Here is one of the main international tourist spots, a shining jewel among all precious treasures of Sicily. It’s an essential destination for art, architecture, history and landscape: welcome to Cefalù.
Cefalù: 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 Cefalù and their 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
But first of all, I’d like to remind you something useful. On this blog, I published a series of articles about the wonders to see in the 9 main cities on the island, including the legendary Taormina and now Cefalù. If you want to read all the articles ‘10 wonders to see in…’ just click on the tag below!
Meanwhile, let’s define where we are. Here we are, on the Tyrrhenian coast 70 kilometers east from Palermo and 160 west from Messina. Cefalù appears right in the Madonie mountain system, in a small flat area between a promontory and the sea. All around, a unique and incomparable scenery that seems to synthesize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the rugged stones, the blue sea, the long beaches …
Historians claim that the Sicilians inhabited the fortress of Cefalù before the 5th century BC, this is the year when the Greeks arrived. The city was then conquered by Syracuse until 212 BC but the whole island never became a Roman province. Therefore, many dominations such as Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Spaniards and Bourbons were present up to the Italian unification.
Cefalù: the origin of its fame
Nowadays the town is one of the most famous and touristplaces in Sicily but how and when Cefalù became so popular? Everything has begun thanks to the so-called Grand Tour: a long journey that wealthy European aristocrats used to organize in the 18th century to enrich their knowledge. So, many poets and writers, nobles and scholars who loved to praise our Island of light arrived in Italy and then in Sicily. Goethe described it as a “strip of heaven on earth” and Guy de Maupassant stated that here “there’s everything that seems created on Earth to seduce the eyes, mind and imagination”.
So Cefalù was one of the main tourist destinations of the 19th and 20th centuries for a certain target of travelers. In fact, many people want to create a connection between Cefalù and Taormina since they are considered the ‘pearls’ of the Tyrrhenian Sea and of the Ionian Sea. Certainly, they are two international tourist destinations par excellence thanks the beautiful landscape, their history and architecture. I think that the animus loci actually is different and therefore I recommend you discover both! Ah…if you want to know the 10 wonders to see in Taormina…click here!
Here is a tidbit about Cefalù: did you know that it was among the first towns to be included in the list of the “most beautiful villages in Italy”? Did you know that it inspired the famous book “Il mare colore del vino” by Leonardo Sciascia with its colors and that many scenes from “Comizi d’amore” by Pierpaolo Pasolini and “Cinema Paradiso” by Giuseppe Tornatore were shot here? And did you know, also, that Cefalù hosts the Sherbeth Festival aka the international ice-cream festival?
10 wonders to see in Cefalù: 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 Cefalù: let’s discover them!
1 – Norman Cathedral
Let’s start our visit from the city center, here is the most famous monument: the Cathedral Basilica of the Transfiguration better known as the Norman Cathedral. Meanwhile, I tell you that since 2015 it has been one included in the list of 10 UNESCO sites in Sicily together with the Arab-Norman churches of Palermo and the cathedral of Monreale. The legend says that King Roger II, after making a vow to be survived in a storm, had built it in 1131. After the staircase, we are in a large terrace that once served as a cemetery, then you can see the facade with two bell towers and then…wow! Over 600 square meters of gold Byzantine mosaics made by some masters who came here directly from Constantinople will make you astonished. The true masterpiece is Christ Pantocrator, omnipotent, in the apse.
2 – The Cloister of the Cathedral
A few steps away from the entrance of the Cathedral, we discover the oldest medieval cloister in Sicily and undoubtedly one of the most remarkable artistic traces of the period. Its uniqueness is in the capitals, each one is different from the others and supported by two very thin columns. If you observe them, you will see that some scenes from the Bible are depicted there, from historical events to imaginary animals and plants. So do not miss the opportunity to take a quiet walk in this very special cloister!
3 – Osterio Magno
Let’s stay in the city center and walk along Corso Ruggero, the most famous street to do shopping. We can observe an ancient building that they say it was the residence of Roger II in the 12th century and then was certainly enlarged and fortified by the powerful Ventimiglia family who kept it until the early 1600s. In addition to the tower that dates back to the Norman period, I suggest you stop and look at the windows: you’ll see a large, mullioned window and two mullioned windows. After in was abandoned for a long period, this building known as the Osterio Magno has been restored and today often hosts exhibitions and events.
10 wonders to see in Cefalù: let’s find out four more!
4 – Museo Mandralisca
Do you want to miss the only museum in Cefalù? It presents a huge collection of volumes, stamps, shells, paintings and archaeologists’ finds. In the city center, here is the Museo Mandralisca commissioned by Baron Enrico Pirajno of Mandralisca who had collected important pieces throughout his life. The best-known work is the Portrait of an Unknown Sailor by Antonello da Messina that, due to the enigmatic smile, evokes Mona Lisa by Leonardo. But don’t miss the other Flemish and Caravaggesque artworks too!
5 – The Medieval Wash house
Let’s keep on walking through the city center and in via Vittorio Emanuele, below a house that overlooks the port, there’s a short staircase. And here is the Medieval Wash house that consist of some tanks continuously filled by the waters of the Cefalino river. For many centuries, the women of the town have come here to wash clothes and tell each other the latest news about friends and acquaintances. At the same time, they preserved a legend that says that those waters are the tears of a desperate nymph for having lost her beloved man! This poor girl cries too much!
6 – Porta Pescara
Are you ready to take amazing pictures of the beach and the sea through a spectacular Gothic portal with the king’s coat of arms? So, just a few steps away there is Porta Pescara, the only one of the four gates of the ancient city wall that has remained intact. It was erected in 1570 by the viceroy who gives it his name, here to the blue of the sea meets the old port and the beach. Pass through the gate and enjoy the Giardina promenade and the reflections of the waves where colorful houses are reflected.
7 – The Rock and the Temple of Diana
Have you ever thought to do some trekking in the city center? In Cefalù you can! Do not miss the ascent to the Rock. So, let’s go back to Piazza Garibaldi and – equipped with a pair of comfortable shoes -, take the path among pines, walls and rocks called Salita Saraceni. Halfway up, there are the remains of the Temple of Diana, a sanctuary dating back to the 5th century BC. Then we will see the remains of the Tower of the castle (1200) with the crenellated walls. Finally, we arrive at the top of the Rock (268 meters above sea level). It will take more than half an hour, but the panorama is beautiful: Cefalù, the Tyrrhenian Sea and Capo d’Orlando! Simply gorgeous.
10 wonders to see in Cefalù: let’s find out more and more!
We visited 7 out of 10 wonders to see in Cefalù! Now it’s time to get to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
8 – The Sanctuary of Gibilmanna
Are you ready to drive? Let’s go! It takes just a few minutes of winding roads and about 10 kilometers away from Cefalù, there is the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna. It located on Monte Sant’Angelo (about 800 meters above sea level) and was rebuilt in the early 1600s on the previous construction of the 11th century. In addition to offering a beautiful panorama, this Benedictine monastery is a pilgrimage destination in honor of the marble statue of the Virgin Mary also known as Gibilmanna.
9 – Madonie Nature Reserve
So, after so much art and history, do we want to have time to relax and enjoy the nature? It’s easy: let’s drive for less than an hour from Cefalù and visit the Madonie Nature Reserve. Among peaks that reach 2000 meters above sea level, we can get lost in one of the UNESCO Geoparks (almost 40,000 hectares). Among many Sicilian endemic plant species, colonies of birds and wild animals, you can take a bunch of nice pics. And if in addition to trekking and birdwatching you still want something different, you can also try free climbing…go!
10 – Beaches
For many months Cefalù is a beach and relax destination. I will list the most beautiful beaches in addition to the main one, that is the Lungomare Giardina (the promenade): Mazzaforno, Settefrati, Capo Playa and Kalura. Each of them is amazing for their fine sand or pebbles and crystal-clear water. If you have time, visit them all: although they look similar, they are really different…find the one that best suits your way of living the sea! In addition to the free areas where you can relax you will find many beaches that offer diving, boat trips, windsurfing, canoeing and more.
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Cefalù? 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 Cefalù 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