History of Centuripe, Italy


See Centuripe guide for highlights and historic monuments

Centuripe, called "Kentoripa" (or "Kentoripai") in Greek according to scholars, was a Hellenized city, which was founded by the Sikels.

The story of its discovery was described by G. Libertini (born 1888), one of the greatest scholars of Centuripe and younger colleague of Paolo Orsi (1859-1935), who conducted the first excavations on the site of Centuripe, which was:

"[...] systematically explored by P. Orsi in a series of excavations that took place between 1907 and 1909, and  after some time, in the years 1918 and 1932 [...]" [1]

Centuripe is situated 700 meters above  sea-level, in front of  Mount Etna and it is for this strategic location and the fertility of the soil that it was an important city of the Sikels. According to recent map-making surveys:

"particularly effective for the representation of the city is the map of Centorbi, the modern Centuripe, built on top of a hill that has maintained throughout its history the ancient characteristics” [2].

Ancient Greek period in Centuripe

The ancient "Kentoripa" of the Sikels was soon involved in a tumultuous process of Hellenization by the powerful Syracuse.

With regard to Centuripe, the conditions of servitude to Syracuse were exacerbated by the constant presence of Syracusan garrisons. Diodorus [90-27 BC] spoke of Centuripe as a city tha was a "ypo frouroumène Agathocleous" (fortress of Agathocles,[381-282 BC]). Centuripe allied with Dinocrates (an enemy of Agathocles, who had exiled him) against Syracuse. According to S. N. Consolo Langher:

"[...] the military operations were directed by Ninfodoro, the lieutenant of Dinocrates, who could count on the local population (...) But the attempt failed and Ninfodoro was killed by the garrison of Syracuse. The same fate was reserved (…) for the inhabitants who answered for the plot […]” [3].

Roman history in Centuripe

The fortune and wealth of Centuripe increased from Roman times. During the Republican period the city, which held a privileged relationship with Rome, became one of the most flourishing cities in Sicily:

"Centuripe had a certain splendour in the age of Hadrian (76-138 AD) and of the Antonines (from 96 to 192 AD). With regard to the Adrian age (...) we recall a colossal statue erected in honour of the emperor who perhaps stayed here during his visit to Sicily, and as regard the Antonines age there are some monuments and inscriptions which date surely from that time" [4].

Moreover, we have to consider the fact that there existed “cognatio” relations between Rome and Centuripe - that is, the same “Trojan” origin which joined Centuripe with the Latin colony of Lanuvium (and with Rome), as evidenced by the casual finding, which occurred in 1962 in a district of  Centuripe, of a slab of limestone on which was engraved an inscription written in a Doric dialect which has given us knowledge of the oldest "town twinning" of the Ancient World.

Centuripe after the Romans

During Roman times Centuripe was the main location of ceramics production, but under the Byzantines the art of pottery began to decline. During Byzantine times Centuripe was a bishopric, and a gold solidus of Byzantine times was accidentally discovered in 1952.

“Centorbi” is the vulgar form of “Centorbium”, a city mentioned by the Benedictine monk Godfrey Malaterra (11th century) in his Chronicle of the 11th century, and it responds to the ancient Centuripe. The Normans were not able to occupy Centuripe, the fortified city from which the Arabs controlled all the plain of Catania.

Godfrey Malaterra (2. 15) described the attack of the Normans and the resistance of the Arabs like this:

“Though by no means ignorant of the vigour of the Normans, the people of Centuripe were not afraid to die. Not wanting to serve the Normans in any way, they armed themselves in defense of their city and of their ramparts. While our men were valiantly attacking the city, they appreciated the dangers posed by catapults and archers that the defenders of Centuripe were using against them...

... Realizing that they would not be able to accomplish anyting against the city without the loss of many of their own men, they aborted their assault. Besides they had heard reports that an attack by the Saracen army was imminent, so they opted to save themselves, lest the approachin army find them distressed and diminished in number” [8].

The city was destroyed by Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) in 1232  and its inhabitants were sent to populate the new city of Augusta, founded by Frederick II himself.

Abandoned Centuripe in the 13th century - and subsequent rebuilding

The phenomenon of  the farmland abandon of Centuripe after the 13th century  is certainly connected with the siege and destruction by Frederick II and then by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285) in 1268, so in 1293 the city was referred to as "exhabitata" (uninhabited ).

Centuripe was repopulated in the early 1500's by Francesco Moncada, who founded the new city in 1548.

The economy of Centuripe was predominantly agricultural until the 19th century, when suphur mines were discovered. During the Second World War the town suffered violent bombings.

Today the archaeological finds of Centuripe are preserved not only in the city's Archaeological Museum, but also in major museums around the world such as Berlin, London and New York.

Origins of the name Centuripe

The etymological and linguistic data confirm the historical tradition:

"According to Pareti, the Sikels spoke an Italic language similar to Latin, and this explains how the Romans and the Sikels, using similar dialects, easily understood each other” [5]..."Many local names of ancient Sicily are interpreted with the Indo-European and therefore they belong to the language of the Sikels. Among these words there is 'Kentoripa' / Latin ‘Centuripae’ ( Italian ‘Centorbi’), and the second part of the name is to be compared with the Latin 'ripa', from '-rei, rei-pa' =  rocky coast" [6].

So in fact, from the etymological point of view, it would seem that Centuripe comes from "Centum Ripae" (meaning "one hundred rocky coasts"). However there are doubts. For example, it was pointed out that:

"with difficulty Centuripe comes from ‘centum repae’, because the syncope shows that the ancient form of the name was 'Centur-i-pae', with the short 'i' " [7].

However, beyond these subtleties, there is not an alternative etymology to the traditional "Centum Ripae".

See Centuripe for travel information and guide.

References

1. See G. Libertini, in in “Atti dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Notizie degli scavi di antichità”, 1947, Vol. I

2. See A. M. Pace, “L'immagine del repertorio”, in “Repertorio Cartografico e Aerofotografico”, Regione Sicilia, Palermo, 2010, p. 21

3. See S.N. Consolo Langher, “La politica di Agatocle e I caratteri della tradizione dal conflitto con Messana alla battaglia presso il fiume Imera (315-310 BC)”, p. 66 ff. and notes

4. See ref 1, G. Libertini, p. 19

5. See F. Milone, “Sicilia: la natura e l'uomo”, Boringhieri, 1960, p. 124

6. See G. .B. Pellegrini," Toponomastica italiana. .. ", 1990,  p. 55

7. See“Studi e saggi linguistici” , 1968, p. 87 note 187

8. See G. Malaterra, “The deeds of Count Roger ...”, edited by Kenneth Baxter Wolf, University of Michigan Press, 2005, p. 93