Activities, History and museums
Alcamo (Sicilian: Àrcamu) is the fourth largest town in the province of Trapani in Sicily and is populated by 45,546 inhabitants. It is situated on the borderline with the province of Palermo at a distance of about 50 kilometres both from Palermo and Trapani and lies at the foot of Mount Bonifato.
Nowadays the town territory includes an area of 130.79 square kilometres and is the second municipality as for population density in the province of Trapani, after Erice.
Alcamo is bounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the north, Balestrate and Partinico on the east, Camporeale on the south and Calatafimi-Segesta and Castellammare del Golfo on the west. Its most important hamlet is Alcamo Marina which is about 6 kilometres from the town center. Together with other municipalities it takes part with the Associazione Città del Vino, the movement Patto dei Sindaci, Progetto Città dei Bambini, Rete dei Comuni Solidali and Patto Territoriale Golfo di Castellammare.
Alcamo is situated in the middle of the Gulf of Castellammare, at 258 metres above the sea level and at the foot of Mount Bonifato, a calcareous complex 825 metres high. At the altitude of 500 metres (near the "Funtanazza") there is the Natural Reserve of Monte Bonifato.
The territory of Alcamo includes also Alcamo Marina, used mainly as summer resort.
The climate is mild, with higher rainfall during winter than summer.
The average annual temperature is 16.9 °C, with higher temperatures in August (24,8 °C) and lower temperatures in February (10.3 °C).
The average annual rainfall is 558 mm. In particular rainfall are scarcer in July (4 mm) and more abundant in December (83 mm).
Though there is little information about it, there are evidences that Alcamo territory was inhabited even in prehistoric times; in one of the oldest sites, near "contrada" Molinello (a country district), they have discovered archaeological finds dating back to the Mesolithic, approximately to about 9,000-6,000 BC and other very old ones dating back to the Neolithic during the archaeological excavations done by the archaeologist Paolo Orsi (1899) and the marquis Antonio De Gregorio (1917) near the river Fiume Freddo. One of the most important finds is an axe from the Neolithic kept at the Museo Paolo Orsi of Syracuse.
From the quotations by Lycophron we know that in old times there was an inhabited centre on Mount Bonifato called "Longuro". According to an old story, this settlement was founded by a Greek colony which had escaped from the destruction of the town of Troy.
During the Roman period the inhabitants of Longuro moved to the foot of the mountain so they could practice agriculture in the surrounding lands. The town was called "Longaricum"; this name appears in the Itinerario di Antonino Pio (3rd century AD) and would coincide with the Latin name of Longuro.
According to a supposition the two hillocks appearing on Alcamo gonfalon would represent both the towns of Longaricum and Longuro.
Alcamo was founded in 828 by the Muslim commander al-Kamuk (after whom is probably named), though other sources date its origin to about 972.
The first document mentioning Alcamo is dating back to 1154, in a paper written by the Berber geographer Idrisi who was given this task by Ruggero II in order to get a collection of geographic maps. From a distance longer than an Arab mile, the writer describes the position of Alcamo viewed from the Castle of Calatubo (visible even today from the town territory) and defines it as a "manzil", that is a hamlet or a group of houses with rich soil and a flourishing market. This hamlet was called "Alqamah" by Arabs. In a diary of 1185 the Andalusian pilgrim Ibn Jubayr confirms the Arab origin of the town; in fact during his travel from Palermo to Trapani he stopped at Alcamo and describes it as a beleda (town) with mosques and a market whose inhabitants were of Muslim religion.
In the Middle Ages Alcamo was largely inhabited by Muslim people, whose numbers declined after the Norman conquest of Sicily, begun in 1060. Alcamo was divided into four hamlets named Saint Vito, Saint Leonardo, Saint Ippolito and Saint Nicolò del Vauso. but a series of Arab revolts between 1221 and 1243 led King Frederick II to move most of the Arab population to a colony at Lucera, while Christians from Bonifato came to inhabit the town. In this period the famous poet Ciullo or Cielo d'Alcamo was born.
In 1340 Raimondo Peralta acquired the feud and barony of Alcamo from Pietro II d'Aragona. Then the barony passed to his son Guglielmo Peralta Sclafani, called "Guglielmone". and afterwards to the Ventimiglia family (up to 1397), Giaimo de Prades (1407), the Cabrera family, the Speciale family, Pietro Balsamo prince of Roccafiorita (1618) and finally to Giuseppe Alvarez (1777).
In the 14th century Alcamo had several thousands of inhabitants and hundreds of them had immigrated from different parts of Sicily and Italy (in particular: Pisa, Amalfi, Bologna, Calabria, Liguria), and some also from Spain. During this period, Antonello da Messina moved to Alcamo for three years (around 1438-1441) in order to learn the tanning techniques from the tanner master Guglielmo Adragna di Alcamo. In fact the town was an important pole of development for commerce and handicraft. In particular, it had a massive exchange of wheat and wine with the nearby towns and there were also experts artisans such as bakers, blacksmiths, tanners and weavers. During this century Alcamo was an important centre for wheat storage and sorting. In the same period the writer Giacomo Adragna transcribed "Commentarii in Persium" and Pietro d'Alcamo many works from the library of San Martino.
About the year 1500, Alcamo was under the jurisdiction of captain of justice Ferdinando Vega, that fought against the raiding Turkish pirates. The town was surrounded by defensive embattled walls provided with four gates:
During this period, the town was divided into four quarters, each one associated with the name of the main church in that area:
The division between these quarters was coincident with the main streets of the town, that are the present Corso VI Aprile and Via Rossotti and its continuation via dei Baroni Emanuele di San Giuseppe (called incorrectly "Via Barone di San Giuseppe").
In 1535, in coincidence with the visit of the emperor Charles V, coming back from Tunisia, the old Porta Trapani was closed and four gates were opened:
During the 16th century there was a development in the education in Alcamo because of the construction of new schools and the activity of expert teachers, in particular the poet and scholar Sebastiano Bagolino (1562-1604). In 1547 the Madonna appeared to some women of the people and an image of Madonna Fons Misericordiae was discovered and worshipped as "Our Lady of Miracles".
In the late 16th century, the population was decimated by a pestilence. The victims were buried in the cemetery of Saint'Ippolito.
In 1667 Mariano Ballo ordered the construction of a theatre, called "teatro Ferrigno", later demolished and rebuilt during the '60s. After the reconstruction it was first called "cine-teatro Euro", and later "teatro Cielo d'Alcamo".
During the 18th century, pestilence and popular rebellions occurred in Alcamo again. On the other hand, this age was important for the art in Alcamo because of the construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption (1699), designed by the architects Angelo Italia and Giuseppe Diamante. Its interior was decorated also with 38 frescos by the Flemish painter Guglielmo Borremans between 1736 and 1737. In the same period the Church of Saint Olivia was renovated, Saint Paul and Bartholomew's Church was rebuilt (1689), and the Saint Francis from Paola was completed (1699) together with the monumental church of College some decades later(1767).
The population of the town, gradually recovered from the pestilence and increased to 13,000 in 1798.
At the beginning of the 19th century Alcamo's feudal status was abolished (1812) and the town became a direct royal possession.
The archpriests Stefano Triolo Galifi and Giuseppe Virgilio and the baron Felice Pastore were members of the Sicilian Parliament as representatives of Alcamo. In 1820, during a revolt, there were different murders, sacks, release of criminals from prison and a fire in the municipal archives and in 1829 many people died of cholera. In 1843 the construction of the present Town Hall started, on a land of the baron Felice Pastore.
1982, 1820,1848 and 1860 are the years in which Alcamo, together with the other most patriotic towns in Sicily, carries on the ideals of a united Italy, under the guide of the families Colonna, Romano, Fazio and Triolo of Sant’Anna. .32 On the 6th April 1860, Stefano and Giuseppe Triolo let the Italian Tricolour wave on the Town Hall, 32 creating groups of volunteers in order to help Garibaldi in the battle of Calatafimi and from Alcamo some dictatorial edicts on Vittorio Emanuele II’s behalf were issued. Some time later Francesco Crispi prepared the Constitution for the lands set free. Further to this event, Corso Imperiale was named Corso 6 Aprile, in memory of the day (6 April) in which the volunteers started to be enlisted in Alcamo.27
During the Risorgimento the Sant'Anna brothers and Giuseppe Coppola of Monte San Giuliano enlisted many citizens from Alcamo to fight with the Garibaldians for the unification of Italy in 1860.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1897, public lighting was inaugurated in Alcamo during the traditional feast of the Madonna of Miracles.7 Among the most important people of this period we have to remind Don Giuseppe Rizzo, a priest who founded the bank called "Cassa Rurale e Artigiana Don Rizzo" (1902).34
At the beginning of the 20th century (1901-1911) the number of citizens in Alcamo diminished abruptly, partially because of the emigration of 36.718 Sicilians from Sicily abroad and in particular to America, but it is possible that the statistics about this year and the previous years were not reliable because the census was carried out without following certain criteria. In the same period the cultivations in the territory of Alcamo were affected by phylloxera and two banks ("Cooperativa" and "Segestana") went bankrupt. with subsequent economic difficulties for Alcamo's citizens.37
There were also some events linked to mafia, such as the murder of Gaspare Cottone, a carter (1899) 38 and the death of the 19 years old Benedetto Guastella during a fire conflict with carabinieri (1900).38 As the mafia had taken the power in the districts of Trapani and Alcamo,38 the commissary Cesare Mori intervened with a series of arrests and charges against the material executors of crimes occurred in the area 38 and finally with the arrest of Vincenzo e Michele Tedesco, brothers, and Baldassare Adragna, considered the heads of the gangs in Trapani’s territory.38
During the First World War, four hundred citizens from Alcamo died and the following period was characterized by poverty because of monetary inflation and banditry. In 1918 about five hundred people died because of Spanish flu and in the Second World War 213 citizens from Alcamo died or were lost.
The foundation of Società Elettrotecnica Palermitana, 39 whose name was changed into Società Generale Elettrica della Sicilia (SGES) and which installed an important electric workroom in the district of Saint Agostino in Alcamo, dates back to the twenties. .39 The jobs inside this firm were very longed-for because it was the only firm in Trapani province which had a Health Insurance fund and granted holidays .39 The electric workroom existed until 1963 when it was acquired by ENEL and demolished. .39 During the years in which SGES operated, there was an improvement of the electric services in Alcamo’s territory, owing also to the realization of several artificial lakes.39
During Fascism, the citizens of Alcamo asked the government to appoint Alcamo as the capital of the province (1930), but this request was not satisfied., however some important infrastructures were built in Alcamo, in particular:
On 19 August 1937 the fascist leader Benito Mussolini visited Alcamo crossing Corso VI Aprile by an open car and parading through the crowd of his supporters. The visit was due to the inauguration of the railway line between Trapani and Alcamo, completed in the same year. Some weeks later, prince Umberto visited Alcamo too.
On 21 July 1943 the American troops entered Alcamo without any opposition, freeing the town from Italian Fascism.
On 18 December 1944, because of the economic and social discomfort, the citizens raised up, occupied the Town Hall and put its archives on fire. Since 1960 the town planning system has been greatly expanding, particularly at the foot of Mount Bonifato with the construction of Viale Europa, which is one of the most important street in Alcamo.
At about the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s there was a bloody Mafia war between the clan Greco (related to the Rimi family) and the members of the emergent Mafia of Corleone, led by the boss Vincenzo Milazzo in the territory of Alcamo. Vincenzo Milazzo received orders from Totò Riina to eliminate members of the old Mafia (in particular the member of the clan Greco) and put in command only his trusted men. Just for this reason the Greco family represented an obstacle: the reason which roused the conflict was the approaching of some members of Cosa Nostra to the rival clan of Grecos. The war bathed the town in blood for about five years and provoked tens of victims. The new Corleone’s Mafia prevailed, but the cost to be paid was very high, because a lot of members of this clan died. During the same period in which there were armed clashes between the Mafia families, at contrada Virgini in Alcamo, they discovered the biggest heroin refinery in Sicily. (1985).44Tens of people died in five years, and at the end the Mafia of Corleone prevailed.
While the crimes of mafia went on and tens of people disappeared as victims of "lupara bianca",45 in Alcamo there was a religious revival which led to the birth of several Catholic associations such as Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo , Cammino neocatecumenale and the movement of Comunione e Liberazione.46 From the last one the parish community of the Church of Gesù Cristo Redentore (Jesus Christ the Redeemer) originated in the district of Sant’Anna (2006).46 This religious revival was followed by a new interest into the old Alcamo’s traditions that are mentioned in the works of Roberto Calia and Carlo Cataldo, historians from Alcamo. 47 Carlo Cataldo has also been prized several times both for his historical works and for his dialectal poems which tell Alcamo’s folkore. 48 In the 21st century there was a renovation of Alcamo’s architectural context, thanks to the restoration of some important historical buildings such as the Castello dei Conti di Modica, the Theatre of Cielo d'Alcamo, the Cine-Theatre Marconi, the ex Collegio dei Gesuiti, la Cuba delle rose (2013),49 la chiesa del Collegio (2014),50 the façade of Badia Nuova (2014)50 and the old Arab fountain (2016). Thanks also to the intervention of Fondo Ambiente Italiano, it is expected the restoration of the Castle of Calatubo; its chapel and the path leading to the castle have already been cleaned by the volunteers’ association "Salviamo il Castello di Calatubo" (2015).51 Among the works of revalutation of the urban areas there are the restoration of Piazza Ciullo by the architect Gae Aulenti (1996)52 and the realization of an underground car park in Piazza Bagolino, together with the creation of the near suburban park. The interest in the environment is also associated with that in the territory. In fact, after the adhesion to the initiative "Rifiuti Zero" (Zero Rubbish), the town of Alcamo has been considered an example to be followed for the results got between 2010 and 2013 in the field of raccolta differenziata (waste separation).53
The Coat of arms of Alcamo used since the kingdom of Federico II is a black Eagle flying crowned by Gold in Silver range, with three hills below and two Golden Oaks.
A sculpture of the coat of arms is put in a side wall of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, near Porta Palermo.
There are several historical civil buildings in Alcamo:
The military buildings existing in Alcamo are:
In the territory of Alcamo there are several and interesting archeological sites:
Among the areas of naturalistic interest near Alcamo there are the beaches of Alcamo Marina, the Natural reserve Bosco di Alcamo on Mount Bonifato and the Segestan thermal waters. The hot springs are produced by the reclimbing of water of meteoric origin which meets the water of Fiume Caldo. They are seven kilometres far from Alcamo and next to the boundary with the territory of Castellammare del Golfo, a small town which shares this naturalistic attraction with Alcamo. According to the narration given by Diodoro Siculo, they were created by the nymphs to favour Eracle's rest during his trip from Piloro to Erice.
The surrounding areas include interesting touristic and historical locations like Segesta and Gibellina. The old fishing village of Scopello, 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Alcamo, has been referred to as having a remarkable seaside. Another small town considered worth visiting is Castellammare del Golfo which is between these two places.
According to the ISTAT data of January 1, 2013, the foreign people resident in Alcamo were 1,258 people corresponding to the 2.58% of the residing population. The most represented nationalities, according to the percentage on the total residing population, were:
The poet Cielo d'Alcamo (known also as "Ciullo d'Alcamo") was the author of the contrasto "Rosa fresca aulentissima". He wrote in vernacular in the 12th century and was from Alcamo. Many important places of the town, such as the main square, the theatre and the Classical Lyceum founded in 1862, have been named after the famous poet.
From the cultural point of view, in the succeeding centuries Alcamo saw the rise of activities connected with arts such as the construction of churches and buildings first in the baroque and then Renaissance style, with the coming of several artists of International level: painters (like Guglielmo Borremans and the very talented Pietro Novelli from Monreale), sculptors (Antonello Gagini and Giacomo Serpotta) and other various artists who embellished the town image. Inside the castle of Alcamo there is the puppet theatre and they often give performances. During the feasts in Alcamo there are often streets entertainers and pedlars selling sweets, dried fruit and different objects in their stands called "baracchelle".
There is a local radio, Radio Alcamo Centrale, which operates in the territory since 1976.
The oldest periodical in Alcamo is "Il Bonifato".
The networks in Alcamo are Alpa Uno (since 1976) and Video Sicilia (since 1987).
In 1880 they founded the Premiato Complesso Bandistico "Città di Alcamo", which is the oldest band in the province of Trapani. In the first years it was led by the baron Giuseppe Triolo di Sant'Anna. In 1892, during a contest with the other Sicilian musical bands (and under the direction of the famous Maestro Raffaele Caravaglios), it won the honour Diploma and the golden Medal, that is why it is named "premiato"(=prized).
Since 1986 there is in Alcamo the Associazione Amici della Musica (The Association of Music's Friends), which promotes and organizes concerts of lyrical music, International contests and prizes also in other towns in the provinces of Trapani and Palermo.
The Associazione Jacopone da Todi , founded in 1989, has the objective of spreading the knowledge of holy art, in its different expressions; the Director is Gaetano Stellino, a school teacher.
The Coro Mater Dei is a musical association born in 1998 and made up of about 30 members; it has held various concerts (especially during the Christmas holidays) in the province of Trapani. The chorus master is Baldo Barone.
The Coro Francesca Adragna was founded in 2008 under the direction of the chorus master Maria Messana. It has a very varied repertory: arias from operettas, opera melodies, church music, Sicilian popular tunes and Neapolitan songs.
There is also the Brass Group, promoter of the "Summertime Blues Festival", which was held for various consecutive years in Piazza Ciullo and where blues singers and musicians from different part of the world took part.
The local market in Alcamo (called "mercatino") takes place every Wednesday morning in Via Tre Santi.
Some specialities of cuisine of Alcamo are:
Alcamo is one of the most important centres in Sicily for wine production, especially Bianco Alcamo DOC, made from vineyards with espailer or "tendone" structures and using white common or bright catarratto vines, eventually associated with damaschino, grecanico and trebbiano.
Besides the wine activity there are cattle and sheep breeding, olive growing (for the extraction of extra virgin olive oil), cereals (particularly wheat) and the typical oval melon, with a green wrinkled peel, locally called "miluni purceddu", which has the peculiarity that can be kept longer than other kinds of melon.
In the primary sector it is also significant quarrying (of different marbles and mostly travertino), though the tertiary sector (more or less advanced) has however got the majority of employed people.
There are two motorway junctions from Autostrada A29 Palermo-Mazara del Vallo: Alcamo Est ed Alcamo Ovest, apart the junction of Castellammare del Golfo which links up with the north entrance to Alcamo. Another motorway junction is from Alcamo Ovest (Autostrada A29 diramazione Alcamo-Trapani). The Railway line doesn't pass through the town centre but along the coast, then inland on the west side. The railway station of Alcamo Diramazione is located near the motorway junction of Alcamo Ovest and the station of Castellammare del Golfo is situated in the territory of Alcamo, precisely at Alcamo Marina.
These National Roads pass through Alcamo:
And these Provincial Roads of the province of Trapani pass through Alcamo:
Alcamo is about 40 km from the airport "Falcone and Borsellino" of Palermo-Punta Raisi and about 50 km from the airport "Vincenzo Florio" of Trapani-Birgi.
The most popular and practised sport in Alcamo, as in most Italian towns, has always been soccer; the greatest team is the Alcamo team, which was in the past a protagonist in some football seasons in League C (Italian Serie C), for its victories against Bari and Crotone, and in League D. Apart various regional trophies it has won the Coppa Italia Dilettanti in 1996 and the subsequent Supercoppa Italiana Dilettanti. Together with the golden period in League C, these were the most beautiful pages of the football history in Alcamo. A recent society crisis has caused bankruptcy and the team which played in League D had to restart from the First Category League. Today it competes in the regional Eccellenza championship following the 2010 refoundation. The activity of juvenile soccer is very active, and the Adelkam football school emerges among the various youth teams because it has launched different football players and has won a lot of national and international competitions. Alcamo is also the principal centre of the Costa Gaia International Trophy, a youth football kermess in which a lot of titled teams take part and where many great players of the bigger championships have been the protagonists.
Basket is also very popular and practised, today with better results than football anyway. The female team Basket Alcamo (Gea Magazzini) which has obtained important results in his history (a long participation in A1 League and the final match in the Ronchetti Cup), has played in the A2 League for eleven years, and has regained the major league in the season 2011-2012. The male team has also obtained good results, but not at the same levels. The local handball team, Pallamano Alcamo, taking part in A1 League, plays his home matches at the Palasport Enzo D'Angelo, where the Italian national handball team has recently played too.
The town has got several sport facilities, the most important are the stadium Lelio Catella (with a capacity of about 10,000 people)for football and athletics, the Palazzetto dello Sport(sports hall) Tre Santi for Basket and the Palasport Enzo D'Angelo (indoor stadium) for handball. There is a private swimpool open to public use (La Fenice) where young boys (who have won National prizes) train regularly. In the same facility there is an ice-skating rink. When Alcamo football team played in League C, the home matches were played at stadium Don Rizzo, which together with Sant'Ippolito stadium is now used by juvenile and minor teams