The Belvedere of Altavilla Milicia

One of the most beautiful natural stage in Sicily, Altavilla Milicia is a unique beauty that is easily reachable from Palermo, which is about 20 km away, taking the SS113 towards Messina or the A19 Palermo / Catania motorway. Located between the Milicia and San Michele rivers, the urban center was founded during the period of Spanish domination (1621) by the feudal lord Francesco Maria Beccadelli of Bologna.

The recent history of Altavilla is closely linked with the religious tradition and with the Marian cult. The discovery of the painting of the “Madonna della Milicia”, probably of the Giotto school, is traditionally associated with the foundation of the town and the beating heart of the community, represented by the Diocesan sanctuary dedicated to it. Great is the devotion of the Palermitani to the Madonna della Milicia, evidenced by the fact that the triumphal wagon, during the procession, is also carried on the shoulders by many devoted from Palermo and, at the end of the solemn procession, the image of the Madonna is turned towards the city of Palermo to bless and protect it.

The painting of Madonna della Milicia in procession, Photo Credit: Apollonia Ventimiglia

Devotion to the Virgin is the fulcrum of religious life and the bond with the thousands of emigrants of America who, on the first Sunday of September, celebrate a festival parallel to that which takes place in the community of origin. The days of the feast are a time rich in faith, popular pity and folklore that involves the whole community and the numerous devotees who come from all over Sicily and, from neighboring countries, even by foot. The Sanctuary of the Madonna della Milicia, located at the entrance to the town on the Belvedere, has been for centuries one of the most important religious centers in Sicily due to the constant influx of the faithful. The Latin cross construction is in the nineteenth-century style. Of particular note are some statues of considerable value, especially that of San Francesco di Paola by Bagnasco, who is also the author of the four paintings: Baptism of Jesus, Resurrection of Lazarus, Sacrifice of Abraham, The Last Supper.

To visit, adjacent to the Sanctuary is the Museum of ex voto, which contains a very rich collection of illustrations of facts that testify a small part of what pilgrims consider “thanks” or miracles obtained by them from the Madonna della Milicia. There are over four hundred votive paintings painted, on commission, by master painters, mostly of the famous Sicilian carts. The paintings document dramatic moments experienced and resolved by the Madonna della Milicia and span the period of time from 1840 to the present day. Unique collection, both for the material used (tin made from containers of salted sardines) and for the quantity and content, it is an expression of art and popular faith. Without detracting from their religious character, the Altavilla Milicia ex-votos also constitute a historical and anthropological documentation of primary importance, a testimony on the workplace, on customs and on social life. These pictures constitute a cross-section of real life over almost two hundred years.

Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, Giuseppe Di Franco, Superior of the Confraternity of the Madonna della Milicia and Corrado Lorefice, Archbishop of Palermo Credit Photo: Apollonia Ventimiglia

The effort of the G.A.L. East Metropolis, aimed at strengthening the strong territorial vocation linked to religious tourism. As reported by the Director Salvatore Tosi: “Through measure 7.5 of our Local Action Plan, with PSR Sicily 2014-2020 funds, a project worth € 200,000.00 was financed to the Municipality of Altavilla Milicia for the modernization of the path which, from the state road to the Sanctuary, represents the pedestrian access for the faithful and pilgrims and for the renovation of a small building, right next to the church, which will become a tourist information and reception center. This intervention – the Director points out – fits perfectly into the strategy of enhancing our territory and our communities, favoring slow travel, the enhancement of tourist-cultural services and the improvement of accessibility to cultural infrastructures. The G.A.L. is working at the same time, in fact, also on the consolidation of the “Via Francigena Palermo-Messina for the mountains”, intervening in the municipal areas of its competence, in particular on the route of the second stage of this road that leads from Bagheria to the hermitage of San Felice . From the small port of Aspra we will go up towards the hinterland, passing through the municipalities of Santa Flavia, Casteldaccia, Trabia and Altavilla Milicia to then arrive at the hermitage of San Felice, a place out of time “.

Altavilla as well as being an important point of reference for religious tourism is one of the most important seaside resorts on the northern coast of Sicily. To visit is undoubtedly the beach of Cala Sciabica, also known as the Norman Tower or the Navel of Venus, a small corner of paradise nestled in a breathtaking landscape. It is one of the most evocative beaches of the Sicilian Tyrrhenian coast, in a stretch of coast consisting of coves, rocks, and picturesque inlets. The sea is clear and crystalline with shades ranging from turquoise to cobalt blue, rich in flora and fauna and populated by many species of fish. Along the coast there is no shortage of hotel and extra hotel accommodation facilities where you can plan a nice holiday and enjoy this wonderful sea

The cove of Torre Normanna

For the free use of the beaches of the Altavilla Milicia coast, in recent years, the commitment of the municipal administration has been maximum and from the words of the mayor Pino Virga we grasp the meaning: “We have carried out a rehabilitation action aimed at the demolition of abusive structures and the re-establishment of legality that cannot be separated from any local development policy and action. In this way, we wanted to characterize our political action in such a way as to send clear and unequivocal messages ».

However, what remains most sculpted to the tourist traveler who visits the Palermo town are its naturalistic landscapes of renowned beauty and elegance, in fact Altavilla Milicia enjoys an elevated position compared to the coast, which allows you to enjoy breathtaking scenery, with unique sunsets and spectacular sunrises.

The tour of Altavilla Milicia is completed by visiting the Norman remains of Santa Maria di Campogrosso, known as the “Chiesazza”. Not far from the Chiesazza, on the S. Michele stream, is the Ponte Saraceno, while at the foot of the town and on the coast there are three Saracen watchtowers: the first near the town, the other at the present Sporting beach, the third a little further away, overlooking the sea of ​​Cala Sciabica.

For nature lovers, an excursion to the Oriented Nature Reserve of Pizzo Cane, Pizzo Trigna and Grotta Mazzamuto, one of the largest in the province of Palermo, of incomparable beauty and easily accessible from the town, is a must.

Typical sausage of Altavilla Milicia

Altavilla Milicia is also known for its gastronomic delicacies and its typical products. First of all, the Pasticciotto (with ricotta, with yellow cream or with melon frost, in summer) that many associate with “Genovese” or “Cassatella”, two other typical products of western Sicily, but the specificity of “Pasticciotto” is given by its mixture with almonds and cocoa. Nevertheless, the real specialty is the sausage, which is characterized by its aroma and selected spices, which gourmets particularly appreciate. Giuseppe Pitre in the book “Patronal Feasts in Sicily” underlines that the first sausage in Palermo was tasted in Altavilla and was particularly famous. Another local specialty is olive oil, the cultivar most present in the area is the Messina Ogliarola also called Calamignara, grown in the hilly coastal area at 100 meters above the sea level, characterized by a microclimate that favors its productive performance. . A refined extra virgin olive oil is produced, very long-lived because it is rich in polyphenols that deserves an enhancement process and marketing actions

Traslated by Giuseppe Di Franco