Enna, also known as “King’s Nest” due to its location at the top of the hill for millennia dominated Sicilian political, military and agricultural landscape….
Enna – the capital of the province is located near the center of the Sicilian Island on the top of the mountain towering surrounding countryside.
For good reason Enna was called the King’s Nest. The gigantic hill with large area of quasi-flat top walled on all sides by steep cliffs makes a natural, almost self-protected fortress (the true meaning of location was probably never more tested than here). Sitting at an altitude of 931 m (3,055 ft) above the sea level, for several centuries Enna dominated the “political, military and agricultural landscape” of the island what made it a “must-to-conquer” place to rule the whole island.
Founded and inhabited in “pre-historic” times by indigenous Sicans the site was subsequently conquered by all powers ruling the island. Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Aragones, Garibaldi and more recently even Americans led by general Patton. They all firmly believed that Sicily cannot be fully controlled without conquering strategically located Enna. Interestingly, in most cases Enna was not captured by force by rather by treachery…..
Province of Enna - landscape (note that this picture was taken in winter !)
Road to Enna (the city is located on the top of the relatively "flat" mountain. Here visible the fragment of the old city with the Rock of Ceres).
Enna: Map of the city
Despite its remoteness, thanks to the invincible fortress and central location Enna played an important role in the history of Sicily. During Greek and Roman times, it was a well-known center devoted to Demeter (Ceres for Romans) - mythological goddess of harvest and fertility. After the fall of Palermo to Saracens, Byzantine Empire established here the capital of Sicily. Not surprisingly it took eight long years to Saracens to conquer Enna. The history repeated about two centuries later when Enna became Arabs’ last Sicilian stronghold before capitulation to Normans.
Enna became the favorite place of Norman King Frederick II who on the footprints of an earlier fortress built an imposing Castello Lombardo. Some hundred years later Frederic II of Swabia established Enna’s emblem that still exists today. Two-headed eagle holds a shield with three towers making clear evidence of Enna’s defensive character. Stems of wheat rising from the top of the central tower reflect the fact that Enna for long was the “Grain basket of Sicily”. The crown embracing both heads symbolizes imperial power of Swabian Emperor. On the eagle’s claws one can read the memorable sentence: “Urbs Inexpugnabilis Henna” meaning – “Invincible city of Enna”. In 1324 Frederic of Aragon summoned in Enna Sicilian Parliament underlining importance of the city in the political landscape of the island.
But nothing lasts forever - throughout the following centuries fortunes of the city were changing. With time, importance of Enna as the fortress was diminished and the “political” center of the island moved to Palermo.
Old Town: Via Solferino
Due to its location Enna quite often is covered by fog. Here the church of Francisco Assisi seen in foggy weather conditions
Entrance gate to the Palazzo Pollicarini
Facade of the church of Michael Archangel bears visible signs of age...
For long, tourists visiting Sicily followed “well-beaten” paths flooding Trapani, Erice, Palermo, Cefalu, Catania, Taormina, Syracuse, south-eastern Baroque Cities (Ragusa-Ibla, Noto, Modica….), Valleys and Mountains of temples (Agrigento, Segesta….) and understandably - fabulous coastal beaches washed by warm, emerald-tinted sea waters. Enna with no access to sea was left on the crossroads of roads less travelled …
Fortunately recently Enna is regaining its importance, this time not as a fortress or political and commercial center of the island, but as an important destination for tourists. Waves of rulers left here not only memory of historical events and architectural testimony to the greatness of their times. They also left the long list of names under which the city of Enna was known to the outside world. Throughout millennia Enna was named correspondingly Hennaion (Greek), Henna and later Castrum Henna (Romans), Castro Yannis (Byzantine), Qas’r Yanni (Arabs), Castro Janni and finally Castrogiovanni…). Interestingly - the sequence of last few names more or less means the “Hill-fort of John” although Enna had nothing to do with John (Giovanni). The truth is that Giovanni evolved from the corruption of the word “Henna” altered to Yannis (Greek’s - John)…). This twist of history was fixed in 1927 when Mussolini restored if not an original, then at least a “genuine” name of the city - Enna.
Floor mosaics in the church of Santa Chiara
Government building is an example of the "fascist" style popular during the time of Mussolini...
This 40-something years old Fiat 500 is also part of the old town "landscape"
The rulers “engraved” their presence in form of countless historical monuments; some like 4th century AC Villa Romana del Casale (near Piazza Armerina) are truly unparalleled in the whole Mediterranean world. But certainly it was the last millennium that left in Enna (and throughout the province) remarkable traces of human achievements in form of castles, churches, palaces and countless objects of art.
While the province of Enna does not have great offer for beachgoers, it has some of the best areas of pristine nature that conscious travellers will fully appreciate. And honestly – the mixture of unspoiled scenery of hilly landscape with long and rich history offers the best of two worlds – these made by the Mother Nature and by Men.
Enna, thanks to its high altitude location is often veiled in clouds and dense layers of fog. This adds mysticism to the anyhow mysterious city that for long only eagles dared to feast their eyes on …… Seemingly sleepy, hiding up in the sky on the mountaintop overlooking the Dittaino Valley, the city of Enna is more than ever eager to share its fascinating history, architectural beauty and countless secrets. Welcome to Enna!
Enna’s historic downtown is defined by Via Roma starting near Castello Lombardo (where actually it is called Via Lombardia) and ending at the Piazza Matteotti in front of a church of San Cataldo. Here it branches out to Via Santa Agata, Via Pergusa and Via Roma Bassa (Lower). For this reason the main spinal cord of Enna is sometimes called Via Roma Alta.
Almost all Enna’s historical monuments are concentrated along Via Roma Alta. This greatly helps tourists to “follow the ancient and medieval paths” (BTW - the well-organized Tourist Information Office with English speaking staff is located at 413 Via Roma Alta).
The list of “Not to miss” in Enna includes:
Among historical monuments spread out across the Lower Enna, not to miss are:
But the visit to Enna wouldn’t be complete if only focused on monuments, museums or churches. Old Enna with its labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, with medieval atmosphere mixed with vivid colors of every-day life, smell of coffee, kaleidoscopic sequence of panoramic views opening at the “next corner” is simply a place to be, to feel, to cherish…. It’s a place, where “things” are becoming fuzzy when enveloped in layers of clouds or soaked in a satin of fog…. It’s a place where your imagination can fly back to the mythological times of Ceres and Persephone, a place where suddenly opens a wholly new world…..
Rock of Ceres and Lake Pergusa
Rock of Ceres is usually hidden" in layers of fog (well, we should know by now that mythological gods jealously keep their secrets ....)
Just below the Lombardy Castle almost at the edge of the cliff there is a rocky outcrop known as the Rock of Ceres (Rocca di Cerere). . In the remote past of early Greek settlements in Sicily, it was a place dedicated to the worship of Demeter – the mythological goddess of harvest and fertility (for Romans known as Ceres). Historians speculate that an “earlier” incarnation of Demeter was already ......
See more at: --> Rock of Ceres
Lombardy Castle: Defensive walls and towers
Castello di Lombardia or rather its surviving defensive walls and towers are “living” testimony to the long history of Enna’s fortress. Usually, going back in time brings us to the foggy area where facts are gradually replaced by legends. It’s somehow a natural process expressing our need to preserve the “continuity” of time beyond the limits of “known”. Enna’s fortress is not an exception. Legend has it that it was the place where stood the castle of King Sicano and his wife Ceres. While it is believed that the site was already inhabited since 12th century BC by native Sicilian tribes, the archeological findings like fragments of stone structures, burial places and pottery ...
See more at: --> Lombardy Castle
Cathedral: fragment of the magnificent wooden ceiling
The construction of the Mother Church of the “Holly Mary of the Visitation” started in 1307 thanks to the Queen Eleanor of Anjou (wife of Frederick II of Aragon). This way the Queen wanted to express her thankfulness for the birth of a healthy infant Pietro (future successor of Frederic II).
The cathedral was erected on the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the mythological goddess Proserpine. It was a well thought and far reaching decision aiming at putting an end to one of the last symbols of Enna’s pagan past. In 1446 the fire seriously damaged the church leaving only apses from the whole structure. Reconstruction started in 1451 and lasted till early 1500s.
See more at: -- Enna's Mother Church
Well preserved fragments of ancient jewelry
The Archeological Museum of Enna is located in the heart of the historical center in the 18th century Palazzo Varisano. Originally, the building with roots going back to 16th century was the property of Spanish family Petroso. In 1700’s it was acquired by a family of Baron Varisano. During his ownership, the palace underwent major reconstruction giving it the shape close to what we can see today. In 1967 the local government purchased the historical building with the aim of opening there a Regional Archeological Museum (BTW – the last minute acquisition most likely saved the palace from the demolition!).
After years of idling followed by a period of renovation works, the museum was finally inaugurated in 1985.
The exhibition illustrates the prehistoric bronze-age, classical and medieval archeological findings in the Province of Enna It is organized in sections dedicated to particular archeological sites including Enna, Calascibetta, Capodarso, Cerami, Assoro, Agira, Pietraperzia, Troina, Nicosia as well as the area of Lake Pergusa, prehistoric Cozzo Matrice and others… It should be noted however, that the Varisano Museum (as it is often called) does not cover archeological sites from Aidone, Morgantina and Piazza Armenina. These sites due to their extraordinary importance and size of their collections have dedicated local museums.
While Palazzo Varisano’s collection is bringing to light the now “silent” world of archeological findings its walls are still resonating with much more recent events. It was here where on August 13th of 1863 Garibaldi addressing his Redskirts companions and crowds of Enna inhabitants uttered the famous words: Rome or Death!
Piazza Francesco Crispi
Belveder with magnificent fountain and monument illustrating mythological event - "Rape of Persephone"
View from the Belveder on Calascibetta
The Piazza known as Enna’s Belveder offers great panoramic views well beyond the Dittaino Valley. The striking view on Calascibetta – town with strong Arabian atmosphere tightly sitting on the top of a soaring hill dominates the landscape. At the background are visible: mountain range Madonie (with 2nd highest peak in Sicily after - Mt. Etna), Mt. Altesina (highest peak in Erei Mountains), chain of Nebrodi Mountains and at far right - Mt. Etna. One can also easily identify the city of Leofonte , while Nicosia, Assoro and Agira can be localized with the help of the map.
Large section of the piazza is occupied by the municipal garden with a large fountain at its center. The fountain is topped by the statue illustrating the scene known as the “Rape of Persephone” (it is a bronze copy of the original artwork by Bernini). It reminds the fact that even today, veiled in clouds Enna is at the crossroads of Mythological, Ancient, Medieval and Contemporary “roads”….
Church of San Marco
Altar made in form of façade of a baroque church, actually looks like a “church within the church”.
The 17th century church of San Marko was built on the ruins of a Jewish Synagogue at the border of what used to be Enna’s Jewish district. The construction of the Christian church in such place symbolized the “End of an Era” that came to Sicily with Spanish rulers. In fact, expulsion of Jews from Sicily following the 1492 Edict of Alhambra issued by Spanish Crown (Isabella and Ferdinand II of Aragon) took such proportions that these days the Jewish presence in Enna is only a distinct memory remembered maybe only thanks to the nickname “Giudecca” (Judeca) given to this section of the town.
The church was commissioned in 1643 by Angelica Petroso – the abbess of the nearby convent....
See more at: --> Church of San Marco
San Giovanni Bell-Tower
San Giovanni Tower
The once magnificent bell-tower is the only remaining part of 15th century church of San Giovanni Battista. Today, despite of being attached to the Town Hall, it seems lonely and abandoned.
Visibly deteriorated, the tower still amazes with its architectural elegance combining elements of Catalan-Gothic and Moorish styles. The first level is widely opened by three large pointed arches possibly in the past serving as a gate. The second level shines with beautifully decorated dual-mullioned window. The third level that once housed bells includes three wide, round-arched windows.
Enna was always protected by steep cliffs making it a natural fortress. But in places where the Mother Nature was showing “signs of weakness” the city was protected by defensive walls with gates controlling the access to the city. There were seven gates – correspondingly Porta di Lombardia (located next to the castle and also called Porta di Cerere), Porta Santa Agata (known also as Porta Saraceni), Porta di Portosalvo, Porta Pisciotto, Porta Palermo, Porta di Papardura (next to famous church built in the cave) and Porta di Janniscuru. Of all of them today only the latter is still proudly standing deeply rooted in Medieval (if not Roman) times when most likely this part of fortifications was built.
Most of gates by 18th century fell to despair and then stone by stone were “taken apart” by Enna’s inhabitants. Surviving ones were demolished after 1927 when Enna after becoming the capital of the Province was quickly expanding the network of access roads.
Today, the cobblestone road leads along the rocky cliff to the now lonely Porta di Janniscuru., The gate is still an impressive 5 meters high massive stone structure with 2 meters wide arched opening in the center. Visibly battered by time, the gate clings to the rocky cliff seemingly in a search of relief. But it has all rights to feel tired. Indeed, throughout long centuries of service, the Porta di Janniscuru witnessed countless people arriving to and leaving the city, paid respect to royal columns, overheard various dialects, watched various colors of skin at the same time stubbornly standing on duty to protect the city from enemies. …
Next to the gate there is a Grotta della Guardiola (Guard’s Cave). Dug in the bare rock, relatively shallow, it does not look like it played any important role in the defensive system. Numerous niches carved in the wall point to its use for votive purposes.
In the past the Gate Janniscuru created the separation barrier between the outer and inner world of Enna, today, somehow ironically, it is rather the “bridge” between the ancient past and modern days.
Frederick Tower (Torre di Federico)
Beautiful ceilings seen inside of the tower confirm "robustness" of the structure
The octagonal tower standing on the top of a little hill in Enna’s Municipal Park is attributed to either Frederick II of Swabia or Frederic II of Aragon (in any case – Frederick). It was built at the end of 13th century on the ruins of an older castle called Castello Vecchio (most likely a residence of Byzantine general Eufemio). The Old Castle was destroyed by Saracens and now only fragments of defensive walls encircling the tower give testimony to its existence.
As there is no evidence that any larger complex accompanied the tower, its purpose is not clear. Some claim that since antiquity the hill at the center of Enna’s mountaintop was recognized as the geographical center of Sicily and used for astronomical observations. More realistic view is that the 24 meters high tower was a perfect panoramic observation point crucial for security of Enna and its inhabitants. Whatever was the purpose of the tower in the remote past, what counts is that today on clear days it offers fabulous views on the city of Enna and far beyond its limits on surrounding valleys and hills.
The tower has three floors. The most impressive is the first level with its vaulted ceiling and small single-lancet windows. The second floor has much larger decorated windows. The last floor (rebuilt after collapse) has an interesting “conical’ structure and provides access to an open observation level at the top of the tower. The tower is open for visitors and although it is just a bare stones structure, the panoramic views from the top are worth of the climbing effort.
Sanctuary di Papardura
The “Sanctuary of Abandoned Crucifix” is located at the outskirts of Enna on the cliffy outcrop plunging down into the valley. Since long this dramatic ridge was called by locals “Papardura”, so unsurprisingly the sanctuary took this popular name and is being known as Sanctuario di Papardura.
There are several theories trying to explain this somehow strangely sounding name. The most sound goes back to the times when Arabs controlled Sicily and is related to the characteristic landscape of this site. According to linguists the combination of old Persian words “Parpan” and “Dura” can be translated as “Sweating Rock” or in a wider sense a “Place of Abundant Waters”. Indeed, even today
See more at: --> Sanctuary of Papardura
Church San Tommaso
High Altar in the church of St. Thomas
Architecturally, it is one of the most interesting churches in Enna. It is also one of those with origins veiled in a darkness of the forgotten past. Church’s structure encompasses an old, probably 10th century watchtower that once was part of Enna’s fortifications. The beautiful arched gallery on the left side of the church (used as a main entrance) is the 15th century addition. Existing tax documents from 1308-1310 point out that the Parish of St. Thomas was one of the biggest in Enna (actually second to the Mother Church). That makes historians to believe that the origins of the church of St. Thomas go back to at least the 13th century.
The current shape of the church’s structure dates to the late 14th - early15th century. Also, probably during this period of time the watchtower was fully integrated into the church to serve as the bell-tower. The tower has three levels: the first one preserves slit-windows characteristic for original defensive structure. But the 2nd level shines with a beautiful Gothic window – the effect of the re-adaptation of the watchtower into the needs of the church.
The most precious treasure in the Church of St. Thomas is the altar from 1515. Made from white Carrara marble, this marvelous work of sacral art is attributed to Guliano Mancino. The statue of the Mother of God with Child takes the central position and is flanked by statues of St. Thomas, St. Agatha, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Nicholas of Bari.
On the walls are four frescoes by Saverio Marchese (19th century painter native to Enna) – depicting prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel. Another notable artwork is the famous biblical scene of Doubtful Thomas (St. Thomas touching the wounds of Jesus) – work attributed to Francesco Pellegrino.
The church of St. Thomas faces the Piazza Francesco Paolo Neglia with on the opposite side the Church of Holy Souls in Purgatory.
The fountain in the center of the piazza was built in 1989. Crowned with bronze statues of nymphs (work of Mario Termini), standing between facades of two old churches – St. Thomas and Church of Souls the fountain is one more accent of ancient past seamlessly blending with the Christian identity of Enna.
Church of Holy Souls in Purgatory
Church of Souls in Purgatory
The origins of the Church of Holy Souls in Purgatory date to 1615 when Don Giacomo Pregadio (priest from the parish of San Bartolomeo) built the chapel dedicated to “departed souls”. As the cult of the “abandoned” (as some prefer to call them) souls souls grew, in 1671 the Arch-Confraternity built the church dedicated to Santa Anime del Purgatorio (in other words, departed and mostly abandoned but still Holy) Souls in Purgatory.
The single nave church facing the Piazza Francesco Paolo Neglia is an example of Sicilian baroque. The main portal is finished with red-stone friezes, cornices and Corinthian columns (attributed to Agatino Daidone from Calascibetta).
The church houses several masterpieces of sacral art. The barrel-vault ceiling is decorated with floral plaster ornamentations and adorned with frescoes by famous Flemish artist Guglielmo Borremans. The scenes portraying: “Glory of Madonna with Pope Urban VIII”, “Triumph of Faith” and “Expulsion of rebellious angels from Heaven” were completed between 1720 and 1723.
The painting “Purgatorio” by an Enna-born artist Saverio Marchese is the centerpiece of the High Altar. Among other treasures of art noteworthy is a beautifully decorated wooden pulpit from 1700’s.
The Church of Santa Maria del Gesu of Montesalvo located at the highest point of Enna’s mountaintop facing Plazza Europa has its roots in early 14th century. As one of many churches in Enna, it probably wouldn’t bring much attention if not its interesting history. Apparently the first Christian chapel was raised here by the knight of Malta – Don Giovanni Grimaldi. Similarly as in the case of the Mother Church (founded at about the same time) ....
See mote at: --> Church Montesalvo
The Province of Enna offers almost everything that makes Sicily so unique (with exception of sea and beaches). You will meet here still strongly resonating myths and legends from ancient times… You will witness very rich history that left incredible archeological sites but also more recent (medieval through Renaissance) architectural treasures – fortresses, castles, palaces and of churches and coming with them abundance of objects or art. You will find here unspoiled nature shaped by chains of mountains and valleys, dotted by hills and lakes, cut by rivers….
One of the most precious "Treasures" of the Ancient World (truly a "Must-to-See") is a villa of a high ranking Roman official. Probably the ruins of this Roman residence will never attract such attention if not the extraordinarily rich and well preserved floor mosaics....
Villa Romana del Casale
Villa Romana mosaics: Hunting scenes
Villa Romana del Casale (Roman Country House) was built at the beginning of 4th century AD on the remains of an earlier “residence” most likely destroyed by an earthquake. The Roman baths unearthed under the Villa Romana del Casale as well as few archeological findings suggest that the owner of the earlier structure was a wealthy, high ranking Roman official. Some historians speculate that it was a hunting retreat of the Roman Emperor - Marcus Aurelius Maximianus but there is no clear evidence to prove such theory. Regardless these speculations – the truth is that the Villa Romana del Casale subsequently built on the “ashes” - with its grandeur, elaborated design and luxurious decorations (of which only mosaics survived) proves that indeed for long the whole site belonged to a rich and powerful Roman patrician (member of senatorial class or imperial family).....
See details at: --> Villa Romana del Casale
But the province of Enna has much more to show even to very demanding tourists. Places like Agira, Aidone, Calascibetta, Leonforte, Morgantina, Nicosia, Piazza Armerina, Sperlinga…. (to name only few) – They all generously contribute to millennia of Sicilian history, culture, traditions….. .
Visitors to Enna should not forget that since the “beginning of time” the province has been a proverbial “basket of grains’ for the island. So if by chance you will stop in Piazza Armerina it may be then interesting to visit the typical 19th century rural house...
See more at --> Casa Museo dei Contadina