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As many other small towns in Sicily, Ragalna has the magic of a “double” name. One is connected to a tale, another to real history. It comes from the Arabic, meaning probably “the palace (rach) of Hanna”. But if you are a romantic soul you might prefer, instead, the meaning of raag (desert of stones) and al’na (wind). That is: the windy rocky place. Ragalna rises for sure on the southern flank of the volcano Mt Etna, a territory that really used to be rocky and dry. Today it is surrounded by green woods, a lovely holiday place for the people of nearby Paternò and Catania.

History of Ragalna

A small town of 5000 inhabitants, Ragalna rises at 830 meters asl. Green hills and the gigantic view of Etna’s craters are all around. It started as a hamlet gathered around a Norman monastery (12th century), then it became the feud of many noble families. It became a possession of the Prince Moncada in the 15th century..

In 1780, the small village of Ragalna was seriously threatened by an eruption of Etna. Here the miracle of the relics of St Barbara took place, as they were carried in procession from Paternò. The lava stopped before engulfing the village. Ragalna’s population increased during World War 2, when a large part of refugees fled to the mountain so to escape the bombing of Paternò. Some settled there forever. In 1985 it became an independent municipality, detaching itself – after five centuries – from the territory of Paternò.

RAGALNA territory02
photo from Google Maps

What to see in Ragalna and its territory

The old part of Ragalna is small and gathered around the nineteenth-century church of Our Lady of  Carmel, whose bell tower challenges the peaks of  Etna. Another important church for the town is the parish of St Barbara (1936). But the beauty of Ragalna is mostly shown in its territory, rich in natural wonders.

In the Serra La Nave area, already inside Mount Etna Regional Park, you can visit the grotto of St Barbara. The cave of the same name opens up in the former San Francesco Village. The grotto of Catanese is also very beautiful, a 20-meter long gallery with a pointed arched ceiling.

Park Nuova Gussonea is located just above the town, at 1700 meters asl on the southern flank of Etna. It is a botanical garden opened in 1979 so to preserve and show the typical volcanic flora. It also includes  particular rock formations created by the lava. Do not miss a visit to the interesting Museum of Palmento Arena, which illustrates how grapes are processed in order to give the excellent red Etna wine.

If you are in Ragalna, a visit to the medieval and baroque center of Paternò (church of Santa Barbara, Castello) is a must. Also go visit the site of the Salinelle, the mud volcanoes that rise a few steps from this city.

The Astrophysical Observatory

The seat of the Astrophysical Observatory falls within the Ragalna area. In the Serra La Nave area, at over 1700 asl, the observatory was inaugurated in 1966. In addition to modern instruments and research into astronomy, the observatory carries out many interesting events for schools.

Surrounded by oak and chestnut woods, with the particular presence of beech and birch trees, it is frequented by professional astronomers. They manage the visits and guided explanations for visitors, who can participate in the observation of the moon, stars and even the sun. Not far from the observatory, the plateau of Piano Vetore opens up. From there it is possible to enjoy exceptional shows during the eruptions of Etna.

How to get to Ragalna

From Catania, you can get to Ragalna driving  along the historic State Street 121 – which connects eastern and western Sicily. After Paternò, take the Ragalna exit or the nearby Scalilli junction. On the highway (A19 Catania-Palermo) the exit is Gerbini.

Those arriving from Messina and Taormina must follow the A18 highway to Catania, then take the ring road and follow the signs for Paternò and then to SS 121.

The reference airport is certainly Fontanarossa in Catania.

THE PHOTOS ARE: courtesy of (photo above the title) and Google Maps.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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