Niscemi, Caltanissetta

niscemi countryside

Niscemi, Caltanissetta

Niscemi 

Niscemi is the oldest village of the Niscemic commune with a charming old town center in the province of Caltanissetta. The name of this tiny village derives from the word Nasciam, which in Arabic means “elm tree“.

It was founded by Arabs in the 9th century. Later, Normans conquered the area, creating the most important buildings of the current old town center. The present urban center was rebuilt after 1693, when a terrible earthquake saw the ancient feudal suburb shaved to the ground. After the earthquake, the whole town was rebuilt in Baroque style, preserving the orthogonal town plain with clear Islamic influences.

Why you’ll love this place: 

This is the ideal spot if you are planning a trip into Sicily’s hinterland.  Strategically positioned between the Baroque Caltagirone and the golden sandy beaches of Gela’s coastline, you can venture off to the many natural and historical sites in the province like Piazza Armerina,  Ragusa Ibla, and Sofiana and be only 90 km from Catania.

The Niscemi area  is steeped in history. There are so many interesting cultural  and historic attractions spanning centuries, you’ll be spoiled for choice.  Rebuilt in the 1750s are the Mother Church and the Church of Sant’Antonio. Later in that century were rebuilt the Churches of Addolorata,  of Santa Maria della Grazia and that of Our Lady of the Wood whose construction is apparently linked to the discovery of the famous  painting of Our Lady by a local shepherd. You can enjoy a sweeping view of the Gela Plain and the valley of the Maroglio river from The Belvedere,  also Baroque in style called “u tunnu” by the locals.

Among the other must-see attractions  are the charming Museum of Rural Life, the Natural History Museum and Branciforte Palace, built by in 1824.

It will only take you approximately 15 minutes by car to reach the well-known Sughereta di Niscemi Nature Reserve. Stretching out to about 3.000 hectares, it is home to the most impressive forest of Quercus suber. Rising up to 15 meters, these trees are also known as cork trees for they are the primary source of cork. This charming wood was once the favorite hunting ground of the local aristocratic families due to its abundance of wild game. Today, it has a well-preserved wildlife such as rabbits, foxes, wild cats, porcupines, hawks and kestrels. Besides,  this area nurtures a wide range of vegetation typical of the Mediterranean like holm trees, oaks, carobs, wild olive reserves that offers one of the most enchanting natural environments of Sicily. This nature reserve provides many beautiful meandering paths to visit and discover its wild natural beauty.

Niscemi is THE capital of artichokes. Come Aril, Niscemi holds its annual three-day artichoke festival at Piazza della Vittoria. Tons of Violetto di Niscemi artichokes will be the highlight of the annual mouthwatering festival which celebrates one of the largest artichokes-producing towns in Italy. This is where you can enjoy a wide variety of tasty dishes ranging from Ancient Roman recipes to artichoke specialties from other Italian regions. To name just a few are “mezze penne con carciofi” (half-penne with artichokes), “carciofi gratinati” (artichokes au gratin) and “cacucciulata” (grilled artichokes). Then you have the mouth-watering  ‘caponatina di carciofi in agrodolce’ (a traditional Sicilian sweet and sour vegetable dish with eggplant), ‘frittata di carciofi e prezzemolo’ (omelet with artichokes and parsley) and the yum-yum ‘carciofi cotti a vapore all’olio extra vergine d’oliva’ (steamed artichokes with olive oil).

Definitely worth the detour at about 14 km from Piazza Armerina is the archaeological site of Sofiana,  also called “Pitrusa” by the locals south of the Gela riveThis Archaeological site includes precious findings dating back to the Greek and Roman periods and the remains of a Roman mansio of the Imperial period.

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