History of Aci Trezza


See Aci Trezza guide for highlights and historic monuments

The history of Aci Trezza is relatively recent, even if the territory is connected to events relating to the mythical Cyclops, Polyphemus and Ulysses. According to studies, in 1639 the community of ‘Aci Sant’Antonio e Filippo’ broke away from “Aci Aquilia”, becoming a feud of the Princes Riggio of Campofiorito.

Since Aci Trezza is close to the sea, Princes Riggio created in this area, in front of the “Faraglioni” [stacks], a small commercial port.

The rule by the Princes Riggio lasted for about a century, from the second half of the 17th to the late 18th century (they built a church which was later destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 - the present church dates from the late 18th century).

After the Riggio, Aci Trezza passed to the Bourbons, who joined the village to Aci Castello.

The country's economy was tied during the 19th century and part of the 20th to the fishery industry.

In recent years the small village had a substantial property development linked to tourism, and the tourism industry today is undoubtedly the primary source of income for Aci Trezza.

Etymology and the origins of the name Aci Trezza

Aci Trezza is a relatively “new” town, having been born in the 17th century, but explaining the origins of the name is substantially more complicated than explaining the town's history and it has a name still that poses significant problems of interpretation for scholars...

Explaining 'Aci'

With regard to the first part of the name, "Aci", the most common guess is that it derives from the river "Akis", not only mentioned by various Greek and Latin authors [1] but also by Al-Idrisi (1099-1165), the Arab geographer at the Court of the Norman King Roger (1095-1154):

"[…]To Catania six miles. To ‘Al-anqinah’ (‘Ognina’) three miles. To 'gazair Liag' (the islands of Aci, today 'Rocks of the Cyclops') three miles; to the river of Aci three miles […]" [2].

Some interesting thoughts on this name was due to an article by G. Libertini published in the early twentieth century, in which he informed us that in the village of Casalotto a stone was discovered with a bilingual (Greek and Latin) inscription, which mentioned a small town named "Akis" [“Aci”]:

"[...] In the third line is worth of mention the presence of the name of 'Aci' ("Akidos"). Some Greek writers mention only the river that flowed in this Etnean area, the etymology of which was inquired into its ‘rapid and linear’ flow [...]" [3].

As pointed out by Libertini, the etymology of "Akis" refers to the concept of something that moves forward "fast and straight" or "like an arrow", or in Greek "Akis" (spear, arrow) and "Ake" (point). Thus the river “Akis” was so named for being as swift as an arrow [4].

However, the question of the etymology of "Akis" is far from a foregone conclusion, and as we will see, the resolution of this problem includes important historical implications about the origins of the town called "Akis", located on the same river. In the "Etymological Dictionary of the Italian Language" we read:

"[...] 'Akis', or a sharp tool, connected with 'Ake' = Latin 'acies' ('point'). A kind of dagger or sword with a blade usually a bit curved down, of which made use the old hosts of the Medes, Persians and Scythians [...]" [5]

More recently, G. Caracausi notes that "Aci" could come from the Arabic “a qul”, meaning “thornwood” [6], while C. Saporetti stresses that we must accept the fact that in the “Dizionario di toponomastica” (1990) it is said that the term is certainly a word of ancient substratum, possibly of Sicanian origin, with the 'exclusion' of the Greek 'Akis' [7].

If we discard the possible Greek etymology, we're really floundering to explain the etymology, but Saporetti’s suggestion in regard to a Sicanian basis for “Akis” is a solid argument. In fact, there are some important historical and linguistic data that would suggest a possible etymology derived from the ancient Sicanian language.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to point out that there is a close relationship between the ancient Sicanians and the Ligurians, as Thucydides narrated (VI, 2), who told that the Sicanians-Ligurians of Iberian origin migrated to the island of “Trinacria” (Sicily), which for them was called “Sicania".

So with regard to the term Akis, it really seems to be of Sicanian origin. Today we have very sophisticated investigation tools; in this sense the book by C. Beretta [8], is very useful, because it analyzes the toponymy connecting it with the ethnic origin of the Ligurians. He notes that "the radicals of the place names reveal essentially the presence of Pre-Indo-European peoples throughout Liguria" [9].

Now we’ll go on to look the problem about the Sicani and and "Akis" from a different point of view. In the Sicanian area, with regard to "Akis", we have the typical masculine and feminine re-duplication "Akis-Akessa". This languistic datum allows us to qualify "Akis" as a typical "Sicanian" term; in fact “we attach place-names ending in ‘-essos’ to the Sicanian substrate when they also have the feminine gendre, such as ‘Akis-Akessa’” [10].

Let us now consider some Indo-European roots such as "Ak" and "Akw", meaning ‘water’ in the Indo-European languages” [11].
This very ancient Indo-European root is the basis of many names of rivers [such as “Secca” (Akw), “Tanagon” (Akw), “Bruchi” (Akw)], and also of mountains and sites inhabited by the Ligurians . C. Beretta mentions dozens of place names, rivers and mountains in Liguria called "Akw" [8][12]. Therefore "Akis" means "water" ("Akw"), and "Akis" is not a Greek, but a Sicanian name, and it does not mean "point" but just "water".

Having established that "Akis" is not of Greek origin, we must also add that it may not even be of Phoenician origin, as we read in some books. In fact, according to some scholars, "Akis" is a name of Phoenician origin:

"[...] in the current hamlets of ‘Reitana’, ‘Ansatane’ and ‘Capomulini’ there was a Phoenician 'emporium' favored by the proximity to the river Acis. This small town is documented in the Roman Imperial age with the name of 'Akis', and numerous archaeological evidences confirm the continuity of it until the Byzantine age (as the fortress of ‘Aci Castello’) to protect the coast and settlements [... ]" [13].

Instead, it is very likely that things are rather different. A plausible interpretation is that the Phoenicians, and then the Greeks, simply "merged" with the Sicanian inhabitants of "Akis", keeping the old place-name. But the Greeks were far more powerful than the Sicanians and Phoenicians, and they left an indelible mark in "Akis".

The Greeks basically "took over" the ancient Sicanian name, giving it a new meaning etymologically linked to their legends, history, and myths, forever “eclipsing” the old Sicanian etymology, which just interpreted “Akis" only such as “water". G. Devoto, with an intelligent remark, said that:

"[...] 'Ak', 'Ap', 'Up', are the objective definition of ‘water’ (...) The water of the great rivers stirred the imagination of primitives because it is the symbol (…) of vitality, healing, cleansing and purification, susceptible of religious interpretations [...]" [14]

The waters of the river "Akis" suggested a famous Greek legend, sung by a host of poets, about the love of Aci and Galatea (etymologically “Galàteia”, or “milky-white”) who, according to the Greek-Sicilian myth, saw her lover killed by Polyphemus, who, in love with her and mad with jealousy, crushed Aci under a rock. The Greek myth tells about the affliction of the nymph Galatea, who changed the blood of Aci into "waters as fast as an arrow", which flee gurgling under the rocks that with their weight crushed the hapless lover.

Metaphorically we can say that the rock of Polyphemus (= the Greeks) "crushed" for ever the ancient indigenous Sicanian culture (= “Akis” = water), causing the complete victory of the "point" against “water.”

The “Kingdom of Polyphemus”, where even today we can see the "Rocks of the Cyclops", was “a pointed land”, as Ulysses said. While Ulysses was in the cave of the Cyclops the latter asked him to show him his landing place. And Ulysses answered: "Where your land ends and enters the sea with a ‘big point’" (now called “Capo Mulini”).

Explaining 'Trezza'

With regard to the "Trezza" part of the place-name (known in Sicilian dialect as "Trizza"), many critics seem to accept the conclusions of E. Blanco, according to whom the term means "the place where they worked the braid [“treccia”] cord" [15].

This etymology is almost certainly correct, because in this area, in the early 17th century, there were several manufactories run by merchants from Acireale who produced braid cord. According to E. Blanco, "Aci" was added to "Trezza" in the second half of the 17th century.

In conclusion, we can translate the name of ‘Aci Trezza’ as the “Harbour of the braided cords”, which fits perfectly for a village essentially made up of a community that for centuries worked the braid cords, and then devoted itself primarily to fishery.

Visit our Aci Trezza travel guide for tourist and travel information.

References

1. Ovid. Met., XIII, 750; Sil. Ital ., XIV, 221-226

2. See Al Idrisi, “L’italia descritta nel ‘Libro di Ruggero’”,  edited by M. Amari, Salviucci, 1883: 67

3. See G. Libertini, “Sicilia. Scoperte a Casalotto”, in “Atti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei”, “Notizie degli scavi dell'antichità”, Rome, 1922: 495

4. See M.A. Marchi, “Dizionario tecnico, etimologico e filologico”, Milan, Pirola, 1828: 7

5. See O. Pianigiani,“Vocabolario etimologico della Lingua italiana”, Segati, 1907: 14

6. See G. Caracausi, “Dizionario onomastico della Sicilia”, Palermo, Epos, 1994, Vol. I: 13

7. “Saggi su il Ghilgameš”,  Simonelli, 2003: 204 note 236

8. "The names of Rivers, Mounts, sites. Prehistoric Linguistic Structures", Hoepli, 2003: 301

9. "The names of Rivers, Mounts, sites. Prehistoric Linguistic Structures", Hoepli, 2003: p. 261

10. See, U. Pestalozza, “Pagine di religione mediterranea”, Principato , 1945, Vol. 2: 92  and “Kokalos”, 1965: 229

11. See M. Cortelazzo, "Guide to the Italian dialects”, Cleup, 1979: 13

12. See pp. 289-303

13. See “Architettura judaica in Italia”, Flaccovio, 1994: 142

14. See G. Devoto, “Origini Indoeuropee”, Sansoni, 1962: 238

15. See E. Blanco, "Trizza. Origins", Acireale, Sicilgrafica, 1993: 370