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Polizzi's 'Vicolo Moschea': Sicilian Muslim History

Posted by Suzanne Turrisi on 28 Feb 2021


Sicily 2021

Welcome to our first blog for 2021. It is good to be back.

To plan holidays is always lovely and I think now more than ever. To return to Sicily, when we can, will be wonderful.

This blog takes us to a narrow street in the village of Polizzi Generosa (the home of The Sicilian House) high in the Madonie National Park.

It is a tiny street with an historic name.


A White balcony over 'Vicolo Moschea' 

Walking up hill along Via Roma, not far past Polizzi’s main church (Chiesa Madre - Santa Maria Assunta), there is a perfectly positioned white balcony which sits over the entry to a small street, an alley, with a curious name, Vicolo Moschea - the alley of the mosque.


The White balcony on Via Roma over the entry to 'Vicolo Moschea'


A glimpse down Vicolo Moschea


Looking up to Via Roma from Vicolo Moschea


A tiny alley, Polizzi's Mosque and some Muslim history

The name of this tiny thoroughfare (Vicolo Moschea) is a nod to Polizzi's (and Sicily's) Muslim history which began in the 9th century and lasted for over two hundred years until the Norman invasion began around 1060. 

As Denis Mack Smith says in his book, 'A History of Sicily Medieval Sicily 800-1713', "A full -scale Moslem invasion of Sicily did not take place until 827...and by the end of the 9th century the Byzantines had almost entirely withdrawn from Sicily. And, " In 1091 Noto, the last major stronghold of Moselm Sicily fell" the Normans.

Polizzi Generosa, like nearly all of late 9th century Sicily was under the rule of the Arabs. Theresa Maggio writes that Byzantine Polizzi was conquered by the Arabs in 882. And that "Sicilians began to speak Arabic’" (Theresa Maggio, ‘The Stone Boudoir’ -In search of the hidden villages of Sicily', Review 2002)

I could imagine...mosques were built, minarets and domes graced Sicilian skies, and the haunting call to prayer rang out.

The ruling Arabs allowed the practices and existing places of worship of the Christians and Jews to continue, if they surrended, but placed heavy taxes and numerous conditions on these religious groups including: church bells could not ring out; Christians could not carry arms; carry the crucifix in processions; drink wine in public; or read the Bible in earshot of a Muslim.  (Denis Mack Smith in Theresa Maggio’s ‘ The Stone Boudoir -In search of the hidden villages of Sicily').

As Theresa Maggio writes in her 'Stone Boudoir', "the Arabs' mosque in Polizzi was in the present day church of San Antonio Abate converted to a Christian church in 1361" and "the Sephardic Jews had their synagogue, baths and pharmacies near what is now Via Carlo V."

The 'onion dome'

To this day in Polizzi, the "onion dome" can still be seen on top of the 14th century church of San Antonio Abate-  at the end of Via Vinceguerra, not far from The Sicilian House.

It is a lovely worn stone dome.

Looking down Via Vinciguerra to the church of San Antonio Abate- the 'onion dome' sunlit, is seen in the back of the photo


To Walk

To walk under the handsome white balcony on Via Roma, through the low arched entrance of Vicolo Moschea you can head downhill in the direction of the small 'onion dome' which sits atop of the church of San Antonio Abate.

It is about a ten-minute walk through some narrow back streets of Polizzi past: centuries' old historic churches; multi level houses; balconies galore; worn, gracious palazzi; small local shops and long stone staircases.







Edited March 4th: note on Noto added

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