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Try an interesting trip to Mt Etna’s territory by visiting the town of Mascali, on the east side of the volcano. To be exact, visit the Nunziata village, very close to the town’s centre. In 2012, here they found the very first example of early-christian church of the place. A rare and unique monument, especially for the Diocese of Acireale to which the church belongs.

It all started in 1984 as they worked to restore the little church of Nunziatella.  It had been abandoned and ruined for centuries. Only the beautiful lava façade and the small bell cell on the roof resisted in time. During the 20 years of  restoration they recovered the structure and the Byzantine frescoes (Pantochrator, Young Jesus) plus other symbols on the walls.

The church on another church

The finding of such old traces immediately made one suspect the church had been built on another church. This one was certainly older, so historically very interesting. But they could not understand where exactly the older church was. Mascali had been through hard times, with earthquakes and eruptions that had covered the previous villages. 

Towards the end of the restoration works of the Nunziatella, in 2012, when the surrounding churchyard had to be completed,  they found the first ruins of the previous church. The suspicions then became reality. The monument was unearthed between 2013 and 2014.

The early-christian basilica of the Nunziatella

nunziata 2

From the excavations a basilica of the 5th century AD (most likely completed around the 7th) came to light. It had three naves, a part of the apse and the northern wall still intact! The basilica extends for 2.70 meters below the road surface and still denotes the damage from past earthquakes. The remains of roof beams found in pieces on the floor confirm this.

The two mosaic floors on different levels are practically intact, one lower than the other. The two rooms could correspond to the pulpit and the assembly floor. Or one could be a baptismal pool. Other objects found in the basilica are: coins, ceramics, bronze and stone tools. Human -female and male- skeletons have also been found, which suggests the presence of a monks and nuns convent.

Mascali and the eruption of 1928

Nunziata di Mascali is part of the municipal territory of the town of Mascali, in fact. This small inhabited centre fought a terrible battle against the volcano in November 1928. A lateral eruption of Etna had opened a hole at low altitude (at 1150 meters) and the fluid lava had immediately met the bed of a water stream.

Unfortunately it was the Pietrafucile river that ran right through the inhabited centre of Mascali. The  fire therefore reached the town in a few days, which had meanwhile been evacuated. It destroyed three quarters of it leaving only the Sant’Antonino district intact. The lava also swallowed up the beautiful seventeenth-century church that dominated the town. Even today, from the vintage videos, you can see the stages of that frightening event.

After the destruction Mascali was reborn impoverished. It had also lost the fields and vineyards on which it based  its economy. Fortunately, the town extends its municipal territory to the sea. So thanks to the coastal hamlets in the summer it economically focuses on mass tourism. The long pebble beaches and the shallow sea are ideal for relaxing during the summer.


Visit to the Church of the Nunziatella and the Basilica
contact the Diocese of Acireale – [email protected] – tel. 095/601102. Or the Municipality of Mascali:

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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