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There is a small town “on the way” that leads to some of the most beautiful places on Mount Etna. This village bears an important name, Piedimonte Etneo, which indicates its being at the foot (piedi) of the famous mountain (monte). Yet few people stop here and let themselves be fascinated by its history and its products. Do it yourself, if you travel to the north flank of the volcano. Make a stop in Piedimonte, especially if you are here during the harvest period, in mid-September. You will not regret it.

Piedimonte Etneo and wine

Piedimonte was born in the 17th century as a land possession of Baron Gravina-Cruyllas of Palagonia. The fiefdom was called “Belvedere” (beautiful view) for the spectacular views of the top of Etna and the surrounding fields. Already at the time there were vines that dominated local production. At the center of this territory, the baron’s son had a house called “Villa Pie ‘Monte” built. But the name of the place remained Belvedere for two more centuries. Only with the unification of Italy, for obvious reasons, the name Pie’Monte, or Piedimonte, was preferred. The word “Etneo” was added later on, so to distinguish it from similar names that the Savoy king from Piedmont had left throughout the brand new nation.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, despite alternating unfortunate events related to politics and the management of the local economy, Piedimonte continued to carry on the tradition of good wine. Though the last seventy years saw local agriculture specializing in greenhouse and citrus crops, the vine has still remained an undisputed symbol. Not surprisingly, the grape harvest festival in Piedimonte is a spectacular event. The festival involves the whole town, in its historical heart, and includes: parades of folk groups in traditional costume, dance of the grapes pressing, tastings. Sometimes, even the “wine fountain” has made a fine show of itself, dripping sweet red liquid in the middle of the main square!

photo from leviedeitesori com

A sightseeing tour in Piedimonte

Before tasting the excellent wine, the delicacies of the countryside and of the local breeding, take a small tour around the town. Piedimonte is full of churches and convents. In particular, the following are important: the Main Church of Our Lady of Rosary, the church of St. Ignazio, the Capuchin convent, the Sanctuary of St. Gerardo, the abbey of the Archangel St Michael. The latter is a precious monument because it dates back to the 12th century. It is part of the so-called “Basilian” monuments that reflect the era in which this monastic order was powerful throughout the Mediterranean. Today only the small church remains but still bears the signs of that important past.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Vena consists of a church from the 1930s, but with a thousand-year history. The first Christian temple here probably dated back to the 6th century, built by the Basilians after the Virgin showed them the exact place “by making a vein (vena) of water gush out of the ground”. The icon they worship here is a wooden table with an image of Mary and the Child of clear Byzantine style (and perhaps also of the period). From the large balcony of the sanctuary you can enjoy a spectacular view of the town and the coast.

The most evident and beautiful symbol of Piedimonte, however, is the San Fratello Gate. Today it consists of two large lava stone columns that once held the hinges of a gigantic door. This served as a border between the property of the Gravina-Cruyllas and that of the Princes of San Fratello. According to other traditions, the name is due to the altar dedicated to the martyr brothers Alfio, Cirino and Filadelfo which stood here before the gate. The real door, of course, no longer exists today and the State Street that leads to Etna passes through the two columns.

A funny thing about Piedimonte

Here is a funny curiosity about Piedimonte. For some time, at the beginning of the 2000s, the town became famous nation-wide thanks to a particular road sign. The indication for the sanctuary of Vena, in fact, was located under the indications for the headquarters of the Medical Guard and for the town of Presa. So that anyone who read all the signals found written: guardia medica-vena-presa (which you can translate as: medical guard-vein-taken). The irony for the possible “ability to take blood tests” of the local medical guard even went viral on the then newborn “social networks”.

Other useful information

Piedimonte Etneo is located between the splendid Fiumefreddo Riviera, a preview of the Taormina beaches, and the town of Linguaglossa, with its woods and mountain paths. Not far away is also the medieval village of Calatabiano, with the castle that can be visited.

To reach Piedimonte and its fascinating surroundings, the quickest way is the A18 Messina-Catania motorway (Fiumefreddo exit) – or alternatively the State Street 114 Messina-Siracusa – then following from Fiumefreddo the road signs to the SS 120.

By train you always get off at Fiumefreddo station. The nearest airport is Catania-Fontanarossa, 56 km from the town.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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