That day the heat was unbearable, so we decided to stop in Castellammare del Golfo and then continue our journey at sunset. Gianni, our tour guide, with a smile began:
– What a coincidence, my mother is from Castellammare and, when I was little, I spent every summer there with my maternal grandparents in their country house, not far from the sea …
– Then you know the place well.
– With my grandparents, my brothers and my cousins, in the evening we sat under a large Carrubbo to listen to stories about Castellammare del Golfo. The grandmothers told of madonnas and miracles.
The grandfathers, on the other hand, told the history and legends of the territory adding, year after year, new adventures and new characters.
– Come on, tell me.
Gianni seemed undecided but, taken by nostalgia, he gave in.
– Castellammare lies on the slopes of Mount Inici and was built as the port of the powerful Segesta.
Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese landed in the clear waters of its gulf. All these peoples have left a mark of their presence.
The Arabs built a fortified bastion on a rock spur.
The Normans expanded the structure by creating a real fortress which could be accessed from the mainland via a wooden drawbridge.
In the years to come, Castellammare became a barony and one of the most important commercial ports linked to the export of wheat.
– But when you came to Castellammare as a child, did you only listen to what your grandparents said or did you go around?
– In the morning we all went to the sea then, in the late afternoon, we kids wandered around looking for the places our grandparents used to tell us about.
– Tell me, tell me.
– Oh well. (Sure)
– One of the favourite places was the church of the Madonna della Scala built on a spur of rock overlooking the harbour. One evening, grandmother told us the story of the shepherdess and we all became so curious that we often went to that place, hoping to find something like the little girl.
– What did your grandfather say?
– Grandfather told of the Castle in the sea, saying that perhaps it was built by the Arabs. One afternoon in August he took us to visit it.
We entered one of the towers and climbed a majestic spiral staircase. But his town pride came out when he spoke of the manor of Calathamet built next to the thermal springs.
– Gianni what are the places you were most attached to?
– Here the coast is very beautiful. There are sandy beaches and rocky coves and there we boys, accompanied by our grandfather, would go early in the morning in search of shells and small molluscs. With our grandmother we went to the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima del Soccorso and each time she told us a story of faith and legend.
– What story?
Gianni did not wait to be asked and told the story.
– Legend has it that during the war between the Spaniards and the English, a Spanish ship chased by five English ships took refuge in the port of Castellammare. Many cannon charges were fired from the castle which angered the British who returned fire, fuelling a fierce battle.
The terrified Castellammaresi asked for help from the Madonna who appeared on the port with a host of Angels, the English fled terrified by this divine vision.
– With our grandfather we went around to visit the watchtowers: the one in Scopello, the one in the Guidaloca and Bennistra Bay and along the way he would tell us the stories of banditry of some men who lived in the area.
I remember a certain Turriciano, considered a bandit by the police but mythologized by the people as a brave hero who helped the defenceless and the needy.
– What good memories!
– Yes, I have many good memories. Today I am happy with this stop in Castellammare, I went back over the years and I remembered my roots with you.
We were already in the car, I looked at our guide who was excited for having told some episodes of his childhood and for having relived the place of his roots.
My gaze stopped on the gulf.
The deep blue sea, the gold-coloured beaches and the rocks washed by the waves glittered in the last rays of the sun. For a few minutes I lost myself in the beauty of the landscape, I thought of Gianni’s memories: the castle, the port, the towers, the heroes and all the peoples who lived in this beautiful and unique territory.
I turned to Gianni:
– Those who have lived and still live in these wonderful places, in this gulf can well say that they live in an earthly paradise.
– Yeah, then I can well say I have my roots in heaven.