Beaches and attractions in Cefalu.
In the previous report, we started exploring Cefalu and climbed the rock of La Roca, which has ancient and medieval monuments, including a castle, about which you can read – here – “Independently in Cefalu”
Day 11 of the trip – July 25, 2016. Cefalu.
Descending from the cliff I soon found myself in the medieval streets of the city.
Cefalù is a town of only 15,000 inhabitants, but during peak season – the population triples or quadruples due to tourists. It is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Italy and can safely be made a base for exploring this part of Sicily.
The old center is dissected by a street – via Corso Ruggero in which there are numerous cafes, souvenir stores and several tourist attractions
First of all – Great Palace (on the bottom photo) – or in Italian – Osterio Magno – locals attribute its construction to the Norman King Roger (12th century). The lower part of the masonry of the building dates back to the Norman era, and in the 14th century a square tower with carved windows was added.
Behind the palace there is a medieval church, the Chiesa del Purgatorio (15th century)
A little further and we find ourselves in Cathedral Square, where Cefalù’s main attraction, the Cathedral, is located.
It is the most important monument of the Arab-Norman style in Sicily, preserving its exterior and interior from the 12th and 13th centuries.
In 2015, the Cefalù Cathedral was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
Walking around the cathedral on the right, we see its south façade and southwest tower (bottom photo), which is adjacent to the rock of La Roca.
According to legend, the Norman king Roger II, returning by ship from the continent to Sicily in the summer of 1131, was caught in a violent storm. The king vowed to build a church in the name of the Savior, on the spot where the ship would be nailed by the waves.
On August 06, 1131, on the feast of the Transfiguration, the ship was beached at Cefalù. The king ordered a small chapel to be built at the site of the disembarkation and chose a site for the construction of a cathedral.
The site was chosen by the cliff, where the cathedral seems to be higher than the neighboring buildings. This impression is reinforced by the fact that the main west facade of the cathedral is located above the Cathedral Square and it is necessary to climb the stairs to the entrance
The upper landing of the stairs is connected with the vast terrace preceding the entrance to the Cathedral. This terrace was originally a cemetery and was filled with earth brought from Jerusalem after the Crusades.
The west facade of the cathedral is bounded in space by two strong Norman towers with lancet windows. The upper part of the facade is decorated with a double pattern of interlacing false arches and inlays of red lava, typical of Arabic art.
The lower part of the facade is closed by a three-seat portico, already added in the 15th century.
We can therefore consider that the cathedral in Cefalù, thanks to only minor alterations, has preserved more of its original Norman appearance than other churches of the same period in Sicily.
We go inside. At the base of the cathedral lies a Latin cross. The space is divided into three naves by ancient antique columns (2nd century AD) – 14 of granite and two of marble. The ceiling above the main aisle is decorated in Arabic style.
Probably the original idea was that the interior walls of the temple should be completely covered with mosaics, for the manufacture of which Roger invited craftsmen from Constantinople in 1145. In Europe at that time they could not make them. The mosaics of the Cathedral of Cefalù are considered to be among the best Byzantine mosaics in Sicily in terms of beauty and quality and execution. The mosaics, however, were made only in the altar part of the temple. The rest of the temple is extremely ascetic, as it was in the Middle Ages.
The cathedral is open daily from 08:00-12:00 and from 15:30-18:30.
The wooden ceiling and pews of the cathedral had not been changed for almost 900 years!
In the apse we can see the main mosaic – a huge mosaic depicting Christ Pantocrator (the Almighty). The fingers of the Savior’s right hand are folded to bless. In his left hand he holds the Gospel, opened on the verse – “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”, written in Latin and Greek.
Note that on the Savior’s forehead is a disheveled lock of hair. This detail so impressed all subsequent Sicilian mosaicists that they repeated it wherever possible, such as in the later Palatine Chapel in Palermo. But the original source of this locution here is in the Cathedral of Cefalù.
Subsequently, the image of Christ Pantocrator, which was widespread in Byzantium, was also adopted by the Sicilians in the construction of the cathedral 40 years later in Montreal (about it, I already told in my report on Montreal – here), in Messina and the Palatine Chapel in Palermo.
There is also a little historical mystery – on the ceiling of the apse, where the apostles are depicted, there is the name Seraphim written in Russian!
The famous historian and cultural historian John Norwich wrote: “The author of the mosaic has created the greatest image of the Almighty – perhaps the greatest image of Christ – in Christian art… The Christ of Cefalù, for all his power and majesty, has not forgotten that his mission is redemption. There is nothing soft or sugary about Him, but the sadness in His eyes, the openness of His embrace, and even the two separate locks that fall on His forehead, speak of His mercy and compassion.
But this is not the end of our tour of the cathedral, and we go out into the cathedral square (pictured below) and bypass the cathedral on the left
There is a small door at the north facade, where after paying 3 euros for the entrance, we enter the Cloister of the cathedral, its inner yard.
The Cloister is also very impressive and the entire cathedral was built very quickly by medieval standards, from 1131 to 1145.
There are a lot of interesting Gothic decorative elements – I was given a printout at the entrance in Russian with a description of the cloister and all its 70 columns, which have their own name
All the columns are different – some depict animals – roosters, bulls, lions, dolphins, crocodiles, griffins, etc.
Cefalu (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. Cefalu’s main attractions with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Cefalu (Italy).
Cefalù is a city in southern Italy, located on the northern coast of Sicily on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is one of Italy’s most charming seaside resorts with an interesting mix of relaxing beach atmosphere and ancient history. Cefalù is a beautiful old town with a striking medieval cathedral, narrow ancient streets and fishing boats in a small harbor, stunning sunsets and long sandy beaches. So it’s no wonder that the city is considered one of the most popular and beautiful places in Sicily.
Cefalù is situated in a picturesque location at the foot of a high cliff between Palermo and Messina. The city lies in a cozy little fishing harbor and is a maze of ancient streets, dominated by a magnificent Norman cathedral. Just beneath the old town lies a long sandy beach, which has helped Cefalù become a popular resort.
What to do (Cefalù):
€200 per excursion.
Cefalù is the oldest city in Sicily.
Soak up the atmosphere of antiquity and the pampering of a seaside resort in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.
€325 per tour
The ancient history, legends and landscapes of Southern Italy.
Geography and climate
Cefalù is situated on the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily at the foot of a steep 376 m high promontory, 70 km east of Palermo and 185 km west of Messina. The city has a warm Mediterranean climate which is typical of the south of Italy.
- Population – 14 thousand
- Area – 65 km 2
- Language – Italian / Sicilian
- Currency – Euro
- Visa – Schengen
- Time – UTC +1 / summer +2
Cefalù, like virtually every settlement in Sicily, has an excellent gastronomy. The highlight of the local cuisine is the pasta taianu – layers of pasta with meat, roasted eggplant, pine nuts, raisins and pecorino cheese, baked in a large bowl. Also a popular dish is carne murata, which resembles a medieval fortress, consisting of layers of meat, onions and potatoes with fresh basil, oregano and pepper.
Cefalù was founded in Phoenician times. The Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans then ruled the city in succession. Cefalù was first mentioned in the 4th century BC under the name Cefaladia and is considered one of the first Greek colonies on the north coast of Sicily.
Because of its favorable strategic position, this settlement has always been a target of conquerors. After a short period of independence, ancient Cefalù was conquered by the rulers of Syracuse and then by the Carthaginians. In the middle of the 3rd century B.C., during the First Punic War, the city was incorporated into the Roman Empire.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the city became part of Byzantium and was moved from the plain to the foot of the cliff for protection as the coast of Sicily was often raided by the Arabs. Nevertheless, the ancient city was not completely abandoned. In 858, after a long siege, Cefalù was conquered by the Arabs and for the next two centuries it was part of the Emirate of Sicily.
In 1063 Cefalù was conquered by the Normans. In 1131, King Roger II of Sicily moved it again to one of the sites at the foot of the cliff, where there was a small but excellent harbor, and began construction of the present cathedral in the Byzantine style. Between the 13th and 15th centuries Cefalù was ruled by various noble families and then became the possession of the bishops.
How to get there
Cefalù is not far from the international airport of Palermo and is connected to the capital of Sicily by road and rail.
The cathedral is one of the most interesting and imposing medieval structures in Sicily and is the main attraction of Cefalù, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was completed in the 13th century (construction was slow and took 109 years) and is a mixture of Arabic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture, a reflection of the entire Sicilian history.
Legend has it that King Roger II of Sicily erected a cathedral at Cefalù to fulfill a promise he made to God when he encountered a fierce sea storm during his journey from Naples to Palermo. Thinking he would die, the king promised the Savior that he would build a grand cathedral in his honor at whatever place he arrived safely. Upon landing at Cefalù, Roger II kept his promise.
The Cathedral with the panorama of Cefalù as a backdrop
The cathedral is the architectural dominant feature of Cefalù. The highlight of the church are the rectangular towers that give this building the austere look of a medieval fortress. The nave consists of two rows of granite columns with Byzantine capitals supporting arches, above which are richly painted wooden beams. In the right aisle is a 12th century font, and on the left is a 14th century statue of Mary by Italian Renaissance sculptor Antonello Gagini. The interior of the cathedral is also highlighted by the semicircular dome of the apse, decorated with magnificent mosaics by Byzantine artists, which is one of the best preserved in Sicily.
Adjacent to Piazza del Duomo is the Mandralisca Museum, which houses splendid collections covering archaeology, natural history, painting and decorative arts. The Arab and Greek vases are particularly good, as well as a number of exquisitely decorated ceramic artifacts discovered during excavations. Collections of decorative arts include porcelain, bronze, Murano glass, marble, and painted wood. The gem of the art gallery is the famous portrait of a man by Antonello da Messina, painted in 1465.
The beach at Cefalù
The long sandy beach with golden sand is one of Cefalù’s most popular spots (especially in summer). It is located on a bend below the old town and is 5 km long. The promenade Lungomare, which means “Promenade”, runs along the beach. The beach can be quite crowded during the high season.
The beach of Mazzaforno is much more secluded, about 3 km from Cefalù city center. In fact, it is a group of beaches surrounded by rocks and there are several paths leading to it.
The north end of Cefalù’s main street, Corso Ruggiero, is the starting point of the hour-long climb up the cliff known as Rocca. It is a 269-meter scenic outcrop of rock, most of which is covered with pine trees. The top of the cliff is surrounded by medieval walls, most of which are original. Crowning this hill are the remains of an ancient Norman castle, built on the foundations of an Arab citadel. Climbing to Rocca you can see that Cefalù is a small fishing village sandwiched between the Tyrrhenian Sea and a high rock.
Halfway to the top of Rocca you can see the ruins of the megalithic temple of Diana, dating back at least to the 9th century BC. This structure is one of the oldest cultic structures in Europe. It is also the earliest known temple built by the Sicans (indigenous peoples of Sicily). In Greek and Roman times, it was used by the cult of Hercules. In the 12th century, a chapel was built here, of which the remains of the arched windows and the apse have been preserved.
The main street of Cefalù is the Corso Ruggero (Roger), which marks the limit of the medieval city. The best advice is not to follow it entirely. Get lost among the secluded alleys and narrow streets where the atmosphere is very different.
Lavatoio (Medieval Laundry)
Lavatoio is one of the most unusual sights in Cefalù, and probably in the south of Italy as well. It is a public laundry, built in the Middle Ages in the heart of the old town. Women used to gather here to wash and rinse their clothes, and perhaps bathe in a series of large pools that were built in an unusual stepped sequence.
A staircase of lava stones leads to this place under broad vaults. The pools are filled with water from 22 taps. Overflowing through this unusual cascade water flows through a channel into the sea. At the foot of the stairs is an engraved verse, written in 1655 by Vincenzo Auria: “Here flows the Cefalino, healer than any other river, purer than silver, colder than snow”.
Church of Santo Stefano
The Church of Santo Stefano, also known as the Church of Purgatory, has one of the most beautiful facades in Cefalù. The elegantly carved portal of this ancient structure is in Baroque style and overlooks a small green square.
Several buildings were previously located in this quarter, including the previous church of Santo Stefano and the chapel of Santa Margherita, founded in 1466 by the Giaconia family and abolished in the early 17th century. The first church of Santo Stefano was built by the brotherhood of the same name, which in 1596 became the “brotherhood of souls in Purgatory”. This fraternity then bought the adjoining property and built the present church, completing it in 1668.
Church of Itria
The Church of Itria was probably built over a pre-existing Byzantine church of the same name in the 16th century. The building stands on Piazza Crispi, resting on the bastion of Capo Marchiafava. Originally there were two churches: San Giovanni Evangelista and Santa Maria del Odigitria, better known as del Itria.
The first church belonged to the brotherhood of the same name, mentioned at the beginning of the 16th century. The second church was a chapel dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo, also belonging to the brotherhood. Later the two churches were sold to Bishop Ottaviano Preconio, who founded the brotherhood of Santa Maria del Itria (or San Nicola da Tolentino). In 1961 the two churches were transformed into one parish.
On the south side of Via Porto Salvo is the ancient 12th-century church dedicated to San Leonardo. The church retains its original portal, now hidden behind a wall, decorated with floral ornaments.
Church of Della Catena
The church della Catena was built in 1780. Interestingly, the foundation of the bell tower is the remains of megalithic walls, the stones of which can be seen at its base. A loggia of golden stone with niches for statues stands out on the flat facade, as well as the unusual location of the two clocks.
The interior of the church is rather simple, with a single nave and altar installed in 1902 and a statue dedicated to Santa Maria della Catena to commemorate the miracle of the 14th century. At the base of the bell tower is a monument to the local patriot Salvatore Spinuzza, executed in this square in 1857 during the revolt for the liberation of Sicily from Bourbon rule.
The Osterio Magno is an imposing building with double and triple arched windows, which was the residence of the Sicilian king in the 14th century. It is located at the intersection of Via Amendola and Corso Ruggiero. It consists of two parts, each belonging to a different era. The older part, facing Via Amendola, is built in tufa and golden limestone and has two windows.
Church of San Sebastiano
The church of San Sebastiano dates from 1523 and overlooks Piazza Marina. The building has a single nave with two niches in the side walls painted with frescoes. On the main altar there is a golden tabernacle from the end of the 17th century.
Church of Santa Maria
The Church of Santa Maria, on Via Umberto I, was built in 1686 by order of Monsignor Pietro Cimino, dean of the cathedral and member of the tribunal of the Inquisition. Here, where the church now stands, there was once a chapel dedicated to San Vito. Inside the church you can admire ancient statues set in four niches.
Oratory of Holy Communion
The Oratory of the Holy Communion was built in the late 17th century. A limestone block with a funerary inscription in Greek originating from a Hellenistic necropolis was used as the foundation. The building has a simple facade preceded by a short staircase, with two carved double portals and a projecting cornice.
A winding scenic road leads from Cefalù south to Gibilmanna, situated on the slopes of Mount Sant’Angelo, 1,081 meters high. In this beautiful wooded area is the pilgrimage monastery of the same name. The monastery church was built in the 17th and 18th centuries and contains a Madonna by the famous Italian Renaissance sculptor Antonello Gaggini (1478-1536) who is particularly revered.
€200 per excursion.
Hidden corners of Venice
Medieval, graceful, fragile – walk through the most authentic quarters of the city and capture its soul
€120 per excursion
Rome – a sightseeing tour of the major sites and the undiscovered ghetto
Trace the city’s path from antiquity to modern times and learn about the inhabitants of the past and present