To tell you about Montalbano Elicona (Messina) we start from the meaning of its name. There are two possible explanations. According to the former the name derives from monte “albanus”, a white mountain, perhaps like the snow, since the village rises more than 900 meters above sea level. According to the other school of thought, the name comes from the Arabic “al-bana”, meaning “excellent place”. And an excellent place is really Montalbano Elicona, starting from the Castle, located right on the hill accessible through the narrow streets of the historic center.
Let’s start from here, from the Castle that dominates the city center and was originally a fortress. Built during the period of the Aragonese Swabian domination, over the centuries it underwent several changes, until in the 1300 Federico II d’Aragona made it a real Royal Residence, rich in external decorations and treasures inside it. We invite you to visit the beautiful Royal Chapel of the Byzantine era and the two Museums, one of which dedicated to the White Arms, with an exhibition that showcases all the armaments of a perfect and valiant knight; and the other dedicated to medieval musical instruments where the atmosphere of ancient courts is breathed.
Along the medieval streets that lead to the Castle it is worth stopping in the Church of Santa Caterina. The façade in Romanesque style contrasts with a unique combination of different styles inside, from the elements of Catalan architecture to the decorative Renaissance ones. We dedicate particular attention to the marble statue of Santa Caterina, attributed to the school of Gagini.
The Cathedral, consecrated to Santa Maria Assunta and San Nicolò Vescovo, is an imposing building that overlooks the square through a scenic staircase. Inside we admire the marble statue of San Nicolò, with a relief base that shows the life of the saint, by the sculptor Giacomo Gagini. Among the works of great value we also find a wooden crucifix of the fifteenth century and a representation of the Last Supper by the artist Guido Reni. The original structure of the Duomo dates back to the IX – X century, but the church has undergone various structural and stylistic changes. The bell tower, for example, is later, and even the division of the church into aisles is not part of the original construction. Let’s dwell on the beautiful trussed roof and on the rosettes and friezes that enliven the facade.
From the Castle we walk through the alleys and the streets of the old town and live the village, with its traditions and its gastronomy.
We taste the typical specialties of the country, such as broad beans and macaroni; fresh ricotta, salted and “baked”, cheeses, provole – the tumble cavalluzzi. Try the simple dishes with wild fennel and scurcilla, pork rind, in pasta and beans or with u sutta and suvra – lard and meat – and grated ricotta in macaroni with pork sauce.
The desserts made with ricotta are a real treat and not least those based on hazelnuts, handcrafted. The cu ciminu biscuits are those with anise seeds, with a strong and particular taste, linked to the Easter holidays.
The traditional dish for the mid-August feast is the ‘ncasciata pasta seasoned with veal and castrato meat sauce, crumbled meatballs, aubergines, eggs and breadcrumbs. Another typical dish, with the nice name of lempi and trori (lightnings and thunder), is prepared with beans, cicerchia, maize, lentils and wheat boiled and seasoned. Excellent frittui, pork mixed with lard, boiled together with pork rinds, tripe, lung, heart and liver of the same pig.
The Megaliths of the Argimusco
The Argimusco plateau is a magical and mysterious place near Montalbano, on the northern borders of the Malabotta Woods. A group of large rocks of quartz sandstone, with curious and suggestive shapes, rises above a thousand meters of altitude. Some popular beliefs associate this site with the famous Stonehenge and ancient ritual activities related to astronomy. Others, however, attest that the origin of these megaliths is completely natural: the erosion of the wind and other atmospheric events have determined the curious symbolic and human forms. Whatever it is, it’s worth the effort to venture out and take a walk in this breathtaking natural environment.