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Things Maria loves about Polizzi- heavenly nature, hiking, sacred art, a silver treasure and a hearty bean

Posted by Suzanne Turrisi on 07 Mar 2022

Welcome to our first blog post for 2022. 

A few weeks ago I asked Maria Culletta - a house manager for The Sicilian House who lives in the historic centre of Polizzi Generosa - to name five things that she likes about Polizzi and its surrounds.

Along with the mountains… walking tracks, art treasures, local food, the people (I Polizzani) and their traditions all made her list along with a piazza named after a famous Renaissance family and a certain lovely street.

A natural world

looking to Polizzi from the 'Valley of The Angels' in the Madonie ( photo courtesy of Lorenzo Sausa)

Piano Cervi in the Madonie (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

Generosity, an emperor and a tasty bean 

Maria has a passion for Sicily. She is a lover of history and has called Polizzi home for 34 years. She comes from a small town perched high overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea on the road to Palermo, not far from the fishing village of Porticello.

A name given by an emperor

It is the traits of ‘generosity and kindness’ that she likes about the I Polizzani. The Generosa part to the town’s name was given to the village in the early 1200’s by Emperor Frederick II for the town’s generosity in the giving of ‘blood and money at the time of the Arab revolts.’

Generous stills seems to be true today!

A tiny bean

And Maria also wrote of liking to eat healthily and mentioned the small round bean which is particular to Polizzi. Locally produced, the badda bean thrives in a naturally occurring micro climate outside the village.

It has a Slow Food snail and this tiny badda bean is delicious (particularly in a hot soupy dish made with short pasta).

a warming soup of badda bean and pasta- delicious.

fresh badda beans -the black and cream type- there is also a pinky coloured one


The mountains and hiking- nature topped Maria's list

It was the mountains though that topped Maria’s list of things she loves. (Well, she put it first.)

 “I love the mountains for everything they offer…the colours that change over the seasons, the fresh air, and that sense of peace and serenity that they transmit”. “I also like the hiking without which I could not be.”

Polizzi literally sits on the doorstep of these mountains and the national park…Parco delle Madonie. The area is dotted with walking tracks, flora and fauna, refuges, ancient villages, and big views and has a feeling of sacredness, both natural and manmade.

Heavenly names, a beautiful Madonna and to walk

Some of the mountain walks Maria enjoys have heavenly sounding names like…’The Valley of Madonna of the Angels’ (which is also home to a rare fir tree -Abies Nebrodensis- 'botanically named as a living fossil beacuse of its disappearance from the rest of the world after the last Ice Age'), Monte San Salvatore (named after the Holy Saviour) and Santuario Madonna dell’Alto …The Sanctuary of Madonna of the High. Yes, all divine. 

Maria notes ‘I like to walk the ‘Valleys of the Angels’ to see the Abies Nebrodensis and then continue towards Monte San Salvatore to stop first at the small church of the Madonna dell’ Alto.’

The Valley of Madonna of the Angels

Valley of the Angels- filled with colour (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

Valley of the Angels (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

The Valley of the Angels- The rare Abies Nebrodensis - the Nebrodi Fir (only a few remain in the world and they are close to Polizzi) (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

Madonna dell'Alto - Madonna of the high

Madonna dell’ Alto is a remote, solitary feeling place; a refuge set 1819m above the sea for walkers (modern day pilgrims really), to rest and sleep and to visit a small church which in fact houses an intriguing painting depicting the story of how the beautiful statue of the church’s Madonna was carried up the mountains to this very high spot.

Madonna dell' Alto at 1819 m (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

The painting depicting the transporting of the Madonna  (the statue is in the casket)  

The beautiful Madonna- dell' Alto

Maria and I, along with friends, visited it a few years ago (by car) and the story, the silence, and the feeling of being ‘on top of the world’ were so good. (It was luck that a custodian was on site). I will happily return one day (it must be on foot) to enjoy the quiet and the dark of the night.

The Plain of the Deers -Piano Cervi

Maria also mentioned the lovely walk at Piano Cervi and that the Monte San Salvatore track links to Madonna dell’Alto…all the better for good walking.

(There is a small book at the house on walking in Sicily by Gillian Price, a detailed contour map and there is a list of walks on the town’s website put together by a keen lover of Sicily and a walker).

Piano Cervi (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)

Piano Cervi (Photo Lorenzo Sausa)


Art pieces loved, a medieval tale, a favourite piazza and three churches

The art pieces Maria loves are both Renaissance (a Flemish triptych and an impressive looking silver monstrance on a pedestal). They are housed in Polizzi’s Chiesa Madre, Santa Maria Maggiore.

The 15th Flemish triptych (attributed to the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden) depicts a serene Madonna of Wisdom -'softly clutching the Book of Wisdom' with the child Jesus on her lap. She is surrounded by musical angels singing and playing instruments and the martyred saints- Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Barbara.

It is sacred, divine, and beautifully detailed.

The 15th century triptych

Detail of the triptych 

A Serene Madonna

The favourite street and piazza on Maria's  list -Via Roma and Piazza Medici

Santa Maria Maggiore is just up from Piazza Umberto on via Roma. Via Roma is a favourite of Maria's because, ‘as soon as the road (Via Roma) begins’  Maria wrote, ‘the gaze falls on the beautiful façade of Santa Maria Maggiore’.

And, Piazza Medici...this gracious piazza was, she mentions, the centre of town in the 16th century and here, Maria adds, three of the town’s many churches are nearby and preserved – Santa Margherita, Santa Maria delle Grazie and San Nicolo Franchis.

The town's history dates back to the 3rd century B.C and in Maria's words- 'it takes me back in time’.

Via Roma - 'the beautiful  facade of Santa Maria Maggiore ( photo by Michele Glorsioso)

A medieval tale -enclosed convents and to be Mother Superior

There is an intriguing story involving two of the churches Maria mentions - Santa Maria delle Grazie and Santa Margherita. Both were late 15th century abbeys troubled with rivalry and betrayal involving two powerful, local noble families - the La Mattina and Signorino families. Medieval enclosed religious orders, family pride and a daughter of the Signorino family (Sister Scholastica Signorino) all play a part.

This story goes that when Sister Scholastica was not given the agreed upon role at the older abbey (Santa Margherita) her noble family built a new abbey (Santa Maria delle Grazie), down the street a little past Piazza Medici, for her to preside over as the Mother Superior!

Santa Maria delle Grazie was rebuilt at the end of the 1700's (Photo Maria Culletta)

Main altar Santa Maria delle Grazie by Pietro Bencivinni (1697)

The beautiful statue of Saint Margaret (Santa Margherita) late 15th century attributed to Domenico Gagini 


A silver treasure

And the other love of Maria’s -a 16th century gleaming silver Eucharistic monstrance or ostensory - depicts the Last Supper. She notes that it is the work of Nibilio Gagini (late 1586). (He must be one of the very talented and prolific Gaginis).

This beautiful work sits in the church’s small gallery of art and antiquities next to the sacristy. Maria said that it was used in the church on special occasions such as the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Corpus Domini (Christi) processions; no longer though.

Detail of Nibilio Gagini's silver monstrance (Photo Maria Culletta)

Detail of the pedestal (Photo Maria Culletta)


Devotion, sacredness and chaos

It’s first the religious and iconographic representations that Maria likes about these two pieces and then the ‘historical artistic importance’. “The works of art…have been left over the years and now can be enjoyed by everyone.

There is still a deep reverence, a sacredness and devotion held in Sicily and it sits so easily alongside the island’s understood chaos and lively everyday life.


Returning and thank you

I hope to return to Polizzi sometime later in the year and to re visit that small gallery next to the sacristy and to walk a lot more.

Thank you very much Maria for your detailed notes and photos and Lorenzo Sausa for many photos. Plus Michele Glorioso for the photo of Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Lorenzo works in Polizzi, and he is, Maria says… ‘passionate about the mountains’'. He also works as a mountain guide. Maria organised the photos from Lorenzo.

I am yet to meet Lorenzo and to see the rare Nebrodi Fir. 


The very best to you all.





The quote ‘of blood and money…’ is from Raleigh Trevelyan’s “The Companion Guide to Sicily” (1998) and the quotes 'botanically named as a living fossil beacuse of its disappearance from the rest of the world after the last ice age'  and 'softly clutching the Book of Wisdom' are from 'A Landscape of myths and narratives'.

The detailed book ‘A Landscape of Myths and Narratives”- Itineraries of the Mediterranean Intangible Cultural heritage. The Madonie Cultural District; was a source to revisit the story about the rival noble families and their monasteries. Plus, good general reading.

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