Rock of Ceres
Top Sites in Enna - Sicily

Rock of Ceres in Enna is all that we can now see at the place when once upon the time flourished the Temple of Ceres – Roman Goddess of Harvest and Fertility....

       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 worshipped here by native Sicilian people – Sicans. And frankly it should be not surprising given the importance of harvest and fertility for the survival of the human race.

Road to the Rock of Ceres - the site of the mythological goddess is usually hidden in dense layers of fog as if she wants to keep her secrets out of today's world....

 ... then at the end of the road, enveloped in fog appears the Rock of Ceres

Then around the noon the fog clears 

According to Cicero (Roman philosopher from 1st century BC), Enna’s Temple of Ceres was housing several statues of the deity including one  large in marble and smaller made in bronze.  There was also an altar for ritual sacrifices to honor the goddess in hope of good harvest. This just brings to my mind an interesting observation – for over millennia this aspect of  human “relationship with god(s)” did not evolve much as we still stubbornly force “our way” when asking for favors (in general various forms of sacrifices (donations) of “things” that do not belong to us) instead of  choosing the path of virtues…. 

Unfortunately not much survived combined effects of time, forces of nature, conquerors and let’s face it – thieves, so today the story of Enna’s temple and cult of Demeter (Ceres) sounds rather like a legend than reality

Impressive "piece" of rock.... 

       The cave at the base of the rock was possibly part of the temple. The stairs leading to the top of the rock seem to remember ancient times, but that is pretty much all hard evidence of once busy place crowded by pilgrims from all corners of the Mediterranean World. Tommaso Fazello (16th century Dominican Friar) known as father of Sicilian history claims that the Temple of Demeter (Ceres) stood at the edge of the cliff and was completely destroyed when the cliff collapsed. Although probably we will never learn the truth, Fazello’s hypothesis may be an answer to the question why there are no any tangible traces of the sacred temple where at least two great Mediterranean civilizations worshiped their deities. 

Despite of the fact that today the Rock of Ceres is just a bare rocky outcrop, it is still worth to climb it given amazing views opening from its top on the Dittaino Valley and the “sister”- city of Calascibetta “sitting” on the hilltop of the nearby mountain.

Rock of Ceres - close view at the mysterious "structure"

Rock of Ceres seen from the other side seems to be less impressive

From the top of the Rock opens the panoramic view....

View on the Mt. Altesina

View on Calascibetta just across the valley

Abobe and below: View on Enna

       Going a bit deeper into mythology – the cult of Demeter is closely related to other mythological events that supposedly took place near Enna. Once upon a time (or may be even “before the beginning of time”) Persephone (daughter of Demeter, to Romans known as Proserpina) was gathering flowers at the banks of the Lake Pergusa in company of nymphs. Little did she know that Hades (god of the Underworld known to Romans as Pluto) secretly observed her “dancing with flowers”. And it did not take long (yes, it also happens to gods) – Hades madly fell in love charmed by Persephone’s beauty and grace.  The rest is a history as we use to say (although in this case it is only the myth). Hades emerged from Pergusa’s waters and kidnaped unsuspecting Persephone. But as a real gentleman, he proposed marriage and position of a queen in his Underground Kingdom.  To make the long story short – thanks to Zeus’ support, Demeter managed to make a deal with Hades allowing Persephone to enjoy half of the time each year in the World of Sun. Needless to say that ancient inhabitants of Enna attributed the beginning of spring season to the emergence of Persephone from the Underworld. 

       Most visitors to Sicily probably realized that the traditional concept of spring does not hold well on the island. Omnipresence of orchards with trees laden by ripening orange fruits in January-February time frame is quite shocking given the fact that for most of us this is a period of snowy winter. Let’s keep in mind however, that Enna’s climate is quite a different compared to what we face along the coastal Sicily. In fact, Enna is the only Sicilian province where “winter’s” snow and low digits temperatures (Centigrade scale) will not surprise anyone. So for many, Persephone is still the Queen of the Spring periodically emerging from the Lake Pergusa, just some 5km away from Enna.  

Lake Perqusa 

       This “natural lake” created in tectonic depression within the chain of Erean Mountains does not have any tributaries nor overflows. The lake is fed by underground karstic springs and rainwater. As the result, its water level largely fluctuates depending on the season and in general - weather.  Lack of exchange of water contributes to an increased level of salinity and sulfur. These, in conjunction with higher summer temperatures lead to periodic grow of bacteria producing hydrogen sulfide. It gives its waters a seasonal reddish tint. That probably prompted ancient people to believe that the lake marks an “Entrance Gate into The Underworld”. The myth of Persephone and Hades was then the natural consequence of such beliefs.

View on the Lake Pergusa from Enna

Artistic vision of the Rape of Persephone (Piazza Crispi)

Enna - spring is coming quite early thanks to the emergence of Persephone from the Underworld (it's late January)

       Since always the Lake Pergusa and surrounding meadows and forests were a place of choice for many rare species of fauna and flora as well as a favorite stopover for migrating birds. Lush forests were also favorite hunting grounds for another mythical goddess – Diana. Unfortunately much of the area lost its virginity due to deforestation, development of invasive agriculture as well as residential and commercial expansion. The final blow to the sacred nature came in 1960’s with the construction of the racetrack. (In)famous Autodromo di Pergusa became one of the most important Italian racing tracks at one time hosting even Formula One events. What made it worse, is that the Autodromo di Pergusa in a pursuit of $$$ have been hosting almost any possible race of apparently everything that can move fast (list is too long to bring it in here). 

Now let’s close the eyes and imagine once again a little paradise of meadows “painted” with flowers, virgin forests with bare-footed Diana in a pursuit of a deer, then graceful Persephone with Nymphs playing in emerald-tinted waters…. .  And then open your eyes to see a racetrack around the pond that once upon a time used to be a godly lake…. . See nature discolored by dust, place from time to time crowded by enthusiasts of motor sports but definitely deserted by disappointed with our deeds – mythological gods. And with them, the magic atmosphere is also gone….

       Then something happened. In 1995 the area of lake was protected from further degradation by creation of the Nature Oriented Reserve. The reforestation effort initiated back in mid-20th century also started to make an impact. Pine, eucalyptus, elm, cypress, maple… (to name only few species of trees) took roots on over 137 hectares of land. With them came also various species of wildlife including deer (some even claim seeing Diana revisiting her favorite hunting grounds).

At one point also the Mother Nature stepped-up in an attempt to end the craziness of motor-racing in the middle of what used to be – pristine, sacred land. In 1996 during one of F3000 racings, literally zillions of frogs emerged from the lake (or maybe even from the Underworld) invading the tracks and making the racing impossible. The racetrack was shut-down for years; it was re-opened only recently for low scale races but its future (thanks gods) is still questionable!  Due to the laws governing Nature Reserves, it will be very difficult to make necessary modifications increasing the safety of the racetrack and racecars drivers …..

It seems that the Roman Proserpina came back to the Lake Pergusa in an incarnation of “Prosper-ina” bringing with her the hope for new, better future of Prosperity…..

Go back to: --> Top Sites to See in Enna

Note: Enna is not for cars. The labyrinth of narrow streets reflects city's historical past. So take some rest in one of the cafe-bars to rest before continuing on foot your Discovery Tour of Enna....

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