Polizzi Generosa

Polizzi Generosa

The origins of this small medieval village that lies within the Madonie Nature Park are as uncertain as its dating. The few remaining ruins of its necropolis, the recent discovery of a few coins and other terracotta items suggest that the city existed since the Hellenistic period (third century BC). Its name would derive from Polizzi (Polis), as the historian Diodorus Siculus defined it as “a Sicilian Athens.” Others would trace the name back to the ancient Palikoi (“of Palici”) people. Polizzi obtained its still in use attribute “Generosa” (“the generous”) in 1234 from the Friedich II of Sweden who appreciated the richness of its territory. For brief periods of time Polizzi was a city-state or a free and independent territory with its own government and its renowned fair and just laws. It was also the residence of Princes and Sovereigns among whom Queen Elizabeth of Aragon, the Emperor Charles V and Queen Blanche of Navarre (Vicar of the Kingdom of Sicily). Its period of highest splendour was the Renaissance, as Polizzi became a major crossroad and an important hub for trade and travel at that time. The two royal trazzere (“local paths, ways”) were the main road links of the time between Palermo, Messina and the area of Licata. Along the two branches of the once navigable Himera river – bordered with fields of corn and wheat and overlooked by Polizzi – the “old wheat road” unfolded, of which Polizzi controlled duty and customs. The presence of many aristocratic families in this area, along with the so-called “Maggiorasco” law (“principle of primogeniture”) dictating that the younger sons belonging to these families would have to embark on a monastic life, had a great impact upon the construction of numerous churches and monasteries, some veritable jewels of architecture that have carefully preserved a large quantity of masterpieces. These churches and a few sumptuous aristocratic palaces, surrounded by small medieval centres that extend over this hilly area, confer to Polizzi the charming atmosphere of a village which appears “lost in time.” It is indeed possible here to partake in the daily routine of village life while being surrounded by an almost uncontaminated landscape, where your eyes can fully embrace the spectacle of nature of the high Madonie mountain range framing its green valleys and the thick forests that extend across them. Today Polizzi has reached a good balance between a moderate growth, an attentive preservation of its customs and a sustainable tourism that make this place an ideal destination for the keen traveller in search of places that reward him or her with intense emotions which are hard to experience anywhere else in Sicily. Polizzi is a village with a rich historical heritage, proud of its traditions. It is not by chance that Polizzi's recent history has seen the birth of various artists and personalities of international fame, such as Stefano Dolce (Dolce & Gabbana), Martin Scorsese and the late actor Vincent Schiavelli, who wanted to spend the last years of his life in his native village. Strolling around Polizzi’s narrow and impractible roads one comes across a number of both plain and sumptuous churches in every corner, as well as richly decorated palaces, old and unadorned houses, palace and farm courtyards, flower and vegetable gardens, modest art and crafts shops, a couple of museums and a few good restaurants offering a taste of the rich local Sicilian delicacies. Apart from its 21 churches, among which Santa Margherita, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Carmine, Mother church, the Commenda, San Gandolfo, San Nicolò de Franchis, Santa Maria degli Schiavi and the old aristocratic palaces of Caruso-Porcaro, Carpinello and Gagliardo, are as well the environmental and archaeological museums, the ruins of the Castle fortified by King Roger “the Norman,” the Tower of Leo in the Byzantine quarter and the Arches, an aqueduct built at the end of 1400. Polizzi is famous for its cultivation and production of hazelnuts, constituting the major source of substistence for its local economy for almost a century. Today, hazelnut cultivation is being gradually abandonded because of the decreased market price of this product and the lack of innovation in current cultivation and harvesting methods. Every year in August (the harvest month) the village organises a hazelnut festival (“sagra”), a local village fair with community folkore and touring shows, mountings of traditional rustic houses built out of stone or straw and the free distribution of hazelnuts thrown from allegorical chariots.

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