(above) View of Palazzolo; (below) site of an abandoned Norman castle and Mount Etna to the far left
Wednesday, June 23, 1790. The situation of Palazzolo is lofty (2,200 ft); and it is
celebrated for its magazine of snow, from which
the neighbouring cities of Noto, Syracuse, &c. are
supplied. To this Silius Italicus alludes (in his description of the Second Punic War):
"e tumulis glacialibus Acrae Defuerunt" (the men of Akrai/Acrae, descended from their icy heights).
mountains round Palazzolo, to the left of my road,
were well cultivated, and clothed with corn and
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - published in 1819.
Akrai was razed to the ground by the Arabs in ca 878 and the site was abandoned. In the XIIth century the Normans fortified the ruin of a palatium, a Roman building which stood on high ground in the valley below Akrai, from which the modern town and its name originated. Acreide was added in 1862 to distinguish it from other Italian towns.
The town is quite modern, having
been built since the earthquake of
1693, which destroyed the buildings
that then occupied the site. It is intersected by one long dirty street of mean
houses; the churches possess no
beauty, and contain no works of art.
A Handbook for Travellers in Sicily - Murray - 1864
Views on art matters change and in 2002 S. Sebastiano and S. Paolo, two churches of Palazzolo, were included by UNESCO in their World Heritage List as elements of The Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South-Eastern Sicily).
The lower part of the fašade of S. Sebastiano was designed by Mario Diamanti, a master mason from Syracuse. The upper section was completed in 1768 and it reflects a pattern which was developed in 1738 by Rosario Gagliardi for S. Giorgio at Ragusa. Many of the churches built after the earthquake did not have bell towers, but a loggia for the bells at the top of the fašade for safety reasons. This architectural device can be noticed also in churches of Catania.
S. Paolo: side view which shows that the fašade is not indicative of the size of the church
The two churches which UNESCO united in their assessment are placed at the opposite ends of the town and not by chance because a legal war was fought by the confraternities which built them. An image of Madonna Odigitria (She who shows the way) was worshipped at S. Sebastiano and Madonna Odigitria was the patron saint of Palazzolo. In July 1688 the members of the Confraternity of S. Paolo made a petition to Juan Francisco Pacheco, Duke of Uzeda, Viceroy of Sicily to have St. Paul proclaimed patron saint of the town. The Viceroy called a popular referendum on the matter and its outcome supported the change. The Confraternity of S. Sebastiano appealed against the decision, in order not to lose the revenues from the organization of the yearly festival, but the Viceroy confirmed the change, which in 1690 was endorsed by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, a department of the Roman Curia.
S. Paolo: (left) fašade; (right) statues of the Apostles (see a page on the statues on top of the churches of Rome)
The earthquake of 1693 was not attributed to the change of the patron saint and the Confraternity of S. Paolo endeavoured to have a new grand church. Similar to S. Sebastiano it was rebuilt in the 1720s, but the fašade was completed in the second half of the century. Some sources indicate Vincenzo Sinatra (1707-1765) as its designer. This architect had a role in the construction of new Noto and actually the arches of the imposing portico resemble those of Palazzo Ducezio, a known work by Sinatra.
(left) Chiesa dell'Immacolata or dell'Assunta; (right) monogram for Mary on the portal
I lodged at the convent of the Padri Osservanti (one of the three Franciscan Orders),
situated immediately under Acre Monte. Colt Hoare
The convent is located almost outside the town in line with the general custom for Franciscan churches; in origin it stood in an even more remote site up the hill of Akrai. The adjoining small church has an interesting fašade of which we do not know the architect; it has a Roman appearance with a convex fašade and a large window which bring to mind S. Croce in Gerusalemme, but its design was likely influenced by a Franciscan church at Syracuse.
The fašade of this church was never completed so we do not know how this portal would have fit into it. Its very elaborate decoration is unusual in the post-earthquake reconstruction of South-eastern Sicily. It was designed by Giuseppe Ferrara, a local architect, and it is clearly based on the columns of the baldachin of S. Pietro, but even more on those which embellished the new fašade of the Cathedral of Syracuse.
Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo at Syracuse (see other exhibits): The Annunciation by Antonello da Messina from the church of Palazzolo; you may wish to see the earlier/Greek Orthodox depiction of the event at La Martorana in Palermo
This beautiful painting embellished the church until 1906 when it was moved to Syracuse to be restored and better protected by decay. It was attributed to Antonello da Messina in 1902 when a document was found which associated it with the painter. Unfortunately, during the centuries it was housed in the church, parts of the paint had fallen from the wood support and they had been poorly replaced. It is dated 1474; two years later Antonello painted a very innovative Annunciation in which only Mary is portrayed.
Palaces along the street leading to Akrai: (left) Palazzo Judica; (right) Palazzo Pizzo
The only object of interest within the
town is the Museum of the Baron Judica. That
learned antiquary excavated for many
years among the ruins of Acre, and in
its necropolis; and the collection of
relics he formed has, since his death in 1835,
been in great measure dispersed; but
a few articles are still preserved in
his palace, which is in the main street. 1864 Murray Handbook
Today a small museum at Palazzolo is dedicated to Baron Gabriele Judica and it displays some exhibits from his collection.
Balcony of Palazzo Zocco (another detail can be seen in the image used as background for this page)
Architects and master masons who were involved in the reconstruction of South-eastern Sicily could avail themselves of a fine and durable sandstone which could be easily cut. It was widely used for the decoration of balconies as at Palazzo Nicolaci in Noto.
In some instances, as at Palazzo Cosentini in Ragusa and at Palazzo Lombardo Cafici in Palazzolo, the reliefs of the balconies are so bizarre that they bring to mind the decoration of Villa Palagonia at Bagheria.
Plan of this section:
Agrigento - The Main Temples
Agrigento - Other Monuments
Catania - Ancient Monuments
Catania - Around Piazza del Duomo
Catania - Via dei Crociferi
Catania - S. Nicol˛ l'Arena
Palermo - Gates and City Layout
Palermo - Norman-Arab Monuments
Palermo - Martorana and Cappella Palatina
Palermo - Medieval Palaces
Palermo - Cathedral
Palermo - Churches of the Main Religious Orders
Palermo - Other Churches
Palermo - Oratories
Palermo - Palaces of the Noble Families
Palermo - Public Buildings and Fountains
Palermo - Museums
Piazza Armerina and Castelvetrano
Reggio Calabria - Archaeological Museum
Selinunte - The Acropolis
Selinunte - The Eastern Hill
Syracuse - Main Archaeological Area
Syracuse - Other Archaeological Sites
Syracuse - Castello Eurialo
Syracuse - Ancient Ortigia
Syracuse - Medieval Monuments
Syracuse - Renaissance Monuments
Syracuse - Baroque and Modern Monuments
Taormina - Ancient Monuments
Taormina - Medieval Monuments
Villa del Casale