History of Carini

See Carini guide for highlights and historic monuments

Thanks to studies by V. Giustolisi the town of Carini is now identified as the ancient Hyccara, mentioned by Thucydides (460  –  395 BC). Hykkara was certainly a Sikan town in the end of the 5th century BC.

The domain of the Sikans extended to the district of Akragas (= Agrigento) to the south-east, while the north-west comprised the region of the Elimi, reaching the district of Hyccara in the northern part also to Palermo. It was destroyed by the Athenians and delivered by them to Segesta.

Thucydides (VI, 62, 3-4)  spoke about the Sikan city of Hykkara with regard to its conquest by the Athenians - he said that in the early 5th century BC the Athenians conqured Hyccara and enslaved all the inhabitants, that were later sold in part to their allies in Segesta. The occupation of Hyccara also entailed a massacre of the inhabitants of the city.

Lais of Hyccara

Among the survivors there was a woman known throughout the ancient world, a very beautiful young courtesan named Lais [etymologically, "the daughter of the people”]. According to tradition, she was taken to Corinth where she became the lover of famous philosophers like Aristippus (435-366 BC), Demosthenes (384-322 BC) and Diogenes the Cynic (404-323 BC):

“[…] Every year Aristippus was staying with her for two months in Aegina, on the feast of Poseidon, and this was described by his servant, who told him: 'You give her all this money and she gives it for free to the cynic Diogenes’. Aristippus said, 'I give gifts to Lais because I can enjoy her and not because she does not do it with others.’ And Diogenes once said: 'Aristippus, you live with a common prostitute.

"You have to convert to the cynical life , as I do, or you have to quit", Aristippus said, 'Do you think it is absurd to live in a house where others have lived?'. 'Certainly not', Diogenes said. 'And sailing with a ship in which others have already done this?' 'This is not even wrong'. Aristippus then concluded: "Therefore, it is not wrong to live with a woman whom others have enjoyed […]."

Apart from these drole stories about Lais, Luciano Canfora pointed out that while "Ninfodoro of Syracuse (4th-3th century BC), in his book" The Wonders of Sicily ", argued that Lais was born in "Hyccara, a guard post in Sicily", while in the comedy "The Macedonians" also called "Pausanias", Strattide said that she was born in Corinth" [1].

In fact, according to studies by L. Canfora, it seems that some problems have cropped up on the identification of the famous Lais of Hyccara, "the legendary courtesan who in the imagination of the Ancients embodied the ideal of beauty and seduction (...) In fact, love with the two philosophers generally referred to Lais ... refers to another Lais who lived since the mid-4th century BC" [2]. According to tradition, Lais "was killed by some women in Thessaly, for envy and jealousy, in fact, they hit her with a few wooden stools in the temple of Aphrodite" [2].

According to Thucydides, therefore, "Hyccara", was an ancient city of the Sikans, whose site was identified near “Monte d’Oro” of Montelepre, which was then allegedly moved in Late Roman, Byzantine and Arab times to the so-called "Contrada San Nicola", downstream of the current town of Carini [3].

The discovery of a polychrome mosaic in the area of Carini, perhaps from a villa or a paleo-Christian church, and the discovery of a catacomb in Villagrazia has suggested a continuity of life of ancient Hyccara, a settlement which is now considered one of the most important in north-west of Sicily.

In Byzantine times (7th-8th century) Carini was an important Diocese, and sources refer to Bishop Giovanni in 649 and then in 747 Constantius, Bishop of Carini ("Costantios episcopos Karinensis"), who participated in the Council of Nicaea [4].

Despite the presence of the Byzantines, the archaeological finds throughout the territory, with the ruins of various Christian  and Catholic churches, testify to the vitality of Roman Catholicism in the city and its surroundings. This is particularly evident in the Villa at Villagrazia of Carini:

"The investigation, including a number of paintings brought to light in recent years and the few objects so far recovered, show the intensive frequentation of this place, which we have divided into four main periods. At this moment we believe that the period of greatest attendance at the cemetery took place between the 4th and 6th centuries. The presence of graves until the Islamic conquest confirms  the mention of the "ecclesia carinensis" [Church of Carini] quoted in a letter of Pope Gregory the Great in 595, implying  the presence of a Christian community organized in a 'rural diocese' [6].

Arab Carini

In Arab times, Carini (then Qarinas) was mentioned in the tenth century by 'Al Muqaddasi (10th century AD) as a ‘mudun’ (= city) [10]. Carini is also mentioned among the region's coastal towns by the geographers Yaqut (1179-1229) and Ibn-Jubar (9th century AD).

Excavations in the area of Carini found "Islamic ceramics dating back to the second half of the 10th and first half of the 11th century, important for the archeology of Sicily (...) and there is no doubt that Carini in Late Roman and Byzantine times survived, albeit maintaining a reduced urban texture, as appears in the description of the palaces, markets and bathrooms that animate the colorful narrative of Idrisi” [11].

Norman Carini

In Norman times the castle and village of Carini arose, in the opinion of T. Fazello, on the ruins of the ancient city of Hyccara.

In the twelfth century it was a fiefdom of the Bonello’s Family; the castle (built around 1130 on a previous Byzantine ‘frourion’ [fortified outpost]) of Carini was confiscated by King William I (1131-1166) and assigned to the “Camera Reginale”, that is the dowry of the Queen.

In 1272 it still belonged to the State, and it was mentioned in the 'Statutum Castrorum Siciliae” [Statute of the castles of Sicily], drawn up by the Angevin Curia in 1272 [12].

For this type of castles the so-called 'consergio' was reported - this is a term of French origin referring to the keepers of the prisons of the castle, from 'concierge' or housekeeper, described by Larousse as an 'officer of the king' [13].

Later, the castle belonged to Palmerio Abbate, who also owned the castle of Favignana. Then it was bought by the Chiaramonte (doubtful, see below), and it belonged to the La Grua, who lived in it from time to time, as was the custom of the nobility who usually resided in Palermo. In 1397 the castle belonged to Ubertino La Grua.

The La Grua were Pisan merchants who ennobled themselves in the 14th century. In the first decades of the 15th century they reached the peak of their economic power, thanks to the production of sugar in the “trappeto” of Carini. They then went into a severe financial crisis in the late 15th century, and they were forced to sell many feuds (Misilmeri in 1486 and Vicari in 1500), keeping only Carini [14].

Around the middle of the 16th century, the family of the La Grua was at the centre of an obscure crime, which took over popular literature with a poem entitled "La Barunissa di Carini", which became very famous. Popular tradition told a particular version of the facts, because the material was very rough and the local lords were involved. The news story referred to by the poem took place in 1563 and involved the killing of the Baroness Laura, the wife of Baron La Grua, and her lover, the Chevalier Louis Vernagallo, with the killing carried out by the father of the Baroness, Don Cesare Lanza.

But the first storyteller could not tell what happened with accurate details and real names, because reasons of morality and honor required that the truth was concealed at least for a time. Therefore a version of the facts was given for which "the main character was Catherine, daughter of the Baron of Carini, killed by her father because she was guilty of a clandestine love (...) A document found in the state court of Palermo (...) describes the Court appearance of Don Cesare Lanza because of the legal proceedings against him by the Viceroy of Sicily" [15].

Antonio la grua, last of the line

Carini remained a feud of the La Grua until the mid-19th century, and the last Lord was Prince Antonio La Grua. Although not a person of great personality he held positions of great prestige. He was one of the subjects of the caricaturist Horace Vernet (1789-1863) and G. Gorgone-C. Cannelli  described him like this:

"The grotesque portrait of the Prince of Carini by Horace Vernet (…) is definitely related to the years between 1830 and 1835 (...) The Talamanca-La Grua, first principles and then Barons since 1622, were among the most illustrious families of the Kingdom of Sicily. Antonio La Grua was active in his diplomatic career, never forgetting his passion for artistic creation (…) The Prince of Carini discreetly painted, but did not have any credit as a diplomat".

Because he did not have a significant privilege he had a low standard of living, so that Lord Acton (1834-1904) called him "the ideal representative of a penniless fortune-hunter ... surely more appreciated was his wife, a daughter of the Napoleonic General Kellermann (...) In 1852, and for some years he was minister plenipotentiary in London and then in Berlin. He refused to go to Dresden (...) and he retired from public life by choosing Paris as his residence" [16].

Regarding Antonio La Grua as a painter, we should add that we have a single work, "a refined urban view, dated 1826, done in Rome." Among the "economic notes," we read: "Recently (1997) a large urban view was [bought] for about 100 million (Lit)" [17].

In the age of the “Risorgimento” Carini was involved in the revolutionary movements and the chronicles speak of a city sacked and almost destroyed by the troops of the Bourbons [18].

In the second half of the 20th century Carini was an area of considerable industrialization, on industries have stood since the 15th century such as the production of sugar, and today the area of Carini "counts industries belonging to different sectors, such as construction, chemicals, food, mechanical, plastics, ceramics and wood" [19].

To all this we must add that the area of Carini now also has goods, services and tourist facilities to meet all different needs.

Carini etymology

With regard to the etymology, Timaeus (5th century BC) said that the name derived from the fish known as 'ykes' [7].

The question of the etymology of Hykkara is rather complex, but by the second half of the 16th century abundant historical and learned literature was not only willing to confirm the location of Hyccara as being that of Carini (archaeological data have recognized Hykkara of Thucydides in the ruins of “Carbolangeli - Baglio Carini”), but also to agree with the etymology proposed by Timaeus, for whom, as we said, Hykkara derives from the name of some fishs of the place.

Against the hypothesis that Hyccara derived from Icarus, Bochart spoke in the 17th century: "Hyccara is not named from Icarus, as it is said in legends, but it derives from the Phoenician 'Icar', that is fishful, for which it was called Hyccara" [8].

Bochart, in his “Geographia Sacra”, with a microscopic study, wrote: "Hyccara was a fortified city of barbarian peoples (...) Timaeus derived its name from the Greek 'Hyccara', since the first men who came there, they found many fish called 'Hyccae'. I also believe that the name derives from the Punic word  'Hek-Caura' (...) that is fishful".

More recently, C.D. Yong explained: “Timaeus, in the thirteenth book of his Histories, speaking of Hyccara in Sicily says that this town derived its name from the circumstances of the first man who arrived at the place, finding abundance of the fish called hyces, and those too in a breeding condition; and they, taking this for an omen, called the place Hyccarus.

But Zenodotus (3th century BC) says that the Cyrenseans call the hyces the erythrinus...and Hermippus of Smyrna (third-century BC), in his essay on Hipponax (6th century BC), when he speaks of the 'hyces' means the 'iulis' (and says that it is very hard to catch!) [9].

See also Carini for travel information and visitor guide.


1. See L. Canfora," I deipnosofisti: libri XII-XV ", Salerno, 2001, p. 1503

2. See L. Canfora, pp. 1501 note 2 and 1502-1503

3. See “Pontificia commissione di archeologia sacra”, “Scavi e restauri nelle catacombe siciliane”, 2003, Vol. 3, p. 18

4. See “Archivio storico siciliano”, 1994, p. 42

5. See“Atti della Accademia di scienze, lettere e arti di Palermo”, 1984, p. 167

6. See R. M. Bonacasa Carra, “La catacomba di Villagrazia” in “Mare Internum”, 1, 2009, pp. 159 ff.

7. See“Economia e storia”,  Giuffrè, 1981, p. 19

8. See Samuelis Bocharti “Opera omnia”, 1707, p. 378 Column I)

9. Vedi “The Deipnosophists: or, Banquet of the learned, of Athenaeus”, literally translated by C.D. Yonge, with appendix of poetical fragments ..., London, 1854, p. 515

10. See M. Amari, Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula, Milan-Rome, 1880, V . II, p. 670

11. See “Pontificia commissione di archeologia sacra”, “Scavi e restauri nelle catacombe siciliane”, 2003, Vol. 3, pp. 28 sgg.

12. See “Archivio storico siciliano”, 1981. pp. 66 ff.

13. Vedi W. de Gruyter, “French and Italian lexical influences in German-speaking Switzerland (1550-1650)”, 1989, p. 56

14. See F. Maurici, "Illi de Domo et Familia Abbatellis ... ', 1985, p.19 and note 63

15. See G.B. Bronzini, “La Baronessa di Carini...” in "Lares", 1992, pp. 516 ff .

16. See G. Gorgone-C. Cannelli, “Antonio La Grua, Principe di Carini” in “I protagonisti del salotto delle 'caricature', in “Il salotto delle caricature. Acquerelli di Filippo Caetani”, 1999, pp. 76-77

17. See M. Agnellini, “Ottocento italiano: pittori e scultori : opere e mercato 1998-1999”, Istituto geografico de Agostini, 1998, p. 145

18. See for example P. Mattigara, "History of the Risorgimento of Italy ...", 1864, Vol . II, p. 199

19. See L. Scrofani, Palermo: direttrici di espansione e decentramento funzionale”, in “ Le città del Mezzogiorno”, a cura di R. Sommella, Angeli, 2008, p. 314