History of Bagheria


See Bagheria guide for highlights and historic monuments

The history of Bagheria and its founders is in many ways fascinating and "mysterious", things that even today excite the imagination and curiosity of visitors.

In ancient times Bagheria did not exist as a town - rather, there was a vast area known as Bagheria, populated only with rare scattered hamlets in the countryside, and dotted with watch towers that are still largely visible today, such as the Valdina Tower, which dates back to the 16th century.

In fact, an ancient medieval document refers to the land and the vineyards of a place called "Bayharie": "some vineyards located in the district called Bayharie" [1]. The same district is mentioned in documents signed by the notary Domenico di Leo (15th century), where one speaks of the “Contrada Bayharia, next to the vineyard of Pietro Liotta” [2].

Current Bagheria, like many cities in Sicily, is a "New Town", in that it was founded in the mid-17th century, in the context of the re-population of the immense Sicilians estates and the need to increase the agricultural yield of the lands to meet the food needs of the local populations.

Founding of modern Bagheria

This new village of Bagheria was built by Giuseppe Branciforti (1661-1698), Prince of Pietraperzia and Leonforte, Earl of Raccuja, and Knight of the Golden Fleece, who built for himself not so much a villa as a real palace. Branciforti, after political disappointment suffered when his access to the throne vanished withr the death of Philip IV, decided in 1658 to retire to private life in the area of Bagheria, building a sumptuous villa around which a small village formed.

In 1769, his nephew Salvatore Branciforti gave a first urban plan to the village, building the main street called the “Corso Butera”,  and the Mother Church.

Soon Bagheria was considered an ideal holiday destination by the aristocracy of Palermo, and because of its climatic and natural conditions the area was selected by many members of the aristocracy to build their villas in the 18th century, of Baroque style.

The village in the first half of the 18th century continued to grow because of the many villas under construction. In fact, in 1715 Ferdinando Francesco Gravina (died in 1736), the Prince of Palagonia, began construction of his villa and in subsequent years so did the prince of Cattolica, the Prince of Comitini, the Prince of Larderia, the Duke of Villarosa, the Prince of San Cataldo, and Princess Valguarnera.

At the beginning of the 19th century Bagheria was awarded the privilege to set itself up as an independent Municipality, and during the 19th century it actively participated in the “Risorgimento”, finally entering into the Kingdom of Italy with the Unification of 1861.

Today Bagheria continues its traditional economic activities related to agriculture, but now also accompanying them with a significant tourist industry thanks to its remarkable heritage, formed by its monuments, and especially the magnificent villas built in the 18th century.

Origins of the name Bagheria

About the etymology of Bagheria, we note that the hypothesis  suggested by ancient and contemporary scholars are very different. These are summarised by V. D'Amico, who wrote in the mid-19th century:

"[...] There are various opinions about the term "Bagheria," Latin ‘Bayharia’. Scandio calls it ‘Bacharia’ from a temple of Bacchus, as it is abundant in fine wines, but we have no historical documents to that effect. Thomas Fazello  states that Bagheria derives from an Arabic name which indicates a ‘gritty soil’ and is subject to landslides. Cascino defines it as "maritime land" because it is washed by the sea and it enjoys a view of the bays of Palermo and Termini, because "Bahar" among the Arabs means ‘sea’...

... Francesco Agio, very skilful with foreign languages, called it ‘Bahria’, from which may have resulted the term ‘Bagheria’, derived from a Punic word meaning "big fly", and some people believe that this expression is related to a kind of ‘omen of dead calm’". In addition to these etymologies, we observe that nowadays people add another to them ; Bagheria was once rich in cattle, so it was called in the local dialect ‘Baccara’, and now  ‘Baar’ [...] " [3].

As we can see, there are very many possible etymologies, to which has recently been added another that would mean "The door of the Wind."

However, beyond the more or less poetic assumptions, the critics tends to give credit to the last case mentioned by V. D'Amico, i.e. one that is rooted in history, when the area was very rich in cattle. This hypothesis  is reinforced by G.B. Pellegrini, who writes:

"[...] ‘Bagheria’, ‘Bagaria’, ‘Baarìa’ means a cowshed" (words used in the Palermo area) [...]" [4].

The “Archivio storico per la Sicilia orientale” is basically in agreement, because, under the term ‘Bagheria’, one reads:

“ ‘Bbuvaria,’ ‘vuarìa’ , a cattle-shed, a place where the cows are collected or milked" [5].

G.M. Barbera, who studied the term 'Bagheria' from the phonetic point of view in the transition from the Arabic to the Sicilian language, writes:

“'Behrìa,' which we should write ‘Bahrîa’, with the circumflex accent, would be the correct etymology (…) Being slightly guttural, the second Arab radical letter is prounced with a 'g', so the ancient inhabitants probably said 'Bagra' or 'Bagarìa' and later they said 'Baghìra', and finally with a more gentleness in the Italian language 'Bagherìa' , as one says nowadays. But the common people pronounce with the Arabic form 'Baar' " [6].

The “Archivio glottologico italiano” also refers to the dialect expression “Jamu a Bagarìa’, or ‘let's go to the cattle-shed’, from the Arabic ‘Baqar’ (cattle) [7].

See also the Bagheria guide for travel and visitors.

References

1. See, G. di Marzo, “I Gagini e la scultura in Sicilia”, Bibliobazaar, 2010: 94

2. See “The Jews in Sicily. Notaries of Palermo and Trapani”, Brill, 2008 , Vol. 14:  9052

3. See V. D'Amico, “Topographical Dictionary of Sicily”, Palermo, 1855, Vol. I: 120

4. See G.B. Pellegrini, “Terminologia geografica araba in Sicilia” , University of Trieste, 1961: 15

5. See “Historical Archive for the Eastern Sicily”, 1957: 82

6. See G.M. Barbera, “A tu per tu con Pluto e Nembrotte”,  Salesian Printing School, 2008: 2-3

7. See “Archivio glottologico italiano”  , Le Monnier, 1895: 71 and G.B. Pellegrini, “Gli arabismi nelle lingue neolatine” , Paideia, 1972: 286, "Baqar = cattle"