Riviera of the Cyclops

We start riding from the Park of Acireale. It is a beautiful public garden where the statue of Acis and Galatea can be seen and an owesome view of Mt. Etna and the sea. We take the SS114 and follow it for a long downhill, until arriving at the small borough of Cannizzaro. The beautiful sight of the Gulf of Catania here spans up to Augusta.

Let us leave the main road and, turning left, ride along the promenade that runs along a cliff of volcanic rocks. Note the varied beautifully shaped basalt clusters, formed by Etna’s burning lava flows meeting the cold sea.

Let’s enter Aci Castello, so-called by the presence of an imposing castle built in 1076 by the Normans on a rocky spur on the sea.

The original village founded around the castle was ceded by Norman count Ruggero to the bishops of Catania. Around 1170 it was completely destroyed by a terrible earthquake and only in 1530 was repopulated with the annexation of the neighboring villages of Ficarazzi and Aci Trezza.

 

We ride across the roads of this old fishermen’s village and make for Aci Trezza, the small town where the Sicilian novelist Giovanni Verga set his famous I Malavoglia (En. The House by the Medlar Tree). Here was also shot the neorealist dramatic film La terra trema by Luchino Visconti and Antonio Pietrangeli, adapted from Verga’s novel.

On the basis of some descriptive elements in the novel, not far from the Church of the Patron Saint has been identified the real house  where Padron ‘Ntoni’s story is set. It has been turned into a small museum containing tools of the seafaring tradition and a photographic section dedicated to Visconti’s film.

 

The view from Aci Trezza is dominated by the breathtaking faraglioni, that is, the Cyclopean Isles: eight picturesque basaltic rocks which, according to the legend, were thrown by the one-eyed Poliphemus at Odysseus while the latter was escaping. Not far from the coast, the Lachea island can also be seen; it is identified with the Homeric Goat Island, and is currently the seat of a biology research station managed by the University of Catania.

Let us leave Aci Trezza to set out again on the main road. Next stop: Capo Mulini. The village is known for its many restaurants and excellent fresh fish. It is believed that the ancient city of Xiphonia was situated in the nearby, as many Roman findings have been discovered there.

We ride the old road towards Acireale, along which the Roman bath complex of Santa Venera al Pozzo is standing. Here is a spring of sulfurous water, exploited by the modern Acireale-based spa. According to tradition, during the Roman persecutions against the Christians, St. Venera was beheaded here and her head thrown by some Roman soldiers in the well of the thermal waters. In the XIV century, a church was erected in the area, featuring a wooden statue of the Saint, and a marble tank, probably to reuse the same archaeological site.

Riding on towards Acireale, back on the SS114, shortly before we arrive we may detour on the left and visit the small village of Santa Caterina. It lies in a panoramic position and is known for its little square overlooking the Sicilian east coast and the Timpa, that is, a unique promontory of basaltic walls, up to 80m, falling sheer to the Ionian sea.