Here is a city between land and sky, a shining jewel among all precious treasures of Sicily. It’s an essential destination for art, architecture, nature and landscape: welcome to Caltanissetta.
Caltanissetta: where and what
Splendid Sicily is almost like continent rich in peoples, tastes, nature, sensibilities where everything expands to infinity. A sweet and harsh land, soft and rough, bright and veiled: a world full of art and history. And today I’m taking you with me to one of the unique places on the island. I’m talking about the spectacular Caltanissetta and their 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
Meanwhile, let’s define where we are. Here we are, in the middle of the Island of Light in the chain of clear limestone mountains called Erean that rise above the wide valley of Salso. It rises between the three hills of Sant’Anna, Sant’Elia and San Giulianoand stretches out on a basin over 560 meters above sea level with a characteristic arch shape: this is Caltanissetta.All around, any visitor can see a unique and incomparable scenery that seems to summarize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the hills, the green valleys, the wide horizon…
And now let’s discover some curiosities!
Did you know that for almost two centuries, until the beginning of the 20th century, Caltanissetta was the world capital of sulfur production? Did you know that during the Easter celebrations, still nowadays, the so-called Fogliamari (they are people that gather herbs and sing ancient praises barefoot on the grass) carry the statue of Black Christ on their shoulders? And have you ever heard that the legend says that if you meet the devil on the Capodarso bridge and buy fruit from him, the next day it will turn into gold? And that in the ‘30s, despite the censorship of the fascist regime, Caltanissetta was defined “little Athens” by Leonardo Sciascia thanks to their cultural activities? You will be amazed to see prehistoric remains, Arab streets, Norman castles, Baroque palaces, abandoned mines and nature reserves coexist!
Caltanissetta: how and when
Nowadays this city, that like the rest of Sicily absolutely deserves to be visited, must be rediscovered from a tourist point of view. Therefore, I’ll begin to tell you a bit of the history of Caltanissetta. We know for sure that the origins of the name come from the Arabic Qalʿat an-nisāʾ that we can translate as ‘the castle of women’. In fact, it was mentioned in this way in 1154 by the famous Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi.
According to some people, this name came from the fact that the Pietrarossa castle was actually a harem inhabited by the favorite ladies of the Emir of Palermo. As fascinating as this hypothesis is, it clashes with the renowned opinion of Luigi Santagati that historically speaking, sounds more reliable. According to his research, nisāʾ that means ‘woman’ in Arabic would be the mangling of Nissa, a city in Anatolia, the hometown of the Byzantines who built the castle of Pietrarossa!
As for Enna, after the prehistoric era, around the 19th century BC, the Sicans inhabited the area, but the city was founded later. There are various hypotheses, but we tend to date the foundation at the time of the expansion of the Byzantine sites in the 10th century during the Islamic period in Sicily. Then, in was the time of the arrival of the Normans and the Aragonese and after several events, the noble family of Moncada di Paternò arrived in 1405. They were the owners of the county of Caltanissetta for over 4 centuries until 1812, the date of the abolition of feudalism! So, like the rest of the Island of Light, the other vicissitudes happened until the rise of the Kingdom of Italy.
10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta: let’s find out the top three!
Well now you know enough to go further and as I promised, I will list one by one 10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta: let’s discover them!
1 – The Historic Center with the 4 Districts
Let’s begin our day in the historic center of Caltanissetta that is characterized by the arch-shape among the three hills we have mentioned. If you want to do a nice urban trekking, wear some comfortable shoes to face the long stairways. Let’s walk calmly and quietly. I recommend that you visit all 4 original districts known as Angeli, Provvidenza, San Rocco and Saccara. In addition to the sites that I will introduce you soon, in each neighborhood you will discover beautiful palaces, churches, fountains and stairways. Don’t miss them!
2 – The Cathedral of Santa Maria La Nova
Let’s learn more about all wonders, our first stop is the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Nova built between 1560 and 1622. It is located in the historic center, and maybe you are wondering why it is called ‘La Nova’… well, because since 1300, near the Castle of Pietrarossa, there was a Church of Santa Maria then called ‘La Vetere’! Let’s admire the facade flanked by two beautiful bell towers and the mighty dome, now let’s go inside. Here we have three naves with 14 arches dedicated to the characters of the Old Testament. Raise your eyes and… here is a beautiful series of frescoes by the Flemish painter Borremans.
3 – Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio
Our visit goes on, just 3 minutes away from the Cathedral, here is the church that everybody considered the most beautiful and artistic in the city. We are located in Corso Umberto, one of the main streets of Caltanissetta, that I recommend you explore enjoying a relaxing walk. In the 17th century, the Moncadas invited the powerful Jesuits to Caltanissetta, it’s for them that they built this building with the red facade and sumptuous interiors. It was dedicated to Saint Agatha, but it immediately hosted the Jesuit college too. Today it is the seat of the municipal library and the city’s high school of musical studies.
10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta: let’s find out two more!
4 – The Pietrarossa Castle
This visit through the streets of the city is nice, isn’ it? Let’s go to know more the Pietrarossa Castle that is considered the oldest symbol of Caltanissetta. In about ten minutes, starting from the Town Hall, following via San Domenico and then via degli Angeli, here we are in the heart of the Middle Ages! It is one of the most important and impressive castles in Sicily from the Norman era, although only a few traces remain. Thanks to its location, it dominates the entire valley and shows the countryside of the Sicilian hinterland. What a view… and let’s take many spectacular photos!
5 – Monument fo the Redeemer on Monte San Giuliano
Well, now it’s better to take the car and drive. In ten minutes, we’ll arrive on the summit of Monte San Giuliano (727 meters above sea level). In front of us, it stands an impressive bronze statue placed on a base made of gray limestone. It is inspired by a marble group from the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, the statue of the Redeemer was made by Ernesto Basile in 1900 for the Jubilee. All around there is the viewpoint over the city. Even here, the breath-taking panorama is priceless!
10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta: let’s find out more and more!
We visited 5 out of 10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta! Now it’s time to get to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
6 – Regional Archaeological Museum
And here we are again, let’s drive for 15 minutes…this is enough to get to the Regional Archaeological Museum. About 5000 archaeological finds are waiting for us, especially bronzes and ceramics from prehistoric to ancient times. Statues of male and female gods, amphorae and jewels come from the necropolis of Gibil Gabib that belonged to the ancient settlement of Nissa. Other findings that have been found around the ‘60s come from the Pietrarossa Castle.
7 – The Abbey of the Holy Spirit
Well…now, let’s drive for five minutes to discover one of the oldest and most well-preserved Arab-Norman style monuments in the city. I’m talking about the Abbey of the Holy Spirit that was built at the beginning of the 11th century by Roger I of Sicily for the Augustinian friars. Since it is immersed in the countryside, it was used to monitor the vast lands as well as a holy place. You cannot miss the font, the Crucifix by Staglio and the fresco of Christ Pantocrator.
8 – Mine and Museum of Trabia Tallarita
Do you love strong emotions? So, let’s visit now a very special place…I am talking about the Mine and Museum of Trabia Tallarita. We’ll drive about 40 minutes from Caltanissetta, just a few kilometers separate us from this unique place between Riesi and Sommatino. There are many sulfur mines in this area but here it is possible to visit a museum and part of the original structures. Our first stop is the turning room and the crystal and stone collection room. But the next zone will certainly excite you more. Here is a photographic exhibition and a documentary about the terrible life of the miners.
Until 1977, when the mine closed, the miners often worked naked because of the asphyxiating heat 500 meters below the ground for more than 8 hours per day. Often, some bursts and collapses killed men and young guys, but this risk was considered unavoidable: they needed money! Here is a tidbit…even if it sounds terrible and horrible: at the time, churches did not use to celebrate the funerals of these people because they considered the miners like suicide victims!
10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta: let’s see the last two!
9 – Castle of Mussomeli and Castle of Gela
Never stop, so let’s drive for an hour, and 45 kilometers away, we can finally discover Mussomeli. On a cliff, about two kilometers away from the town, there’s the Castle of Mussomeli, a fortress built between the 14th and the 15th centuries. It is also known as the Manfredonic Castle although there are older architectural traces from the Swabian era. And if you love castles, near Gela, let’s visit the so-called ‘Castelluccio’ also known as the Swabian Castle. We can read about this building in an act dated 1143 when the Count of Butera donated it to the abbot of San Nicolò. However, it is certain that the origin is more ancient, maybe in the Norman era. They host some ghosts: don’t you believe it?
10 – Nature Reserve of Mount Capodarso and the Southern Hymera Valley
Finally, here is the last of the 10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta. Do we want, after so much art and history, to have some time to relax and enjoy nature? It’s easy: let’s drive about twenty minutes away from Caltanissetta, here is the Nature Reserve of Mount Capodarso and Hymera Valley. We will be able to get lost in a river environment with gorges and caves where we can see some migrating birds such as the gray heron, the pintail and the marsh harrier. And if you still want enjoy trekking and birdwatching, in this province, there are 5 more reserves!
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Caltanissetta? Don’t think that’s all! Sicily is much more than this: come and discover it thanks to the itineraries organized by Dimensione Sicilia. One of the best ideas? Eco-tours by electric cars! These itineraries are customizable itineraries according to your time and budget to enjoy 8 days in Western and Eastern Sicily or 14 days, if you prefer. You will visit the most beautiful places on the island such as 10 UNESCO sites of Sicily including Caltanissetta and its surroundings. Or if you want to enjoy the beauties of the island in a different way, pick one of the tours suggested by Sicilian Secrets. In safety we trust, let’s go!
See you soon!
Translated by Gaia Guarino