Randazzo, Province of Catania, Sicily region, Italy
What to see
- Remains of the medieval walls originally 3-km long, probably built in the Swabian period (13th century, which had originally 8 towers and 12 doors, of which today only one tower, called Il Castello, and four doors (Aragonese, San Martino, San Giuseppe and Pugliese Doors) remain.
- The Swabian church of Santa Maria, with a facade completely built with black lava stone, three polygonal apses in the form of towers and 15th-century side portals in the Catalan-Gothic style; the huge interior is divided into three naves by black monolithic columns, and preserves statues by the Gagini school and six paintings by Giuseppe Velasquez (1750-1827).
- The ancient church of San Nicolò, the largest in town, originally established in the 14th century but rebuilt in 1585, with important work of Antonello and Giacomo Gagini, and in the right nave a tryptich by Messinese painters
- the church of San Martino with a superb 14th-century bell tower, by some acclaimed as the most beautiful in Italy
- The Castle, the only left of the eight medieval towers, on a high lava rock, already existing at the time of Frederick II of Swabia, was for a time the seat of the Giustiziere del Valdemone (a kind of medieval judge and governor) and a prison, then became the mansion of the Romeo e Vagliasindi families, to become again a prison in later centuries. A sinister building, with tiny cells, torture chamber, the well for those who were sentenced to be buried alive. After a recent restoration the castle is used today as an exhibition center and houses a collection of "Pupi siciliani" and the Paolo Vagliasindi archeological museum.
- 11 km to the south west, the Abbey of Maniace also called the Nelson castle. Founded in 1174 by Margaret of Blois, where Greek general Georgos Maniace defeated the Saracens in 1060, it was donated by King Ferdinand IV in 1799 to admiral Nelson, and transformed by the latter's descendants into a rich mansion with a fine garden rich of exotic plants
Archeological findings show that the area was colonized by the Greeks, later conquered by the Romans, and from the 8th century was subject to raids of the Arabs, until the Normans led by Count Roger drove them out of Sicily. At that time each ethnic group settled in a different quarter, and each continued to speak their own languages well into the 16th century: the Greeks in San Nicola, the Latins in Santa Maria and the Lombards (the last to come, with the Normans) in San Martino.
In 1210 Emperor Frederick and his wife Costanza of Aragona took refuge in Randazzo from the plague that was spreading in Palermo, and appreciating the climate and great hospitality of the people, fortified the town establishing there his residence. In the following centuries the history of Randazzo followed that of the whole island, and was a sequel of different dominations. Other kings and emperors stayed in Randazzo, among them Charles V of Spain, who, moved by the generos welcome of the people, proclaimed they were all knights.
A decline from its glorious past as royal residence came since the 1536 eruption, and the black death plague that stayed for five years (1575-80) in the quarter of Santa Maria. But the largest destruction took place during the Second World War, when the Anglo-American bombings destroyed 80% of the houses. Finally on in march 1981 a violent Etna eruption sent out a magma river towards the town, but changed course at the very last moment. And the population still tells the story of an apparition of the Virgin Mary in remote times to an old hermit who lived in a cave near Randazzo, and to her promise that the town would never be destroyed by the lava.