Acireale: A city bursting with flowers and confetti
The Carnival of Acireale is probably the biggest and most famous in Sicily. These days the city roads are like rivers of confetti, little colored pieces of paper climb into all the surrounding houses, we find them in our clothes, in the hair of our dogs, in the children’s shoes. And in the evening the “city of blooming baroque” turns into a fairyland, the streets of which are walking numerous princesses, elves, cowboys and ninja turtles, Disney cartoon characters and just cute lion cubs, kittens and mice.
For three weeks in a row, on weekends the streets are blocked for the passage of huge carnival allegorical carts, each of which is revealed in all its glory on the main square of the city. The funny papier-mâché figures glow with colorful lights and move to the music – each platform has its own little spectacle. What to say about the “specialty” of the Achireal carnival – “flowering wagons”, tourists from all over the world come to see them. These are the same illuminated allegorical carts, but all the figures on them are made exclusively of flowers – millions of colorful carnations turn into funny characters. The feeling of celebration doesn’t leave you for a minute: rousing music, laughter, cheerful painted faces of teenagers, children’s eyes wide with wonder, and of course, sweets at every turn.
“There’s no offense to jokes at Carnival,” the Sicilians say, so keep your mouth shut, and be careful if you decide to snack on the go, taking advantage of the moment, some little brigand might fill you with confetti or shoot you in your open mouth with a spray can of colored foam. And it’s no use cursing or being offended – it’s a carnival.
And it all started a long time ago. The precursors of modern carnival festivals were held spontaneously as early as the 500s. By the 1600s, it was fashionable to throw rotten oranges and rotten eggs during the carnival and stage real battles in the Aceh area. In 1612, a royal decree categorically forbade “citrus battles” during “carnivals” because of too much destruction and wounded people in previous years. By the way, the traditional “orange battles” still take place now, during the modern carnival, but not in Sicily, but in distant Ivrea, in Piedmont.
In the 700s, Achi-Carnival became even more fun: folk poets began to take to the streets reciting their satirical poems, and strolling actors, and in the 800s there was a new tradition – the nobles drove their carriages through the streets of the city and threw handfuls of confetti at the spectators. Funny contests, games, and competitions – tug of war, running in sacks, or climbing a pole covered with grease for prizes – were staged on every corner.
In the late 1930s, more and more tourists came to the carnival in Achireal, and grotesque papier-mache puppets appeared on the “stage”, and then similar to modern, allegorical carts pulled by buffaloes, on which puppet characters, and live comedians, and dancers were placed. The Achireal Carnival takes on its own special style and world fame with the appearance of the “flower carriages. The first cars decorated with fresh flowers replaced carriages of the nobility on the city streets. And so, for more than 70 years, the carnival in Acireale has proudly worn the title of “the most beautiful in Sicily”. Now no time, money and imagination are spared for the production of both allegorical and flowery carriages. The parade of carriages is followed by processions of folklore groups, musicians, medieval costumes, theatrical performances, concerts and, finally, a festive fireworks display and carnival bonfire on “Fat Tuesday”.
The next time the wagons will appear on the streets of Achireale, oddly enough, will be in the summer. A few years ago, city officials decided that during the hottest tourist season, it was worth taking another stroll through the carnival, this time without fear of rain or wind interfering with the festivities. Now, at the beginning of August, the papier-mache carts are dusted off and taken back to the main town square, but the flower carts have to be rebuilt, but the pleasure that the festival brings to tourists and residents of Accireale is worth it.
The town of Acireale is on the east coast of Sicily, not far from Catania. It is famous for its Baroque buildings, carnival and thermal springs.
History of Acireale
The name of the city comes from the Greek hero Achi, in the Russian version Acid. He was the son of Faun and the nymph Semetida. Aquidas fell in love with Galatea, a nereid, and was killed by Polyphemus, the Cyclops, who was jealous of the beautiful woman. Galatea drew her lover’s blood into the river. Achireale was part of Byzantium and was ruled by Arabs and Spaniards, who called the city by different names. Only in 1642 by the will of Philip IV of Spain was the present name Achireale established. In 1693 a strong earthquake destroyed the south-eastern part of Sicily, Acireale was also badly damaged. In 1873 the famous thermal center of Santa Venerea and the Grand Hotel des Bains opened in the city, since then Acireale gained fame as a resort. Currently Achireale carnival is very popular, which attracts tourists from all over Italy and other countries. Carnival processions unfold in February. The streets of the city are lined with decorated carriages, and the participants wear colorful costumes.
Sightseeing in Achireale
If you arrive in Achireale by train, prepare for a short march, because the train station is located some distance from the central part of town, and a piece of the road runs along the highway. We were warned to avoid the evening hours, because the station is considered a crime-unfriendly place.
On the approaches to Achireale, the first to greet is Scammacca Castle, buried in greenery. It is difficult to see because it is hidden behind a high fence. In The Godfather, the politician Lucio Lucchesi, killed by Michele Corleone, played by Al Pacino, lived here.
In front of the villa is Piazza Agostino Pennisi and if you haven’t had time for breakfast, you can visit the Raciti Vecchia Stazione, where they make delicious arancini and on Sundays zeppole, a pastry made of rice dough with honey.
Viale Liberta and then via Vittorio Emanuele II lead to the center of Acireale. Along the road there are ancient buildings and small temples, among them the oldest religious building in the city, the Church of St. Anthony of Padua. It was built in 1466. After the earthquake, the temple was restored. The Gothic portal and frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta have been preserved. When the artist worked in the church, he had an epileptic stroke, his work was continued by his son Alessandro Vasta.
After a while, the splendid basilica of St. Sebastiano, which is considered one of the most important in the city, attracts attention. It was built in the fifteenth century after the plague, but that building has not survived. The current church dates from 1699-1705. The facade is decorated with characters from the Old Testament.
Inside there are works by Angelo Bellofiore, Diego and Giovanni Flavetta and frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta. The temple is equipped with a museum that occupies 4 halls and contains relics of St. Sebastian, a huge statue that is carried through the city during a procession, a silver crown and much more.
The church is adjoined by the piazza Leonardo Vigo, decorated with two wooden kiosks that look like little houses. Leonardo Vigo, after whom the square is named, was a poet, philologist and politician born in 1799 in Achireal. Vigo was a student of Sicilian creativity and tradition. In 1857 his collection of Sicilian folk songs was published. There is a bust of Leonardo Vigo in the center of the square, and pigeons cheer in a small fountain.
The central part of Acireale is Piazza del Duomo where the main attractions are concentrated.
The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was built in the XVII century. The façade is in white stone, designed by Pietro Paolo Vasta. On the right side is a bell tower, built in 1735.
The cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Annuciana. It was founded in the fifteenth century but underwent a series of changes in the following centuries. The façade is decorated by a sculptural composition made at the end of the XVII century by the Messinian bottega Placido Blandamonte.
Inside there are works by Pietro Paolo Vasta, Antonio Filocamo, Giuseppe Sciuti and others. On the floor of the temple is a meridian realized in 1843 by the German astronomer Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters.
The palazzo Munichipale is the seat of the city government. Its construction began in 1659, after the earthquake it was restored according to the project of Costantino Larcidiacono in 1783-85. In 1818 the building suffered again in an earthquake and was restored in 1908. The palazzo is in the late Baroque style. The balconies are decorated with wrought iron and mascarons. One of the halls houses a museum of uniforms, where samples are collected, starting from the XVIII century.
On the square there is a kiosk with drinks. On a summer day it is worth trying the seltz, which is a classic version of carbonated water with lemon and salt.
Across the road from the cathedrals you can see the beautiful palazzo Modo’, built in the early nineteenth century, which was the home of the El Dorado Theatre, as the sign says. In fact, little remains of the original structure – a balcony with curved lattices, a bas-relief with theatrical masks and the name. The theater was open from 1909 until the end of the war.
From Piazza del Duomo, walk along via Umberto, along which are beautiful buildings and palazzos belonging to the noble families of the city. A little further along is the statue of the fallen by Michele La Spina. Behind it is the Maugeri Cinema, which at the time of its construction in 1952 was the largest in Sicily.
We continue along corso Umberto to piazza Indirizzo, where on the right hand side there is the entrance to the city park. Here we can admire the panorama of the sea and the coast.
At the end of corso Umberto rises the church of Indirizzo , neo-classical style.