Discovering some of my roots

Caccamo Travel Blog

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We finally hit the road and make good time until we hit Palermo’s morning traffic. There we were in bumper to bumper for about 15 minutes. Once through the big city, we had open highway all the way to Termini Imerese. That is where we would head south and into the mountains. On the way we drove much of the way with a view of the coast and the Tyrrhenian Sea.  


Turning off the main highway and continuing south, the road got noticeably narrower and the uphill climb began.

We were heading for Caccamo, which is 521 meters (over 1500 feet) above sea level. It seamed that the higher we climbed the smaller the road became. There were many spots were we would have to stop, along with the oncoming car, and inch past each other. Luckily there were a few areas along the road that were a bit wider and allowed for 2 cars, briefly. The scenery became more and more dramatic and we climbed higher and the valley became farther and farther away. We were very fortunate to have just a few clouds adding a bit of drama to the bluest of skies. The mountains around were tall and rugged with many wonderful and worn shapes. There was a hearty grass that reminds me of beautiful sea oats that are along the Florida panhandle. What a contrast, having mountains in the background instead of sand dunes.


As we traveled higher and further inland, we were now able to see the sea, again.

This was surprising to me. We stopped for a few minutes to take in this view.


 On the outskirts of Caccamo, there is a sports center that has a tremendous number of outdoor activities available on the lake and in the mountains, very impressive. From here we can see a great deal of the valley and in the distance, the first glimpse of Castello Caccamo, perched high upon a bluff. With the zoom, I got a great look at what is to come. I’m so excited.


The town was founded by the Phoenicians but, the first time in which Caccamo was officially documented was in 1093, under the Norman count Ruggero I of Altavilla.
Caccamo, for many years, was in feud, governed by noble families, amongst which the Chiaramonte, the Prades, the Cabrera (1420-1480), the Henriquez until 1646, the Galti and the Amato, ending with the De Spuches.


We return to the car and continue. Around the next curve is the sign welcoming us into Caccamo. This is the village near Palermo where the Spatafora part of my family along with Sampagnaros, Zagones, and other members of my extended family Italiano, left for a new life in The United States of America, one hundred years ago. It feels monumental that I have even crossed this line and I’m not even in the village, yet.


We wind our way through a narrow road and can see the castle closer. We tried to find the best place to stop to begin our exploration and ended up at the Monte di Pietra. One end is dominated by the Chiesa Madre S. Giorgio Martire. Along one side is a row of buildings facing the valley.

The Oratorio SS. Sacremento (Left), Monte di Pietra (Center), and Chiesa Anime Sante del Purgatorio (Left).


The square is fantastic in its details from many ages gone by. I could just feel the history, some of it my own, as I stood there taking it all in. I found unusual details that spoke to me and are apart of me. This place of gathering and worship was a place that my family would have come and I could feel their presence.


The Chisea Madre S. Giorgio Martire- built in 1090. The central doorway is surmounted by a carved medallion (1660) by Gaspare Guercio, depicting Saint George in the act of saving a young girl. The bell tower, whose lower part was made of the tower castle has a different and clearly more archaic than the rest, culminating in his huge mass with a pyramid-shaped spire, whose four faces, destroyed by lightning, were decorated with majolica tiles depicting Saint George.


The Oratorio SS. Sacremento ��" The church on the left of the Monte di Pietra, to the right of the mother church

The Monte di Pietra  - for a period of time, a pawn shop,  Center of the buildings to the right of the mother church


The Chisea Anime Sante del Purgatorio ��" On the right end of the Monti di Pietra.


The group of three building seem to have virtually no information on them in Italian or otherwise.


The significant age-old history that took place around the castle has a wonderful and exciting annual commemoration: "La Castellana Caccamo" event in costume, charming atmosphere and dreamy, with a strong value to the propulsive dissemination of culture history. A parade of colors and fabrics, banners and harmony of notes that you are singing and poetic homage to the Lady of the castle. The men and women of the city walk the streets of the old town, proud of their ancestral heritage, while the hot August sun casts long shadows and they dress in clothing styles of their ancestors. There are also the musicians of the court, the flag bearers, the archers and trumpeters entertaining attentive audiences.


Looking out over the terrace, the views are spectacular.

The city unfolds at many terraced levels. There is another church just below that is very simple with a grand arch that is apart of the structure holding the terrace. Also from here you can see bell towers of other churches in the village, stucco houses with terracotta roofs up and down the mountain.


We begin our ascent to the Castella. There are houses above the stairs where the mountain below has worn or crumbled away leaving a question in your mind as to the safety of these houses. I could also see the structural support for the decorative upper section of the Chisea Madre, a complicated stair and arch structure, which I’ve never seen before. After climbing several sets of stairs and getting to a point where we were crossing people’s front doors steps and a growling dog in front of us, we turned around. We didn’t feel that this was leading us in the right direction.


We climbed down and walked around and up the hill that we had driven down.

We remembered seeing a sign for the Castella there. There were several painted murals on the sides of buildings, the best of which I photographed. It depicts a medieval tournament, maybe held here in Caccamo.


We found the sign and stairs leading up to the entrance to the Castella. Once inside, the stone path must have been the original one as it was very difficult to walk on as the stones were extremely uneven and there was no fill in between. Once through the first gate, we started up the next set of stairs of which these were of much shorter rise and much longer run. The stones were equally uneven but, a lot of grass helped cushion, a bit. We stopped briefly outside the second gate and took a few pictures of the valley and a stone house in the distance.


We saw a sign for tickets (the guide says it’s free) and went inside to pay the fee.

Upon asking a few questions about possibly seeing church at the bottom of the Castella, The ladies tell me that it is only open for services in the morning and the old man that is caretaker isn’t keen on opening up for tourists. I explain that my great grandparents lived in Caccamo along with many members of my extended family. I explained that Antonio Spatafora is my ancestor and I wished to see the 16th century painting of his in that church. Another lady


(Rosanna) spoke up and told me that there are actually three paintings in three different churches of Antonio Spataforas. They all seemed amazed, if not impressed, that a descendant of his was here to see the town and his work. She explained a bit about the paintings but, told me that today it would not be possible to see them as they were all closed. She gave me the name of 2 different books (one, a history of Caccamo and one a book about the churches and art in them) that would have much information for me.

She told me of two different places in town that I might find them. She also told me that if I called her on Thursday, Sept 24th, she would let me know if I


could get in to see them, that day. I took her number and thanked her for the effort. She explained what there was to see and told me that I could explore anywhere that I wished.


We left the hall where the group very helpful of ladies were sitting and chatting an occasionally selling a ticket or two and went through the second gate and looking up at more stairs the medieval windows and crenellated upper rail made for an exciting and fairy tale like view. Along the climb up this set of stairs there was a view of the lake along side one of the towers.

At the top of this set of stairs was a courtyard with a large crest on one of its corners. It had a star in the lower left corner, a diagonal stripe, and a lion that looked like he was breathing fire and creating a star in the upper section. Through a walkway, I discovered another crest with a horse head and the Sicilian symbol (Medusa and the three legs). From here we entered a very large courtyard on the uppermost level. It had a geometric design in the stones that was quite striking. The weeds growing in-between just added character. There is an archway off to one side that has the remnants of a room that looked to have small arched cubbies that we believed to be ovens or a heating system of some kind.


We enter the Castella building and in the first room there are many crests with the family name and the year of significance. There were names from the founding of Caccamo through the 17th century, though there were none


shown for any period after that.

In the other rooms there were paintings of significant figures in Caccamo’s history, some clothing from the medieval period, numerous pieces of furniture from different periods, religious carvings, and several rooms with elaborately painted wooden beam ceilings.


In the next section there was a room with the major religious buildings of the town, the names, and some detail shots. It was just pictures and some titles but, in the absence of a guide or information, this was great. I photographed everything.


We walked from there, out onto the Castella’s upper terrace. It has a beautiful twin arch and a panoramic view of the valley, lake and the sea. I took many pictures here and even some with Rob and with me.


Back inside we made our way into the museum. In the first section there is an exhibit of showcasing the religious art and artifacts that are within the village. It was just a tease for me as I wanted to see the real thing. In one room there were frescoes still visible on a section of a wall just below the moldings. There was the town crest, a ship, and a bird. There was even one with clouds with rays shining through causing a rainbow to form. I felt very fortunate to be able to witness these delicate works.


Down a set of stairs there was another museum. Its exhibition was called Terre Madre. It included more recent works of Caccamo’s art community. The first room was a collection of geodes and different mineral samples collected in the area.

Then a wonderful collection of seashells, obviously my mother’s love of shells as well as my own is deeply rooted.


In the next room there were many sculptures in bronze and one in glass. The general them was motherhood. There were some examples of ceramics in the local style, as well. They were very colorful and had designs with a story.


In the next section, there were many weapons from medieval times and newer. There were many types of blades for working in the fields and metal works for horses. Then there was great collection of swords. My family’s name, Spatafora, means sword maker. I wondered if any of these on display were made by a Spatfora. I will have to return and do some research.


In the last section there was paint and photographic art. They were obviously 20th century or newer. There


incredible depicting religion, different jobs in the village, and some creative photographs showing daily life.


We exited the museum with some ideas of the creativity found here in Caccamo. I see some of it in myself. Maybe some of my creativity was handed down from the link that I have to this place. I can see the possibility.


We finished our tour of the Castella and set out down the many stairs.

Almost at the bottom is a tourist information center for the town and the Castella, both. Rosanna told me to stop in and as the “old man with the glasses” about the two books. He already had the book of churches and Antonio’s art marked for me to see. He tried to tell me a bit about it but, he, no Inglese, me, no Italiano. He tried really hard to explain. The book was fantastic, showing and explaining the art of my ancestor and others of the village. I also asked about the history book. He had that as well. In his little shop there were many things that I just couldn’t resist. I wanted to know and see and taste every connection that was possible. I bought locally made chocolate, wine, olive oil, a very sweet and tasty pistachio spread and an almond one as well. I couldn’t believe that they had a little monument of the Castella. They must have known I was coming. I had to have it as well. He was so nice; he gave me several different small books on the history (in English) and the postcards that I had chosen, as well. He and his grandson were so very helpful in pointing out the places where Antonio’s work was shown in the books and attempted explanation.
That was a great effort on their part. I appreciated it so very much. I thanked them and thanked them for their help. Yes, I had purchased much from them but, they fed me info and pointed me to products that I would not try to make a connection with. That is invaluable to me. As a last request before departing, I asked for a restaurant recommendation. They told me that I must eat at the Castella restaurant, just down the stairs. The food was good and they offered local specialties.


We took their advice and ate at the Castella. Rob and I sat at a table with a view of the valley. Rob had the local menu which offered many new tastes and treats for him. I had a local pasta dish that is specific to Caccamo, as well. It has a homemade macheroni with a cream sauce with mashed beans and fennel. The food was fantastic. The unusual pasta dish that I enjoyed was very earthy and rich. It is a taste that I cannot compare as I have had nothing like it.

We paid out bill, a very reasonable amount, and thanked them for a nice meal.


Not far away is the church to the Abbey of St. Benedict founded in 1615 by Benedictine nuns. The interior features a large tiled floor of Nicholas Sarzana, a beautiful wrought iron gate in the shape of large fan, a large amount of plaster from the school of Serpotta and also colored marbles, frescoes on the ceiling and the paintings of the side altars.


It was after 3:00 pm and I did want to make it around to the other side of the valley to see the village from that vantage point. The grandson of the man from the tourist center had given us directions to a better spot to see the village.

But before moving on I had to have a picture of myself standing beside the La Chiesa di Sant’ Antonio Abate church where inside the “La Madonna della Neve e i Santi Antonio e Stefano” (1594) painting by Antonio Spatafora hangs proudly. After this I decided to take an additional 30 minutes and walk the town, again. I wanted to absorb what I could. There were several other important places that I had to see.  (talk about those now)  We must go now and take off down the side of one mountain and up the side of the close but opposing one to get a different perspective. It was a great view but, I wanted more. I knew that if I follower further around and a bit down the hill that a spectacular view awaited…..I just knew. Dark clouds were rolling in across the mountains and now we were racing against an approaching storm to get the best view of all. I had an instinct and asked Rob to go with it and it paid off. Mid way down the hill on the back side of the village brought a fantastic view of the Old Town, the Castella Caccamo, and the sprawl of housing that made up the rest of the village, pay dirt! A few glorious shots were taken as thunder crackled in the background.
"Madonna dela Neve" - Antonio Spatafora (1578) Monasterio Di S. Bennedetto Alla Badia
We finished just in time. As we are driving away, the sprinkles start. We drive through town, one last time. I mentally say my good bye, for now. I want to work out a time, next year, where I will come back and stay for a couple of weeks and explores and dig around and see what I can find about my family, Spatfora, Sampagnaro, Zagone, Casio, and others that I am forgetting to name. I am of this place, deep down, and I want to know more.


We take the same tiny, scary, 3/4th of a lane road back to Termini Imerese and then proceed east, Cefalu awaits.

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photo by: marg_eric