Tag Archives: History

Cartwheeling in Bronte

Bronte is synonymous with pistachio nuts which were brought to Sicily by the Arabs. It is also home to Nelson’s castle, although it isn’t really a castle (more like an English coutry house); Nelson never set foot in Bronte (not sure why); and it is located in Maniace which is now an independent municipality (but people will tell you it is in Bronte). Bronte is also home to a Sicilian Cart Museum and last Sunday the town held a celebration of the Sicilian Cart due to its inclusion as a candidate for recognition by UNESCO for its intangible cultural heritage.  I found about this event at the last minute and by chance, which is normal for events in Sicily. At least I didn’t find out about it after the event, which is again, the norm.

I have seen Sicilian carts before, with horses attached and everything. I have been to Bronte before too, but it rained and I didn’t stay long. When we first arrived, I saw a cart all on its own. A little further along, another cart, and so on. My first thoughts were ‘is this it?’ and, ‘where are the horses?’. There were a few people milling around, a lot of old men mainly, it felt a bit surreal. Soon, however, more people arrived (still lots of old men and few women) and then more carts. There was even a horse, although it was made of plastic. We also passed a very interesting photographic exhibition on a wall. Then, we arrived in the main square and saw more carts than I could ever have imagined. So many carts that it was hard to take it all in. There were even a few women milling around but these were still outnumbered by old men who I have noticed are very good at sitting or standing around doing nothing.

A lone cart

You could spend hours looking at a Sicilian cart. Richly decorated, full of intricate details, they are each an example of amazing craftmanship and are themselves a sort of storybook. They depict religious scenes (less keen on those ones) and historical scenes. Think, knights in shining amour! They are a wooden, cart version of a pop-up picture book. They have been cleverly thought out too, there is a place for a wine jug, an umbrella, a bag and an oil lamp underneath. They are a feast for the eyes but your eyes won’t be able to take everything in, they are moving works of art and are definitely part of Sicily’s cultural heritage. They scream ‘Look at me! Aren’t I beautiful!’ Actually, they were the Ferraris of their day, which means you had to have had money to have them. Yes, there would have been more simple carts around but those highly decorated ones must have cost something. Who knows how much those on show today are worth. As I later sat in traffic, I wished they could be the main means of transport today, I wouldn’t care if it meant being exposed to the elements and going slow, it would be far more extravagant and romantic. However, I soon came to my senses and realised that it is far better to speed past the vast amount of rubbish which is strewn along the roads all around Bronte, I even saw a back brace at the side of the road.  If only people took as much pride in their surroundings as they do in their carts! Time will tell if they make the UNESCO list. They sure impressed me!

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Swimming with the ancients

Not so long ago I was in a lovely little agriturismo looking at a rather tired and messy looking noticeboard. There wasn’t actually much ‘up-to-date’  information on it but I did spot an excursion to a place called ‘Cava dell Carosello’ and it mentioned swimming! Now, I love a bit of – what do they call it nowadays? – wild swimming, that’s it. So, the moment I got home I googled Cava del Carosello and decided that I had to go there while the weather was still hot. Last weekend, I did exactly that and I found a little bit of paradise which for most of the day, my partner and I had all to ourselves.

We started with a granita and brioche in Noto, obviously. I love Noto and I love granita. Not only that, it was Sunday so I could justify treating myself. I think the bar we visited had the longest list of granita that I have ever seen. I had limone (lemon) and mandarino (mandarin) and my partner had fig with nuts and prickly pear. We had a little walk around and took pictures even though we take pictures everytime we go there and must now have hundreds stored on our laptops. Our hunger satisfied, we headed back to the car.

Noto

Cava del Carosello is located in the area of Noto Antica. Somehow, I had forgotten there even was an old Noto seeing as the current Noto is pretty old. It is a short drive away from Noto further up the hill and the roads are more than a little bumpy and narrow. The first thing you notice from the car are the ruins of a castle, then you see hundreds of grottoes. It is an impressive site and there appears to be a number of walks in this area, although one walk around the grottoes was closed. We pulled up at the entrance to Noto Antica which is now an archeological site but which is currently completely free to enter. Situated on Monte Alveria, Noto Antica used to be a large walled town until an earthquake in 1693 flattened it and the inhabitants wisely decided to rebuild a little further away. It is a beautiful, peaceful place to walk around and some buildings or parts of buildings still stand amongst the ruins. We didn’t have time to visit it all due to my overwhelming urge to have a swim.

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The trail to Cava dell Carosello is signposted off what used to be the main square of Noto Antica. The walk down into the valley is fascinating as some of it is hewed out of the rock. It is rocky and you do really need to watch your footing. There are plenty of good viewpoints into the valley below and scents of wild mint and rocket drifted up to meet us. At the foot of the trail just before the first swimming spot is a cave which might have been a former home of someone or a necropolis, it is the first cave of many. The whole valley is teaming with caves which house former tanneries from the time the Arabs occupied the island. Think, the tanneries of Fes in Morroco, in a series of caves.You can safely visit them and wonder at their construction. They are a little spooky too if you possess an overactive imagination such as I do and enter the darkness of one alone. Further along the valley there is an old mill. This evidently, was an important economic area in the past which until recently was all but forgotten.

The river which flows through this valley was probably once filled with different colours from the dyes used in the tanneries. Now the water is crystal clear and runs into a series of small pools, some of which are large enough to swim in. I must admit it took me quite a while to brave the water initially. This was not because I thought  it was going to be cold, I was rather hot after all from the walk and needed to cool off, it was more because I had spotted some crabs and possibly something else crustacean in there. I didn’t mind the black dragonflies which were fluttering around me or the pondskaters on the surface of the water, I just didn’t fancy my toes getting nipped.

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I would like to say that when I did finally pluck up the courage, that I gracefully dove in. I did no such thing. More like a bum slide in then sheer panic when I touch something at the bottom which moved (it was just a small rock). The water was certainly fresh but definitely invigorating. We were all alone with the dragonflies, crabs and who knows what else, oh, and an abandoned doll that creeped me out and I am afraid to say I left there. We were later joined by an older couple who told us there was a large waterfall somewhere along the river so we set off to find it. Along the way we encountered yet more dragonflies but this time coloured orange, pink and light blue. We walked past more caves and eucalyptus trees and came across another pool and promptly took a dip. This one was much warmer as it was in full sun, had a few more crabs and some type of fish which must have freaked out when we got in the water.

Lunchtime came and went. Luckily, we had had a granita in Noto because stupidly, we had forgotten to bring anything to eat. Anyway, we were too excited and enjoying ourselves way too much to even think about being hungry. A little further on again we came to another pool. Beyond this, but fenced off, was the large waterfall we had been told about. Although we couldn’t really see it very well. It was fenced off I guess because there was an enormous drop into another valley below. This pool was deeper than the others and not as easy to get out off. It took a bit of bum sliding and more than one attempt. Another couple had got there before us but we hardly noticed them. We enjoyed a swim and some figs off a nearby tree before the wind started to pick up and we decided that it was time to make our way back. The trail we had followed continued on and might be worth exploring but we really didn’t have enough time and as we were in a valley the sun was setting fast. Somehow, we got back up and out of the gorge, faster than when we had come down but I put that down to stopping less to admire the view.

I love it when you find a little bit of paradise that you never knew existed. We left with smiles on our faces and a determination to revisit, this time with a picnic and a better camera.
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