A charming little seaside resort, Capo d’Orlando sits on a promontory of the same name surrounded by sea. Its history is intertwined with the legend of its foundation at the time of the Trojan War by Agathyrsus, the son of Aeolus. The legend also relates how the ancient settlement of Agathyrnis came to be renamed Capo d’Orlando by Charlemagne, who passing through these lands on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, decided to call it after his heroic paladin.
IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY
The coastal road continues beyond the cape, following the contours of the land and providing beautiful views of the beach and the deep blue sea, its surface broken here and there by rocks.
Terme di bagnoli – On the outskirts of Capo d’Orlando at San Gregorio, in the district of Bagnoli, the remains of a bathing complex attached to a Roman villa dating from the Imperial period have been found. They include the frigidaium (rooms 1-2-3), the tepidarium (room 4) and the calidaium (rooms 5-6). Clearly visible are the suspensurae which would have served to heat the various rooms. Rooms 4-5-6 contain fragments of mosaics with geometric decorations.
Villa Piccolo di Calanovella – 4,5km west, marked by the 109km distance marker on the SS 113 between Messina and Palermo. In keeping with the wishes of the last members of the Piccolo family, a museum-foundation was set up in the late 19th century villa where they had lived since the 1930s. The Piccolo was a family of artists; in particular there was Lucio (who died in 1969), an acclaimed poet, and Casimiro, an enthusiastic painter and photographer, and a scholar of the occult. They were often visited by their cousin Giuseppe di Lampedusa who was particularly attracted by the peace and quiet of the villa where he wrote a large part of his masterpiece (The Leopard); in the room he once used is one of his letters to the Piccolo family as is the bed in which he slept, ornamented with a beautiful ivory and mother-of-pearl bedhead depicting the Baptism of John (made by Trapani craftsmen in the 17th century). Elsewhere in the villa are displayed porcelain from China, ceramics from Faenza and Capodimonte (notably a 10th century Hispano-Moresque vase), dinner services, antique weapons, some Caltagirone 1600’s-1700’s ceramic water-bottles, and a fascinating series of fantastical watercolours by Casimiro Pirccolo, who enjoyed painting imaginary scenes from a fairy-tale world suffused with light and populated with amiable gnomes, elves, fairies and butterflies. Before leaving, it is well worth taking a stroll under the pergolas in the villa gardens and seeking out the canine graveyard for the family pets.
EXCURSION INLAND 74km round trip
The itinerary snakes its way inland from Capo d’Orlando on the eastern slopes of the Nebrodi Mountains. Leave Capo d’Orlando by the coastal road south towards Sant’Agata Militello. At Capri Leone turn left towards Frazzanò.
Frazzanò – 22km south. According to tradition, the town was founded in the 9thcentury AD by people fleeing the Arab invasions. The Chiesa Madre della Santissima Annunziata, dating from the 18th century, has a fine Baroque façade ornamented with giant pilasters and an elegant portal with spiralling columns flanked by niches containing statues. The Chiesa di San Lorenzo has a plainer façade relieved by a fine portal with spiralling columns and a flurry of scriptural motifs including plant fronds, cherube and volutes. Inside, there is a fine wooden staute of the church’s Patron, St. Lawrence (1620).
Proceed to the next right turning, signposted for the Convento di San Filippo di Fragalà.
Convento di San Filippo di Fragarà – 3km from Frazzanò towards Longi. The Basilian church, which has recently been restored, was built by Roger I of Altavilla in the 11th century, probably among the ruins of an earlier monastery dating from the 5th century. It is worth pausing to view the exterior of the abbey complex from below: note the three apses in the Arab-Norman style, articulated by brick pilasters, and the octagonal drum over the intersection of the transepts. The church is T-shaped in plan and inside, particularly in the central apse, there are traces of Byzantine style frescoes. The adjoining monastic buildings are also open.
The road continues to Portella Calcatirizzo. Beyond the town, turn left at the fork towards San Salvatore di Fitalia.
San Salvatore di Fitalia – Perched high among the Nebrodi Mountains, this small town has a fine church (1515) dedicated to San Salvatore. The exterior is somewhat severe, but the interior comes as a surprise; recent restoration has uncovered the 1500’s structure of the building with its nave separated from the aisles by sand-stone columns supporting pointed arches. The fine capitals are sculpted with the plant and anthropomorphic motifs so typical of medieval decorative schemes. The capital of the first column on the right, bearing the name of the stone-mason who carved it, features a highly unusual mermaid with a forked tail. In the right aisle hangs Antonello Gagini’s gentle Madonna of the Snow(1521) and, on the high altar, a highly prized wooden statue of Salvator Mundi (1603) at the moment of the Transfiguration.
Museo Siciliano delle Tradizioni Religiose – The fascinating Museum of religious practices documents the spirit of local popular cults with displays of simple objects, such as amulets against the evel eye, votive objects including a series of anatomical replicas made of wax originally from the Santuario of San Calogero (18th-19th century); be swallowed by the faithful while they recited prayers requesting divine intervention in the cure of disease or other malady; sheet music used by ballad-singers and terracotta whistles bearing figurative images sold on saint’s days. An unusual 1600’s “priest toy” comprises a doil dressed as a priest complete with all the necessary holy vestments (sadly the liturgical objects have been stolen), reminiscent of the one described in Manzoni’s 1800’s Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) belonging to the nun from Monza since childhood. The collection also includes a series of engravings and lithographs of sacred images (17th-20th century), special dress worn by the confraternities in sacred processions, various examples of devotional statuary in wood, plaster and terracotta, and small figures for cribs (19thcentury).
Follow the road back to the coast and turn right towards Capo d’Orlando.
CAPO D’ORLANDO TO CAPO CALAVA’ – Approx. 16 km
The coast between the two headlands is dotted with beautiful beaches and small seaside resorts.
Brolo – A flourishing port until the late 17th century and now a seaside resort, the town has a fine medieval castle (private) built by the Lancia family in the 15th century. Above the main archway is the family coat of arms, with the three pears of the Barony of Piràino.
Beyond Brolo, turn right at the next junction for Piràino.
Piràino – Stretched out along the spine of a hill enjoying a strategic position. Piràino retains much of its medieval form, scattered with religious buildings. Its legendary origins (supposed, as it is, to have been founded by the cyclops Piracmon – Harges in Homer – one of the three monsters of Vulcan) are probably rooted in the discovery of large bones in several caves nearby, erroneously believed to have belonged to the cyclops. All the churches are strung along the main street of the town. The Chiesa del Rosario the easternmost, dedicated to the Madonna of the Rosary, while retaining its 16th century campanile was re-built in 1635. Inside it has a fine coffered wooden ceiling set with Byzantine-Norman rosettes, and an unusual wooden high altar painted with floral motifs (first half of the 1600s) decorated with wooden medallions representing the Mysteries of the Rosary. The figures in the centre of the altar represents the Madonna with saints.
Further along is the Chiesa della Catena, erected in the latter half of the 1600’s, where the first elections were held after the Unification of Italy. It contains some fine Byzantine-style frescoes from another church, the Chiesa della Badia.
Beyond is Piazza del Baglio, named after the complex of low-level workers’ houses and workshops arranged around the Palazzo Ducale, built by the Lancia family between centuries 15th and 16th. Proceeding westwards, the way leads up to the highest part of the town which is marked by the beautifully preserved Torre SAracena or Torrazza (11thcentury), from the terrace of which extends a magnificent view across the rooftops nestling below and beyond to Capo d’Orlando. The tower was part of a defensive system which would have transmitted signals from the 16th century Torre delle Ciavole on the coast, via the Guardiola situated to the north of the town, to the Torrazza.
On the western edge of town is Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, the church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, built in the 16th century but altered in the 17th century.Inside, the wooden altar is decorated with floral motifs. A low relief to the right of the altar depicts the patron St. Catherine of Alexandria overcoming the infidel.
Turn back towards the coast; on the left stands the Torre delle Ciavole (see above). Continue to the small seaside resort of Gioiosa Marea and follow the signs for San FIlipo Armo and San Leonardo (about 9km) to Gioiosa Guardia.
Rovine di Gioiosa Guardia – The ruins of this medieval town, abandoned by its inhabitants in the 18th century for Gioiosa Marea, are situated at 800m above sea level surrounded by romantic landscape. The idyllic serenity of the place is enhanced by the splendid view over the surrounding countryside. Return to the coast. A little further on is Capo Calavà, a spectacular rocky spur.
Its history is intertwined with the legend of its foundation at the time of the Trojan War by Agathyrsus, the son of Aeolus. The legend also relates how the ancient settlement of Agathyrnis came to be renamed Capo d’Orlando by Charlemagne, who passing through these lands on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, decided to call it after his heroic paladin. In 1299, the town watched the naval battle between James and Frederick of Aragon over the throne of Sicily. Since 1955, the town has hosted a summer competition backed by the Messina painter Giuseppe Migneco, on the theme of life and countryside of Capo d’Orlando (vita e paesaggio di Capo d’Orlando), whereby successful artists from Italy and abroad are commissioned to come and paint; some of the works, once the prize has been awarded, are acquired by the municipal art gallery (these works, however, are not currently on display).