History, folklore and gastronomy blend together perfectly in Caltanissetta, a splendid province in the heart of Sicily.
The city's roots are sowed deep in history, showcasing archaeological finds and splendid castles scattered all over its territory. Its history has undergone numerous transitions between the Greek, Roman, Norman, Swabian, Anjou, Aragonese and Castilian rules – all having left their imprint.
The peak of the Province's grandeur is linked to exploitation of the local sulphur mines, part of Caltanissetta’s historical-natural legacy.
The landscape still speaks of the ancient mines, with their wells and tunnels engraved into the mountain's profile. Dry, yellow-colored hills trace the profile of this area, but in spring the panorama changes, taking on an intense green hue.
Gentle hills slope down towards the coastline reaching the Provincial outlet to the sea.
The vibrant colors of olive groves, vineyards and citrus orchards paint the entire province in an unequivocal contrast to the sea.
In fact, Caltanisetta's northern zone is mountainous, with hills and broad valleys, and offers an excellent environment for the cultivation of nut trees, vineyards and olives.
An open-air museum, Caltanisetta's cultural offerings can be divided into Medieval and archaeological itineraries.
The former consists of visits to the principal castles and lookout towers found all over the territory. This is also a good occasion to visit the many religious buildings that reveal interesting surprises.
One of the most amazing castles is that of Mussomeli, dating back to the 14th Century, but later modified with crenellated walls and a square tower. The legend here is that three sisters were buried alive in one of the halls, now known as the “Hall of the Three Sisters.”
Perched on a rocky crag is the well-preserved castle of Delia, where visitors can enjoy a splendid view over the surrounding territory.
Butera, located in the plain next to the coast, can be easily recognized for its castle that hovers over the village.
At the Mediterranean port of Gela is the Castello di Terranova, composed of a square floor plan with four square towers; and the Castelluccio, equally worth the visit.
Then, in Manfria, a short distance from the port, a defense tower rises on a hill, looking out over the Gulf of Gela.
Gela was one of the biggest Greek colonies in Sicily, and past excavations of the Acropolis brought to light two Doric temples, one of which is dedicated to Athena. Interesting finds also emerged in Bosco Littorio, the ancient colony's marketplace.
Observe the fortified walls at Capo Soprano; they are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient Greek military defensive structures.
On a hill not far away from Caltanissetta, we can visit the Archaeological park of Gibil Gabib, with its defensive tower and parts of the perimeter walls - along with other finds - tracing back to the 6th Century B.C.
Vassallaggi, once the site of a necropolis, also stimulates great interest due to its cave tombs, where many funeral objects have been found, including ceramic vases, rings, buckles, bronze plates and knives.
Not to miss in Caltanissetta are the Castle of Pietrarossa; the beautiful Cathedral with its two tall bell towers; the Abbey of Santo Spirito, once a fortified country house transformed into a church by the Normans; and the Church of St. Agatha, its interior richly embellished with polychromatic marble and a Greek-cross floor plan.
Finally, three museums take the cake in Caltanissetta: the Diocesan Museum, the Minerology Museum, and the new Regional Archaeological Museum.
Caltanisetta's extremely variable landscape is a play of colors and light that is continually punctuated by the green of Mediterranean vegetation and the blue of its lakes and rivers, from Imera to Platani.
A natural itinerary through the Province of Caltanissetta allows visitors to see its constellation of nature reserves that lie throughout the Province.
Close to Marianopoli, in the area of Cozzo Pertichino, lies the Sfondato (or Bottomless) Lake, surrounded by thick woods, enchanting with their wild orchids. Another fascinating water basin is Lake Soprano, hosting various animal and bird species.
South of Campofranco is Monte Conca, another exceptional natural reserve. This reserve is very much suited to adventurous pursuits, from trekking to speleology. The entire area in fact is characterized by the presence of numerous caves.
The journey then proceeds towards Niscemi, famous for its rich reserve of cork oaks and for the colors of its flowers and butterflies that populate the area. Just next to the sea, we find other environments that present such a stark contrast to the aforementioned.
The Reserve of Lake Biviere is a land of beech orchids, white brooms and bluebottles. This is the perfect destination for naturalists and bird watchers to observe the most varied types of birds: ducks, ash-grey herons and pendulines.
Caltanissetta's culinary traditions are based on simple but tasty dishes, cooked with healthy and natural ingredients.
Among the first courses to try are the baked rice - richly seasoned with mortadella - eggs, eggplant (aubergine), pork meat and cheese, and the vegetable soup pitirri.
Very flavorful are the fuate - stuffed flatbreads - and focaccia stuffed with sardines, oregano and pecorino cheese.
Oven-cooked chicken with caciocavallo cheese, grated breadcrumbs and lemon, or grilled cockerel first marinated in oil, parsley and lemon, then aromatized with mustard are equally appetizing.
In Sicily, we can also taste the sweet version of the arancine. The preparation is the same, while the filling consists of amarena cherry preserves.
Also on the pastry tray are nougat torrone with honey, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and almond paste.
Then, the buccellati are pastries filled with dried figs, nuts, roasted almonds, cinnamon, honey, chocolate drops and zuccata. Finally, try the mastazzola, stuffed pastry with nuts and roasted almonds, nut kernels, cinnamon and cloves.
The Cerasuolo della Vittoria DOCG wine is the label that leads the territory’s wine production. Dry red wine, full-bodied and round, pairs perfectly with roasted meats, braised beef and other game used in the Sicilian version of shish kebabs, and with matured and spicy cheeses.
Caltanissetta is also a land of superb liqueurs. It is here in fact that one of the most renowned Italian digestive amari or bitters are produced.