Donnafugata, that actually corresponds with Palma di Montechiaro, in the province of Agrigento. Many interiors shootings were taken far from Sicily, in Ariccia (close to Rome) all around the sumptuous rooms at Palazzo Chigi.
The Star Maker
Cinema inside cinema, it’s the best way to define this film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore in 1995. The main actor is Sergio Castellitto, who played the role of Joe Morelli, a swindler that took advantage of the wannabe actors that he met around Sicily.
Most of the scenes were filmed in Southern Sicily: in Ragusa Ibla, Monterosso Almo and Marzamemi. Then even the inside the Grotte della Gurfa, close to Alia in the province of Palermo: a great example of cave architecture that dates back to the Bronze Age. And also the around the ruins of Poggioreale, in the Valle del Belice. This town were destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1968, in the movie its devastation is due to the bombs of World War II. The very first part of “The Star Maker” wasn’t filmed on the island, but in Matera. It’s easy to recognize it thanks to the Sassi that make it unique.
“Cinema Paradiso” is another masterpiece by Giuseppe Tornatore that, in 1989 won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Even in this case, the Sicilian director wanted to honor his homeland while choosing several locations. The exterior shots were mostly filmed in the province of Palermo, for example we can identify Bagheria (director’s hometown), Cefalù and its small port, Lascari (the train station was used to reproduce the one of the unreal Giancaldo) and Palazzo Adriano that was the set of the square where cinema Paradiso is located (actually it is Piazza Umberto I).
Curiosity! The first ciak of the movie was taken in Cefalù, inside the Teatro Comunale Salvatore Cicero. The shots inside the cinema were filmed in Palazzo Adriano, inside the Chiesa di Maria Santissima del Carmelo. Nowadays, in this city there’s a museum dedicated to this cinematographic work that tells about scenes and backstage through 100 original photos.
Divorce Italian Style
1961: the director Pietro Germi brings to the big screen a movie that will become a cult. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen, it’s a comedy that talks about very thorny topics like honor killing and divorce that at that time was not allowed in Italy. The film was almost totally shot in the province of Ragusa, in Ispica. It’s here that the director decided to reproduce the fake city of Agramonte.
Southern Sicily is clearly recognizable even in many other scenes in which it’s possible to see the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla, the port in Ognina and Teatro Bellini in Adrano, in the province of Catania.
Seduced and abandoned
Let’s conclude our short story about Sicily and cinema with another movie by Pietro Germi. “Seduced and abandoned”, created in 1964, proposes a hard description of the habits of that time. It’s no longer a comedy as “Divorce Italian Style”, on the contrary there’s a sever and critic connotation of each character. The province of Agrigento is the set chosen for this film. It’s possible to recognize piazza Noceto in front of the church of Santa Maria dell’Itria in Sciacca, the church of San Leonardo in Siculiana and the palace Filangeri di Cutò in Santa Margherita di Belice.
The last one, in the movie is the mansion of Barone Rizieri, played by Leopoldo Trieste. But its story is indissolubly connected with the one of the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa who spent his childhood there. He used it as a model for the Palazzo di Donnafugata described in The Leopard, and today, in addition to be the city hall, it’s even the Leopard’s Museum.
We could mention many other works like “The Godfather: Part III” and the well-known scene in front of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, or the film “Stromboli” by Rossellini or “Il Postino: the Postman” with Massimo Troisi, partially shot in Salina (Aeolian islands).
It’s sure that, even nowadays, Sicily is one of the places chosen for several cinematographic and TV international productions and enchants the viewers with its suggestive locations. So, why don’t we plan a trip that allows us to discover more about these sets? A tour to explore the monuments, the cities and the small glimpses that make the island a muse for directors and producers. Only in person in fact, it’s possible to appreciate the essence and each detail.
And, as the great director Ettore Scola said: «I came here many times, I know it and love it. Palermo is very beautiful, Aeolian Islands enchant. But on the island, I took only one scene in my entire career. It’s the one that opens The devil in love with Gassman. I set the hell at Gole dell’Alcantara. Hell in the movie, Paradise in the real life. It’s the magic of cinema and life».