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General Info on Pilgriminage For Site

GENERAL INFO ON NEBRODI & ETNA PARKS AND AREA.

Protection of Nature in Sicily.

Sicily has 5 Natural Parks and 77 Nature Reserves. 14% of the island is protected. Not too many regions in Europe has that.

About devotion of people from Capizzi to Saint Antony from Padova and news on the Pilgrimage.

In the XIII century, Saint Antony from Padova travelled extensively in Sicily. He arrived by boat in Caronia port on the Nebrodi coast the 31 of august. Crossing Nebrodi Mountains on a mule to reach Troina village, he slept the night of 1 September in the so called “High plain of La Cannella”, up in the mountains. From that time all shepherd, charcoal makers, loggers of the village of Capizzi and their families, the 2 September of every year were gathering in that mountain high plain to participate at an open field Mess, to prey, to have lunch in the woods and then going back to the village. They were reaching that place on mules, horses and foot. Who asked to Saint Antony a miracle was going there barefoot. In the last 30 years plus the shepherds and workers more riders were joining the pilgrimage that nowadays became a real pilgrimage on horseback with more than 700 riders. All of them are starting in the early morning of 2 September. In the church dedicated to Saint Antony, at around 9 p.m. of 1 September, the statue of the Saint is moved from the altar to the “Vara”, used to transport him in procession. Around 11 p.m. all people of Capizzi village gather in the square to assist at translation of the Saint, accompanied by the music of the local band. In the same time are free distributed to the people the “wine and the bread of Saint Antony” and other local food. The tradition wants that eating that bread gives protection by the Saint. The 2 September at around 4 a.m., still in the dark, begin the pilgrimage. The first to start are the persons that are going to the high plain on foot because they need around 4, 5 / 5 hours to reach it. Some of them are without shoes, wearing only socks, or even are barefoot, according with the importance of the miracle asked and received from the Saint. Then, around 5/6 a.m. in the morning, the first riders arrive to the church. All of them reach the church, left open all night, to do a little prey before to depart to the mountain. In groups or individually, all the riders come to the church before departure. The “Cannella plain” is reached by horse in 3 hours of riding. In front the long line of riders there is one of them with the flag of Capizzi, one trumpeter and one drummer. It is held a Mess close to a little altar builds in honor of the Saint in the spot where he slept. Many other people (women, kids and very young or very old) come with 4x4 cars up to the mountains to participate to the Mess. At end all families choose their spot in woods to start their enormous “pagan” barbecues lunch roasting any kind of meat in huge quantities on open fires: cow, pig, goats, sheep and ram. The heavy lunch is very long and is drunken really big amounts of wine that often interfere with the riding capacities of some riders on the way back. In afternoon it is held the lottery to decide which family will host in his home the flag of the Saint till next pilgrimage, a big honor. Then all riders saddle again their horses to go back to Capizzi village to parade along the streets between two wings of clapping spectators before the end of the pilgrimage.

NEBRODI & ETNA GENERAL INTRODUCTION.

Geology.

On Nebrodi Mountains the high presence of water on the surface in lakes, ponds and creeks and rivers depend by the different soil which is formed mostly by young sand stone sedimentary rocks. Water of melting snow is trapped in spring in many lakes and ponds of any dimension: with a diameter of few meters, called “Margi”, or big like the lakes Biviere, Cartolari, Tre Arie, Zilio, and Maulazzo. This soft soil allowed the easy growth of trees and so Nebrodi are almost all over covered by the largest woods of Sicily.

On the coast, in front of Mount Soro (highest mount with his 1750 meters) come out the so called “Rocche del Crasto” (The rocks of the Goat) a lonely mountain formed by limestone.

Etna is the biggest volcano of Europe. It is active but is like a “bottle of champagne without cork”. Majority of his pressures goes out from the 4 summit craters. When these pressures are infiltrating lava along the sides of volcano, sometimes starts an eruption with lava flows coming down. Etna volcano is monitored by a huge net of instruments connected by satellite with the Institute of Volcanology of Catania. Nowadays volcanologists see a lot before the signs of a probable eruption and they can activate safety measures closing the access to the areas of volcano that can be involved in the eruption. In the last years from 2002 the Volcano has done only some pretty frequent, short, eruptions of lava from the summit craters, very spectacular but not dangerous at all for the enormous distances existing from the craters and the villages and our trails. All last lava flows went all inside the lonely Bove valley, the enormous caldera of the very ancient volcano Mongibello. All sort of outdoors are normally done on Etna all year round till 2700 meters (Etna is 3300 m. high). Above this altitude (or lower) outdoors are forbidden when volcano is in a possible active phase. The eruptions formed a great varieties of lateral craters, lava flows, morphologies created by the erupted lava like “rope lavas”, “megathumulus”, “dammusi”, open sky lava channels, lava tubes, “Hornitos” all of that can be seen during our itinerary.

The Alcantara valley is crossed by the Alcantara River that forms a long stretch of gorges that cut the basaltic lava of an ancient eruption. The Gorges cannot be visited on horseback. There is only one entrance accessible on foot but not reachable on horseback due intense car traffic. That’s why we decided to do not go down to Alcantara valley as was done the first year of operation.

Botany.

Few people know that before the Romans conquered it Sicily was covered for 92 % by primary forests. Deforestation started with the Romans during the three Punic wars with Cartagine. They established two navy ship yard on the coast down the still existing villages of Caronia (Nebrodi area) and Pollina (Madonie area). They used the centennial oaks and beeches to build the ship bodies and the very tall Abies Nebrodensis (Fir of Nebrodi) for the mast trees of the war boats. They cut these firs almost till extinction. Only 22 of them survived in a narrow and secluded valley into the Madonie. Nowadays the Abies nebrodensis is reintroduced in the Nebrodi and Madonie by the Sicilian forestry service (Azienda Foreste Demaniali).

Nebrodi are covered variously by woods made by five different species of oaks, higher (above 1.500 meters) start the almost continuous blanket of beeches. On Nebrodi, around Biviere Lake area is easy to see the Taxus baccata a coniferous that has plants 25 meters high. All over there are single or groups of centennial trees of oaks and beeches. On Mount Soro there is the oldest and biggest Beech tree of Italy (800 years old). Nebrodi are young mountains so they host only one species of endemic plant, the Petagna (Petagnea gussonei) that can be seen only in few Sicilian mountains.

Wildlife.

There are not big differences between the wildlife living in the different parks of Sicily. There are wild bores, wild cats, martens, foxes, wild rabbits. The best is in the sky with nesting couples of King Eagles, a colony of Vultures (Gypsus gypsus), Peregrine falcons, many species of smaller hawks. Before the institution of the parks was almost extinct the Sicilian partridge (Alectoris graecae whitakeri) that now is back in good numbers and easily seen. In the lakes of Nebrodi are easily seen many species of frogs, ducks and the Sicilian water turtle.

People and Traditions.

Sicilian mountains were used by the man from the Paleolithic times.

From centuries, on Nebrodi the main economic activity is the breeding in the mountain pastures of cows, sanfratellano horses, and black pig of Nebrodi (specific specie of small pig). The number of sheep is small. Till 20 years ago the life style of the mountain Sicilian shepherds did not changed too much from the Neolithic times. The same was the hut used by then (called Pagghiaru) made by a circle or a square of stones 1-meter-high, then a roof made with trunks of oaks and branches. The same was the organizations of the shepherd work place (called Marcatu) constituted by some huts, then the stone corrals for the sheep, the corral for the lambs, the working area to make milk. Before the arrival of 4x4 cars the shepherds were living in summer up in the mountains for long periods, going home only a couple of days some weeks. In Nebrodi mountains were built in the mountain farms also stony round pens with a pole in the middle to tame horses. Today the breeding of cows, sheep, and goats to make meat and cheese and horse breeding it is still very important in the economy of Nebrodi. The principal traditional cheeses made are: “Pecorino” (with sheep milk), “Caciocavallo” (with cow and goat or sheep), “Ricotta” (from cow or sheep or goat) some goat cheeses. The method it is the same from Neolithic times, using the dried and cured interior of intestine of a lamb as “cheese maker” and traditional tools of special woods. Tourism became more and more important in the last 15 years.

Mountain people is very gentle, hospitable and hard workers used to live traditionally, especially in the less touristic villages as Capizzi, Floresta, Sanfratello e Cesarò in Nebrodi.

History.

After Sicani and Siculi people, Phoenician started to reach by ships the coast of Sicily to trade. Then Greeks arrived establishing their first colony on the lava cape of nowadays Giardini Naxos in the VII Century B.C. Following the course of Alcantara river they went inside Sicily discovering their mountains covered by primary forests and very rich in wildlife and minerals. The Rock of Cefalù was always inhabited by people, as Taormina Cape, MIlazzo cape and Nebrodi and Madonie mountains (at that time all called Nebrodi (from Nebros that in Greek mean deer) where used mostly in summer for hunting, logging and gathering. Greeks started a light colonization of interiors, were Romans to start to build real towns on and around the mountains to cut wood, make fields of hey and cereals (Sicily was the “granary of Rome” and homes of Rome, all in wood, were built with trees from Sicily and Calabria), exploit mines almost industrially (very famous the sulfur mines of Sicily were thousands of slaves died).

After the fall of Roman Empire, the Sicilian Mountains remained under the Bizantinian till the conquest of Sicily by the Arabians (started in 827 A.C.). On the mountains were founded by them very many villages with Arabian names. In 1061 start the conquest of Sicily by the Normans. Some very important battles happened in Cerami, Troina and Piano Battaglia between Nebrodi and Madonie. It is with the Normans conquest that in Nebrodi Mountains arrived, following the wife of Roger II°, a colony of people from Lombardy (north of Italy) with their horses. These horses are the ancestors of the nowadays sanfratellano horse, one of the 3 breeds of Sicilian horses (read below).

One big change was done up in the mountains by the Bourbons’ (Spanish) in the late XVIII century. They were the first to build real roads to connect the biggest cities. They were called “Regie trazzere” (King roads), large 12 meters to allow the movements of big herds of cattle in the mountains. In the following years these mountains roads were restricted by land owners, many were covered by asphalt, many simply disappeared but some of them still exist and we use them in our trips especially on Nebrodi Mountains. The typical Sicilian wagons all painted with bright colors and with stories of ancient knights, came only in the late XVIII and in the XIX centuries. Before all major movements of good and people was done by boat or on mule and horsebacks. Before the Spanish roads, the nobles were travelling on the trails in very small wagons without wheels (room for 1 or 2 travelers only) that were put on poles between 2 mules or horses in one line and guided by a man on foot.

The ancient Sicilian horse culture and the 3 Sicilian horses.

Not too many people know that during the ancient Greeks Olympic Games, the majority of equestrian games were won by the Horses of Syracuse. Greeks were the first to import in Sicily high quality horses. They were all Orientals coming from Mesopotamia, Lebanon and Syria regions. In Sicily these horses found a very good environment very similar to their original but with a better soil (lots of limestone with calcium) and grass. So they fortified their bones becoming stronger and bigger.

The oldest horse race known was done every year in Sicily in Agira (in the centre of Sicily) along the road that was going from the Greek village up to the Agorà on top one high hill. This race it is held every year from that times till nowadays. The Romans imported and breed in Sicily the Eques italicus, the breed developed by them for their cavalry and they mixed with local oriental horses forming a quicker and most endurance horse. When Arabians invaded and conquered Sicily for three centuries, they imported more than 10.000 Berber and Arabian horses followed by the Norman’s battle horses arrived with the heavy cavalry of the Normans army. After their conquest, new horses came with a group of Celtic speaking language emigrated from the North Italy that had permission to settle in the nowadays Nebrodi mountains founding the village of Sanfratello. They took with them their black, strong horses that became the today “Sanfratellano” Sicilian horses, always living free up in the mountains.

The Ventimiglia family, in the XIV century, established in their Manor in Castelbuono the Academy of the Star, the very first horse academy in history, long time before the schools of Naples and Versailles. They were making carousels with hundreds of riders, theatre on horseback and a top level military cavalry corp.

A very important moment of the Sicilian horse culture was when Ferdinand II°, King of Two Sicilies Kingdom, moved the Capital of the Kingdom from Napoli to Palermo after a revolution that forced him to leave the city. He loved in life only two things: women and horses. So in Sicily he opened another huge horse breeding farm after the one opened in Naples: Ficuzza, not far from Palermo. In this facility the local Sicilian horse mares (all with Oriental and Arabian blood) were breed with Andalusia stallions to develope a new light cavalry horse: smaller, faster, endurable and overall really beautiful also to parade. When the English build the English thorough bred they came to Palermo to buy 100 mares of this “Sicilian indigenous horse” that was developed there.

Unfortunately, when Ferdinand II° died, his brother Ferdinand III° was not interested at all in horses and so closed Naples and Ficuzza breeding farms and sold all horses! An enormous genetic patrimony was going to be disrupted. Luckily few Sicilians noble families bought some of these stallions and mares maintaining some of that blood lines but the most of the Sicilian indigenous were sold to anybody and they were mixed with any kind of other horses. One of these families that bought that Sicilian indigenous and still is breeding that ancient blood lines is the Salomone family from Tusa. Nowadays they have the best samples of what was and still is the original Sicilian indigenous. 12 years ago was formed the Association of the Sicilian indigenous to re-establish the guidelines to have again alive the breed. Our horses are mostly Sicilian indigenous (some more, some less pure). The third Sicilian horse is the Sicilian Pure Oriental (Puro Sangue Orientale: PSO). In 1876 was established the stud book of these horses imported by the Italian Cavalry in Catania after a trip of a Colonel to buy top stallions and mares from the area of Syria/Lebanon. These horses were used to improve the blood of the horses of the Cavalry and to be breed in purity. After so many generations breed in purity on Sicilian soil, this horse became a specific Sicilian breed. There are now only around 190 horses left. They are under the UNESCO protection. Comparing the forms of oriental horses imported by the Greeks and drawn on vases and coins of the time now in museums, we can see that head and proportions are exactly the same of the PSO. Genetic studies found that the DNA of PSO it is coming from one only haplotype so without the “crazy” mix of different Arabians bloods that there are in many Arabian horses of today made by the man to enhance “necks and noses” as the actual fashion want. Some of our horses has PSO father.

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