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When Mount Etna is erupting and you are looking for a spectacular place to take pictures – even comfortably, while enjoying a coffee or the cool of the evening – go to Trecastagni. From this delightful village located at the foot of the southern flank of the volcano, Etna can be admired from various points. Sometimes it emerges surprisingly between an alley and a courtyard, other times it soars behind an ancient tower or a bell tower . And then, there is the square of the sanctuary, wide open on the bulk of the mountain. And if this panorama is not enough for you, facing south you can admire Catania and the coast up to Augusta. It is no coincidence that Trecastagni is considered the balcony of Etna.

Trecastagni and the misunderstanding of the name

Tourists arriving in Trecastagni expect to find … exactly … trees (“tre castagni” in Italian means “three chestnut trees”). But the name has nothing to do with plants. The ancient Roman origin is very probable, referring to three military defense camps (called “castri”). From which the name Tri Castra, which later became Tre Casta and Trecastagni.

But the strongest tradition, and the one most deeply felt also by the devotion of the people, is linked to the three martyr saints protectors of the town: Alfio, Cirino and Filadelfo. These young brothers, Christian preachers in times of Roman persecution, were taken prisoner to Lentini – where they were killed. And along the way they stopped at these volcanic hills. Pure as lambs (“agni”, in Latin), they left their memory there forever. So today the area bears the name of the Tre Casti Agni.

If you pass by Trecastagni, then, don’t look for trees … but for altars, statues of saints and prayers!

What to see in Trecastagni

Populations have always lived among the ancient extinct craters that form the territory of the town since the time of the Sicilians and the Greeks. However, certain proof of the existence of an urban center can only be found from the 14th century onwards. It was certainly a place of notable prestige, given that in 1614 it became a principality and kept this privilege until the 19th century when Trecastagni had the right to its own representative in the Sicilian Parliament.

trecastagni (2)
church of St Nicholas of Bari

The monuments still testify to this nobility today. These are buildings almost all built in the 18th century, in fact Trecastagni was razed to the ground by the earthquake of 1693 which caused the death of 3000 people (out of a total of 5000 inhabitants).

One of the oldest monuments in the town is a lava stone tower called “il Mulino” (the mill) which dates back to the 16th century. On the other hand, the Palace of Prince Di Giovanni dates back to the 17th century. The largest and most important church is the Sanctuary of Saints Alfio, Cirino and Filadelfo (1650) in white stone and lava stone, richly decorated inside with frescoes and  paintings. The precious statues of the three saints are also kept there. The most beautiful church, however, is located on top of the highest hill in the town. It is the main church of St. Nicholas of  Bari. Its current structure – with the central bell tower ending in a high spire and the elegant staircase in the churchyard – was built after the earthquake of 1693, but the church internally preserves evidence of its antiquity (dating back to the 14th century!). Next to the main church there is a panoramic garden overlooking the coast and the city of Catania.

The most beautiful sight to admire in Trecastagni, however, is Etna on eruption. If you happen to, sit down on the benches in Piazza Sant’Alfio, among the trees that decorate the Sanctuary’s churchyard and enjoy the lava fountains from a fantastic point of view!

Excursions among the craters …

For nature and hiking enthusiasts, Trecastagni will be a pleasantly surprising destination. In fact, all around the town there are ancient volcanic cones, now extinct -but still fascinating- craters. One of them – Monte Serra – is today a suburban park you can visit at specific hours. You can also explore the nearby Monte Gorna, Monte Ilice, Monte San Nicolò, Tre Monti. At the foot of Monte Ilice is a farmhouse that writer Verga made the protagonist of his novel Story of a Blackcap Bird. Between Monte Ilice and Monte Gorna there is a lava cave called Grotta Comune.

How to reach Trecastagni

From the center of Catania, follow the ring road exiting at Canalicchio to continue, from there, towards Trappeto, Tremestieri, Pedara and Trecastagni. From the A18 motorway you can exit at Acireale – continuing towards Aci Sant’Antonio, Viagrande and Trecastagni. Alternatively, exit at Catania-San Gregorio, taking the indication for Paese Etnei to go up from Viagrande.

The reference airport is Catania-Fontanarossa which is only 36 km from Trecastagni and can be reached in just under an hour’s journey, even by the local bus lines.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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