Troglodytes, a War Photographer, Marauding Frenchmen and Fresh Baked Bread

Friday, August 16, 2013

One of Carmelina’s walks on her Stepping Through Sicily itinerary takes you from Gangivecchio to Sperlinga between the Madonie and Nebrodi mountain ranges.  Or it can be done the other way round too.   It’s one of those fill your lungs with fresh air/enjoy the views/plodding walks where you really can look around you as you don’t have to worry too much about where you are putting your feet.   If you are doing it from Gangivecchio then you have the majestic backdrop of Mt. Etna looming up behind Sperlinga as you cross the open countryside and farmlands which lead you to this curious village.


The fields around Gangi


Curious because it has some interesting historical facts connected to it.


The origin of its name comes from the Greek ‘Spelonca’ meaning grotto as here, together with the castle, there are various trogolodyte grottoes which have all been hewn out of the sandstone.   These were still lived in until the 1950s and some are still used today, as you will see later on.


Grottoes in Sperlinga


Robert Capa, the famous war photographer, visited this area during the allied landings -  Operation Husky – in Sicily during the II World War.   He decided the quickest way to get to Sicily from North Africa, where he was previously, was to jump out of a plane with a parachute, landing in a tree near Sperlinga where he remained overnight until  he was rescued the following day.  He spent 2 months in Sicily photographing the sufferings of the population under German bombing and the happiness too when the allied troops arrived.  The Americans were advancing through an area near Sperlinga, fiercely defended by the Germans, when he took his famous photo of the peasant indicating to one of the American soldiers which way the Germans had gone .  A copy of this photo is now proudly displayed in the centre of town.


Showing the Way to the American Soldier (Robert Capa)


The dialect in this town is curious too as it is Galloitalico which is a mixture from Northern Italy and the South of France dating back to the Norman occupation.


The castle dates back probably to pre-Greek times and was subsequently enlarged during Norman times in 1000AD.   Over the archway entrance is a latin inscription: “Quod Siculis Placuit Sola Sperlinga Negavit” which means “What pleased Sicilians was only rejected by Sperlinga”.


This refers to the period when the French king Charles I of Angevin was crowned king of Sicily.   His reign was a particularly unhappy and violent phase in the course of Sicilian history.   After heavy taxation, taking possession of lands, using violence and abusing the population, the situation exploded on Easter Monday in 1282 during Vespers, a church service, in Palermo.    A French soldier was disrespectful to a noble lady, using the pretext of a body search.   To defend his wife the husband killed the French soldier with his own sword in the churchyard, which subsequently lead to the revolt and massacre by the population of all the French soldiers on the island known as the Sicilian Vespers.


A small band of French soldiers sought refuge in the castle of Sperlinga and instead of being held as hostages and persecuted, the townspeople treated them with kindness, causing an outcry over the rest of the island, and let them stay for a year before helping them to escape across the Straits of Messina to Calabria.


Sperlinga Castle


You can visit the castle (mornings only) and walk along the narrow pathways around the grottoes and you might even come across this lady as Carmelina and her guests did the last time she went.


The Breadmaking Lady in Sperlinga


The smell of home-baked bread is comforting at any time of day but after a cross country walk, sore feet and a bit of an appetite, it’s nice to be offered some freshly baked loaves just out of the oven.


But then you never know who you are going to meet when out with Carmelina.




Entrance to the breadmaking lady's grotto




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