Before talking about Montalbano Elicona (Messina), I will begin by explaining its name. There are two possible explanations. According to the first one, the name comes from the mountain “Albanus”, which means white, perhaps because of the snow, as the village is located more than 900 meters above sea level. According to the second school of thought, the name comes from “al-bana”, which means “excellent place” in Arabic. And Montalbano Elicona is really an excellent place, starting from the castle, located right on the top of the village and reachable through the narrow alleys of the old town.
Let’s start right from the Castle, which overlooks the city center and was originally a fortress. Built during the period of the Swabian-Aragonese domination, it underwent several changes over the centuries, until 1300 when Frederick II of Aragon made it a real royal residence, full of outdoor decorations and treasures inside. We invite you to visit the beautiful Royal Chapel dating back to the Byzantine period and the two museums, one dedicated to white weapons, exhibiting the tools of a perfect and valiant knight, and the other showing musical instruments from the Middle Ages, where you can breathe the atmosphere of the ancient courts. Along the medieval streets leading to the castle is worth making a stop at the Church of St. Catherine. Its Romanesque façade contrasts with the unique combination of different styles within it, from Catalan architecture elements to the decorative ones in Renaissance style. Let’s pay special attention to the marble statue of St. Catherine, attributed to the school of Gagini.
he Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and St. Nicholas Bishop, is an imposing building overlooking the square through a magnificent staircase.
Inside we can admire the marble statue of St. Nicholas, by the sculptor Giacomo Gagini, with its embossed base that shows the life of the Saint.
Among the most valuable works we also find a wooden crucifix dating back to the 15th century and a representation of the Last Supper, by artist Guido Reni. The original structure of the cathedral dates back to the ninth or tenth century, but the church has undergone several changes, both structural and stylish. The bell tower, for example, is from a later period and also the division of the church into aisles is not part of the original building. Let’s focus on the beautiful roof trusses, the rose windows, and the friezes that create a dynamic façade.
Let’s now taste the specialties of the village, like the fave u maccu and macaroni, fresh ricotta, salt and “fired”, cheese, milk cheese – the cavalluzzi di tumma. Let’s also try the simple dishes with wild fennel and scurcilla, pork rind, pasta, and beans, or u sutta and suvra (up and down) with lard and meat or macaroni with pork sauce sprinkled with grated baked ricotta cheese.
The ricotta based desserts are a real treat and let’s also taste the homemade desserts made from hazelnuts. The cookies cu ciminu are those with aniseed, strong and particular taste, related to the Easter festivities.
The August Bank Holiday’s traditional dish is pasta ‘ncasciata (pressed pasta) seasoned with veal and mutton ragout, crumbled meatballs, eggplants, eggs and breadcrumbs. Another typical dish, with the beautiful name of lempi and trori (thunder and lightning), is prepared with boiled and seasoned beans, grass pea, corn, lentils, and wheat. Traditional frittui is also excellent: pork boiled with pork rinds, tripe, lung, heart, and liver of the same pig.
The Megaliths of Argimusco
The Argimusco plateau is a magical and mysterious place near Montalbano, confining with the northern site of Bosco Malabotta. A group of large, quartz, sandstone rocks, with their curious and suggestive shape, stand over a thousand meters above sea level. Some popular beliefs associate this site to the famous Stonehenge and to ancient ritual activities related to astronomy. Others, instead, affirm that the origin of these megaliths is quite natural: their curious, symbolic and human shapes could have been caused by wind erosion or by other weather events. Anyway, whatever it is, a walk in this amazing natural environment is worthwhile.