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If you want to live thoroughly Mount Etna you must also learn about its territory. A whole universe around it. Among so many big and small towns living on Etna’s products and tourism, we will tell you about Aci St Antonio (district of Catania). This is one of the nine “Aci Territory” towns, all belonging to an ancient fief of the Roman age. The most famous are Acireale and Aci Trezza, but Aci St Antonio is just a few kilometers away from them. You find it on the road to Mt Etna, but not so many tourists stop here. Which is a pity, because this is the town that gives birth to one of the most famous symbols of Sicily: the painted cart! Let’s go discovering this charming little city.

Story of Aci St Antonio

As the other “Aci towns” also Aci St Antonio started as the Greek colony of Xiphonia-Akis, once rising by the seaside. Due to so many war attacks from the sea, the inhabitants of the time left the coast. They looked for a safer place on top of the promontory of Timpa. Settled on the plateau overlooking the Ionian sea,  in 1169 around the castle of Casalotto the first village was born.

In the 17th century, the hamlet of Casalotto – as the others nearby – was completely absorbed by the large city of Aquilia Nuova (now Acireale). The troubles between the city and the small towns turned into a separation in 1826. Acireale on one side, the “smaller Acis” on the other. The hamlet of Casalotto became part of the parish church of Saints Antonio and Filippo’s territory. When it became fully independent, in the early 20th century, it took the name of Aci St Antonio, also dividing from the main parish church’s territory.

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sicilian cart photo by G Musumeci

Aci St Antonio, town of the Sicilian cart

A place of trade between the sea and the mountain, Aci St Antonio has always been the passageway for carters. However, during the 18th century, craftsmen developed here, capable of repairing carts and restoring them. The making and decoration of Sicilian carts thus became the economic – and today tourist – skill of the local people.

Among the great master craftsmen of the Sicilian cart we certainly remember Domenico Di Mauro, who died in 2016 at the age of 103. Today the tradition is continued by his children and his pupils . Among the best known modern names is that of a woman, Mrs. Nerina Chiarenza, master of decoration. Today Aci St Antonio celebrates this ancient art with a museum, located in Via Vittorio Emanuele. For information on visiting hours and days, you can call 095/4013333, or follow the facebook page on social networks

What to see in town

In Aci St Antonio the large number of churches is striking, very high for a medium-sized town. There are

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beautiful baroque churches

over ten of them, however only some are valid for tourism. The main church dedicated to St Anthony  is certainly a must visit. Built in the 16th century, it has a baroque façade typical of the 18th century, following the destruction of the earthquake of 1693. The church was in fact rebuilt during the 1700s . The decorations inside are by painter Alessandro Vasta and his pictorial school.

The churches of St Michael and St Biagio, both located a few meters from the main church, also date back to the seventeenth-eighteenth century period. The churches of the town’s three hamlets are also beautiful: the neoclassical St Maria de La Salette (at Lavinaio), the eighteenth-century St Anthony of Padua (at Monterosso) and the neo-Gothic church of St Maria La Stella dating back to the early 20th century in the village of the same name.

In addition to the aforementioned Sicilian Cart Museum, in Aci Sant’Antonio you can also admire a naturalistic area of ??enormous historical and botanical interest. The Wood of St Maria La Stella is in fact the last visible testimony of the much more ancient and famous “Bosco di Aci”. This forest  in ancient times covered the whole plateau climbing up to the foot of Mt Etna. Devastated by the Roman and Bourbon war industry and by constructions, today only a few and rare “spots” remain of this wood. The richest and most evident portion is instead this wild park located north-west of the town of St Maria La Stella.

Another interesting natural area is that of the Villa di Casalotto, the former park of the castle of the local lord and then an urban park for some time. Today it is in a state of neglect. But you can admire from a distance the beautiful stumps and oaks from which the ruins of an ancient Gothic-style church emerge.

The elegant and old Riggio-Carcaci palace, which stands at the end of the main street of the town, cannot be visited as it is being restored.

How to get there

To get to Aci Sant’Antonio, exit the Messina-Catania motorway at the Acireale junction and follow the appropriate directions. From the junction it takes  less than 10 minutes by car to get to the town. You can also visit the town while heading towards Etna. In fact two of its hamlets – Monterosso and Lavinaio – are already on the slopes of the great volcano and on the road that leads to Zafferana Etnea and Nicolosi. The reference airport is Catania. (THE PHOTO ABOVE THE TITLE IS BY PIERO PENNISI)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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