Behind the Stone Walls of a Sicilian Town

CALATAFIMI

 
 


This is a book about the colourful life and the kaleidoscopic history of a Sicilian town in hilly country in the west of the island. It was written in answer to anxious queries from English, American and Italian friends of the author of his choice of residence. The book traces events and uncovers layer upon layer of the people who lived in Calatafimi, from the time of the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Angevins, Spanish and the Neapolitans up to the present day.

 

By Angus Campbell


Verres, The Dukes of Alba, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Samuel Butler.

The author was told he had chosen to live in a totally insignificant place. A little investigation showed how untrue that was. Cicero in the Verrine Orations revealed that Verres had Phimes, a local landlowner whose name survives in an Arabic setting in the name Calatafimi, beaten up and unjustly taxed after the Punic Wars; that the Dukes and Duchesses of Alba were and still are the feudal lords of Calatafimi; that without Garibaldi’s vital victory at the battle of Calatafimi in 1860 the history of united Italy would almost certainly have been different; that Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, wrote most of The Authoress of The Odyessy in the town. Just to name some names.

Arabs, Agriculture, Festas, Charity, Food, Earthquakes.

Arabic influence on the language, the architecture and the agriculture is marked, and this is looked at historically, as well as in contemporary terms. Rural society, food, how the impoverished people are cared for are described, as well as the festas: the two main ones derive from the towns deliverance from a plague of locusts in 1655 and from a series of miracles wrought by a black crucificix in 1657 (this festa is now only celebrated every seven years, and the last time it was organized it attracted an estimated quarter of a million visitors). Being in a seismic area, the town has been involved in recurring earthquakes over the centuries and the geology is also responsible for thermal baths and other underground activity in the area. Sadly the town was damaged, together with other towns in the Belice valley, by a very bad earthquake in 1969.

Segesta: Foreign Visitors and Excavations.

The famous Greek temple and amphitheatre of Segesta, which is still being excavated, lies just outside the walls of the town. It has been visited by foreigners since the late eighteenth century: many of the early visitors left fascinating accounts which are amply quoted in the book. An account is also given of the excavation of the site, from the initial undertakings, by the Prince of Torremuzza at the end of the eighteenth century and the Duke of Serradifalco at start of the nineteenth, up till the present.

There are thirteen colour plates and seven

in black and white, including original photos

taken by Samuel Butler.

Giles de la Mare Publishers Limited

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312 pages

£ 18.99

London, NW 5