Racalmuto (Racalmutu” in Sicilian) is a small town in the province of Agrigento, Sicily, with about 8.000 inhabitants. It is located fourteen miles away, about 20-minute-drive, from the city of Agrigento and the “Valle dei Templi”. The coastline is about 30-minute-drive away.

Position of Racalmuto in the province of Agrigento

When the Arabian conquerors arrived in Racalmuto, they found a population nearly exterminated by the plague; hence they called the village “Rahal Maut”, which can be translated as “dead village”.

Racalmuto is the birthplace of the painter Pietro D’Asaro, the tenors Luigi Infantino and Salvatore Puma, as well as the writer Leonardo Sciascia, who gave a literary representation of the town in his first work “Le Parrocchie di Regalpetra”.

The Medieval Age

The Arabs settled in Racalmuto in small groups of colonists specialized in agriculture. The town itself rose on a fertile valley rich in water. The village was, probably, defended by a castle. The geographer Edrisi located one castle right where Racalmuto stood. In 1038 the castle was conquered by the Byzantines and in 1087 by the Normans. After the Norman domination, the Land of Racalmuto has been given to the Barresi Family. In 1229 they built the important fortress of “Castelluccio” to better defend the town. It was probably built on a pre-existing fortress of the Arabian era. After the war of Vesper the Aragoneses despoiled the Barresis of their properties which, a few years later, were given to the Chiaramonte family.
Thanks to the marriage of Costanza Chiaramonte with the Marquis Antonio Del Carretto, in 1307 Racalmuto passed to the family Del Carretto. In 1355 a terrible plague decimated the population. In 1400 the town rose again thanks to the support of Matteo Del Carretto.

Modern Age

The castle was restored and returned to be inhabited. In 1503, a religious event shook the life of the town: the arrival of Our Lady of the Mountain (“La Madonna del Monte”), a Marian tradition that will always remain in the hearts of the local faithful.
Until 1576 Racalmuto was a baronial domain, but the following year it became a shire and at the end of XVI Century it had more than 4.000 inhabitants. During that time Racalmuto enriched itself with convents, monasteries, churches, clerical colleges and even a hospital. The largest church is dedicated to “Maria Annunziata”. In 1600 the work of the painter Pietro D’Asaro (“monocolus racalmutensis”) flourished throughout Sicily. In 1700 the decline of Racalmuto was very obviously caused by harassment and exorbitant fees. In 1739 Racalmuto passed to the noble family of Gaetani and a century later to the family Requesens.

Racalmuto has a lot of churches, like other Sicilian towns. Most of these churches date back to the XVII Century. Here are some of the most well known ones:

  • Church of Santa Maria di Gesù o di Santa Margherita vergine (FEC)
  • Church of San Francesco (FEC)
  • Church of San Giuseppe
  • Church of San Nicolò
  • Sanctuary of Maria SS. del Monte
  • Church of Madonna dell’Itria
  • The Mother Church – Maria SS. Annunziata
  • Church of Sant’Anna
  • Church of Madonna della Rocca
  • Church of Madonna del Carmelo
  • Church of San Giuliano
  • Church of San Pasquale
  • Church of San Michele Arcangelo e Collegio di Maria
  • Chiesa della Madonna del Serrone (rural)

Among Racalmuto’s most valuable civil architectures and monuments can be listed the “Regina Margherita” Theatre and the “Chiaramontano” Castle.

IlThe “Regina Margherita” Theatre was built between 1870 and 1880 as the symbol of wealth of the richest families of the town.
They gained their wealth and power thanks to the local sulfur mines and the hard labour of those who worked there in terrible conditions.
The realization of the theatre was approved on the 19th December, 1870. The project was assigned to the architect Dionisio Sciascia, a disciple of Filippo Basile, the renowned designer of the “Massimo” Theatre of Palermo.
The building was supposed to be completed within two years but, instead, it took a decade. The Theatre, built in the garden of the former Santa Chiara’s Monastery, turned out very nice. It has been decorated with stuccos from Giuseppe Carta, who also painted The Sicilian Vespers on its curtain. The Theatre also features twelve scenarios painted by Giuseppe Cavallaro.
The external side of the Theatre is very impressive in its classical style. The Theatre is surely a monument worth of attention thanks to its fresco decorations on the internal vault, featuring the Chariot of the Dawn surrounded by the Months of the Year, and its curtain with the spectacular pictorial representation of The Sicilian Vespers revolt.
The Theatre has been closed for decades and it re-opened the 14th February, 2003 at the presence of the former President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
The restoration of the Theatre has been strongly desired by the writer Leonardo Sciascia.
The recovery planning of the Theatre was entrusted to the Architect Foscari from Venice.

Racalmuto developed itself as a village around the Castle of the Chiaramontes in the period of the Norman conquest.
The construction of the fortress dates back to the time of the Normans.
Afterwards Federico D’Aragona (1272-1337) transferred the ownership of the Castle and the surrounding feud to Federico II Chiaramonte.
The new lords of Racalmuto transformed, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the modest home into a towering castle. The manor is located on the east side of the town and it spreads over a polygonal structure. The fortress is located on the terrace of a solid rock, called Castle Ground. Its external surface is made of thick walls, each of them of about two meters, closed by two high colossal towers and adorned by two rows of twelve windows. The tower on the left is preserved in its original form while the one on the right side has been modified into a look-out point.
Due to its characteristics, the castle is certainly a military construction from the Swabian period:
the trapezoidal shape, the typical Swabian windows, the circular base towers, the portal layout and the secondary entrances.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the castle was recognized as a national monument.

Racalmuto is an important sulfur and salt mining center. The sulfur mines are all abandoned. The salt mines are in full operation and located about two kilometers away from the town. They border on the provinces of Agrigento and Caltanissetta and currently belong to the Italkali Society. The mines are made of a saline body divided into three distinct layers: at the bottom there is a potassium formation, composed of the alternating layers of kainite and salt; in the middle there is a chlorides of potassium and magnesium formation, which consists mainly of carnallite layers; on the top layer there’s a high (more than 98%) NaCl formation.

The mine is accessible through tunnels and ramps and it is 1.000 meters deep. The alimentary rock salt is extracted with a continuous mechanical miner using dynamite, and transferred directly onto trucks that discharge it into silos outside the mine. Crushing, pulverization, screening systems and packaging are all located outside the mine.

The second week of July we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount.

The olenni festivities recall the miraculous arrival of a statue of the Madonna, found in Africa by Prince Eugene of Gioeni Castronovo, he would have liked to take her to his country. On the way, passing Racalmuto, the oxen that carried the statue knelt and would not move more. Nell’accadimento seeing a sign of the divine will, the statue remained to Racalmuto where he soon became the object of a cult strongly felt.

The event is enriched by numerous moments of entertainment and folklore, with representations in dialect, costumed characters, and the traditional ride down the steep stairs leading to the sanctuary of the Madonna. The festival is full of events shows. The most important days of the festival are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a concluding fireworks spectacular. During the festival there is the traditional “Fair” Maria SS. Monte . On Friday, it provides for the Reenactment miracle occurred in 1503.

The party starts from the traditional 21-gun salute, followed by the “ Tammuriata ” and the entrance of the town band. From Chiaramonte Castle kicks off procession Town of young people sixteenth clothes horse to commemorate the arrival of the prince in Racalmuto Gioieni. The procession ends at the Shrine of Our Lady where local authorities offer a tribute to the patron. He later start the Procession of the statue of the Madonna , instead of a “ cart pulled by two oxen “. Upon arrival of the procession in Piazza Crispi is staging a play reminiscent entitled “The vinuta of the Madonna di lu Munti”.

On Saturday there is the traditional descent of waxy (cilii) and jack flag , with devout homage to Madonna by Burgisi (landowners). Tradition dictates the parade of candles by Burgisi, the Ugliara (oil traders) and Cicirara (seed merchants), followed by the storming of the flag on the candle placed on wooden tower by “schetti” (unmarried).

Sunday is the final day of the festivities, with the delivery of the “ prummisiuni ” to the sanctuary. Men and women, for favors received, followed by mules harnessed and laden with sacks wheat, go walk to the Sanctuary . Some devotees riders make their entrance to the sanctuary after climbing to charge the staircase leading to the entrance. The prummisioni continue well into afternoon. The celebrations end with the procession of the Virgin on a float shaped like a ship. The end of the holidays is enshrined in a show of fireworks late at night.

The foundation “Leonardo Sciascia” is a legally recognized no-profit organization established by the City of Racalmuto agreement with the writer himself. He donated to the foundation a valuable collection of portraits of famous writers, almost all of the Italian and foreign editions of his books, the letters he received in half a century of his literary activity and about 2.000 volumes of his personal book-collection.

The City of Racalmuto purchased a formerly power plant, and turned it into the Foundation thanks to a project of the architect Antonio Foscari of the University of Venice. The Foundation launches a competition on a biennial basis to grant an award for thesis on Leonardo Sciascia’s figure and work. This initiative involves students of both Italian and foreign Universities with whom the Foundation keeps continuously contact.

The Foundation attracts many visitors thanks to the great art gallery, which includes more than two hundred portraits of different writers. These portraits, realized in different periods, are made using various techniques. They’ve been almost entirely donated by Leonardo Sciascia himself. Among these are numerous works of Clerici, Guccione, Guttuso, Caruso, Tranchino and Chagall. Throughout the years, the engraving works of Domenico Faro from Catania and several others donated by the artist Bruno Caruso have been enriching the initial valuable collection.

Within the Foundation there is also a library that counts about 27.000 bibliographic units. The library also preserves Sciascia’s epistolary correspondence with the leading Italian intellectuals, the post-war politicians and some of the cultural figures of his time. There can be found letters from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, Elio Vittorini, Jorge Guillén, Goffredo Parise, Giuseppe Pontiggia, Vincenzo Consolo, Manuel Puig, Jordi Pujol, Domenico Faro, Fabrizio Clerici, Mario Dell’Arco, Antonino Uccello, Gesualdo Bufalino, Salvatore Battaglia, Piero Chiara, Mario Tobino, Indro Montanelli, Giorgio Napolitano and many other personalities from the world of literature, the figurative arts and other common people.

The Foundation has an irreplaceable heritage: about eight-thousand letters and documents of considerable interest both intellectual and cultural; “first hand” witness of a large part of European literature of the second half of the twentieth century. The collection of the Foundation is completed by a rich and supplied newspaper and periodical library.

Over the years many donations have helped to enrich more and more its heritage:

– one of the most interesting one is the “Donation Giacomo Gagliano”, a journalist from Palermo. It includes about four-thousand items such as books, magazines, vintage photos, articles and an interesting mail correspondence with actors and writers of the time: Luigi Pirandello, Marta Abba, Alessio Di Giovanni, Tommaso Marinetti, Giuseppe Antonio Borghese and Vitaliano Brancati.

– the “Donation Francesco Guardione”, a Sicilian historiographer appreciated and renowned for his studies about the Italian Risorgimento. It consists in a valuable collection of books, about thousand articles in various newspapers and more than three-thousand documents among letters and postcards: a precious witness of the relationships of the historiographer with people, like Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe De Spuches, the family of Giacomo Leopardi, Giosuè Carducci and many others.

– the “Donation Giuseppe Mattina”, which has enriched the bibliographic heritage with important texts about the history of Racalmuto.

– the donations of the teachers Giuseppe Nalbone and Antonio Di Grado, and of other important publishers, such as Mursia, Sellerio, Sciascia, Stampa Alternativa.

– of particular interest is the photographic exhibition “Sicily, its heart” entirely dedicated to portraits of the writer Leonardo Sciascia, signed by internationally renowned photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ferdinando Scianna, Giuseppe Leone, Enzo Sellerio, Melo Minnella, Fausto Giaccone, Elisabetta Catalano.

The Foundation is a place of prestigious literary and scientific conferences, paintings and sculptures exhibitions, musical performances, film festivals, seminars of study on different themes, editor and promoter of publications closely linked to the memory and the actualization of the message of Leonardo Sciascia.

All this has led the Foundation to be awarded in 1997, by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, with “The Price of Culture” for its intense activity.

On 24th May, 2009 the former President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, visited the premises of the Foundation to celebrate Sciascia’s twentieth death-anniversary and his civil commitment. On such event, the former President expressed his deep appreciation for the organization, the art gallery and the activities of the Foundation defining it “a living testimony of the Sicilian wit and culture that may be well identified in the name of Leonardo Sciascia”.