Mussomeli is a town on a hill in the centre of Sicily near the Platani river which, with its waters, has made the valley very fertile. The area has a very ancient history and was originally a borderland between the Sicane and Sicilian populations
As evidence of this past, the archaeological site of Polizzello reveals a centre, inhabited since the Bronze Age, carved into the mountain caves.
Around a thousand BC an acropolis was built and the foundations of a series of circular buildings, tombs and two important historical finds dating back to the ninth century BC have been found. Among the most important finds: Polizzello’s helmet and a clay figure of a warrior with Cretan style. Many can be seen in the Archaeological Museum at Palazzo Sgadari.
In 260 the Romans arrived in Sicily and conquered Agrigento and this fertile area became their barn as it would be also during the Byzantine period of the Holy Roman Empire of the East.
A local story tells that the name Mussomeli derives from the Latin Mons Mieli, in reference to bees and the cultivation of honey. And to confirm this hypothesis, the bees are found in the emblem of the municipality together with three towers.
The Byzantines were replaced by the Arabs who took an interest in the fertile fields which were easy to protect with two hills on which to place defence positions. The Arabs divided the land so that it could be assigned to farmers. According to another of the stories related to the name of the village, its name would come from the Arabic “Rocca di Abet el Mumin” (Fortress of Abet el Mumin).
Other conquerors followed with the Swabians of Frederick II and the Angevins called there by the papacy to counter the imperial aims of the Swabians. Mussomeli became a barony and was assigned to a feudal lord.
With the arrival of the Aragonese on the throne of Sicily, the barony was assigned to Manfredi di Chiaramonte, around the second half of the 1300s, who built a spectacular castle on one of the spurs guarding the valley: ‘the Eagle’s nest’.
The castle rises on a spur of rocks overhanging on two sides and is accessed by a road protected by walls that climbs up the rock.
The castle is among the most beautiful in Sicily and Italy and is perfectly integrated into the rock, becoming itself a natural element. It has a double wall that protects the real manor that includes the residential part, the area for the accommodation of soldiers, the chapel and the famous Baron’s room.
A legend says that in this room three sisters of the baron, who had left for the war, were walled up, who then died of hunger and were found by the baron on his return.
Manfredi was a brilliant man of power and culture who influenced Sicilian history and who built Palazzo Steri in Palermo, the amazing Mussomeli Castle.
In 1374, Manfredi hosted for a few days King Federico III of Aragon and the queen in this incredible manor and the area began to be called Manfreda in his honour.
Manfredi Chiaramonte’s son led the Barons’ Conspiracy against the king, in the castle hall, and in 1392 King Martino had him killed, confiscated the fiefdom and granted it to Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada. Moncada also conspired against the king and Mussomeli was returned to the royal state control.
Other feudal lords followed, such as the Castellar of Valenza, then their friend Giovanni di Perapertura who lost it due to debt and sold it to Federico Ventimiglia. Finally Pietro del Campo, who was the son-in-law of Perapertura, bought it back and the family kept it until 1548.
In 1530 a miracle occurred in the church of San Domenico, a paralysed person was able to walk again after resting on a stone on which the image of the Madonna was found. From this moment the church became the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Miracles and a pilgrimage began that lasted for centuries.
The last of the Campo family sold the barony to Don Cesare Lanza, baron of Catania and father of the famous Baroness of Carini. Don Cesare was an enlightened gentleman who embellished the area by building the aqueduct with the public fountain, palaces and the Benedictine monastery.
The story of the Baroness of Carini concerns her daughter Laura whom Don Cesare married, at the age of fourteen, to a young man from Palermo son of the Baron of Carini. But despite their 8 children, Laura never loved her husband and had an affair with a family friend.
When her father found out, he killed her and the baroness is said to have placed a bloody hand on a wall of the building leaving a mark that remained for years.
Cesare Lanza turned to King Philip II of Spain for forgiveness, was acquitted and appointed count of Mussomeli. There are still many mysteries around the tomb where the body of the Baroness of Carini is buried.
Around 1600 the castle was used as a prison. The Lanza family ruled the barony for four centuries until the abolition of feudalism with the law of 1812 which left the noble with their titles but eliminated the feudal property.
From this year new services arrived in the town such as the post office, the school and even prisons. In 1820 and 1848 the town took part in two anti-Bourbon uprisings. It should be noted that in the meantime at least two calamities had passed, locusts in 1832 and cholera in 1837, which had sowed hunger and hurt.
With Garibaldi in 1860 Mussomeli and Sicily entered the Kingdom of Italy.
Today Mussomeli is still an important agricultural center and is crossed by the sacred-nature route that allows you to discover the Sicani Mountains by following some of the important sanctuaries of Sicilian tradition.