History of Motta Sant'Anastasia, Italy

See Motta Sant'Anastasia guide for highlights and historic monuments

In the Middle Ages Motta Sant'Anastasia belonged to the Diocese of Catania; in fact, as we know:

"from Catania to Aci the territory of the Bishopric spread towards Paterno Adernò, San'Anastasia and Centorbi" [1].

Goods belonging to the bishopric:

"are Iato with all its appurtenances, Paterno, with all its appurtenances, Adernò and S. Anastasia with all its appurtenances" [2].

In 1091 the city passed to the Normans (in fact, G. Conte track downed the name of "Sanctae Anastasiae" in a document of 1091 [3]). By the 14th century the city belonged to Henry called "The Red" [Enrico il Rosso], the Chancellor of the Aragoneses, who took away it to the Diocese of Catania:

"S. Motta Anastasia  (...) also Henry the Red was Lord of  Motta" [10].

In 1388 the "castrum Mocte Sancte Anastasie" is mentioned in a will [11]. In fact, in 1389 Artale I (died 1389) of the Alagona family left "to his legitimate daughter, Mary, Augusta,  Paterno, Troina and Motta S. Anastasia" [12]. In contrast to other places called "Motta", which had a "short-life”, Motta S. Anastasia, "already a 'Castrum' in Norman times, was destined to grow until later days" [13].

Under the reign of King Martin, Motta S. Anastasia passed to Sancho de Ruis Lihori and it was later a feud of the Moncada, who ruled it for many centuries.

Today, Motta Sant'Anastasia is a city that responds to the great demand for cultural tourism, not only with its artistic and archaeological heritage, but also through the persistence of ancient craft traditions, such as the manufacture of furniture and wrought iron products.

The ancient Greek-Roman origins of Motta Sant'Anastasia

If medieval sources have given us a rather accurate picture of "Sancte Anastasie", no less important are the results of archaeological excavations that have discovered various artifacts that allow us to learn more about this ancient Greek-Roman city . In this sense a study by Daniel Malfitana, who gives us a historical picture of "Motta Santa Anastasia" in the Ancient World, is very important:

"Because of the absence of ancient literary sources, it was not possible to determine precisely the exact name of the city. It was only from the second half of the 16th century onward that scholars started the first attempts to identify the ancient city by means of place names mentioned in the 'Verrine' by Cicero (106-43 BC), Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC) and Pliny(23-79 AD). The first hypotheses identified the city with the ancient 'Tissai', or 'Piakos', or 'Tynkinai'. However, the problem, because of the lack of more secure 'evidence', is destined to remain essentially unsolved." [14].

After the first studies initiated by Baron Paul Vagliasindi and Antonio Salinas, the crucial phase of the research was started, as usual, by Paolo Orsi (1859-1935):

"The third phase of the research coincided with the presence in Sicily of  P. Orsi, who in just nine days from 18 to 26 May 1906 (...) made some rapid tests in the same area.” The results of the excavations convinced P. Orsi that he was faced with a site of Greek origin: “The shape of the tombs, ritual, and the vast majority of furniture clearly show the Greek origin of this necropolis, and it shows that the penetration of the Greeks occurred at the end of the sixth century BC along the easy valley of the 'Akesines' River" [15].

The materials found by P. Orsi included Corinthian pottery, a 'band-cup' with black figures attributed to the "Painter of Tleson', a crater with small columns attributed to the “Painter of Pan” and a “squat lekythos”, attributed to the disciples of the “Painter of  Seireniske”, dating from the late fifth century BC [16].

Other important lekytoi with black figures were attributed to the “Painter of Haimon” (a pottery decorator who preferred the Sicilian market) and the “Painter of Phanyllis” [17]. G. Malfitana pointed out that the materials of great value found in Sant'Anastasia aroused considerable surprise among scholars, who then expanded on the subject and concluded that the site of St. Anastasia, close to Randazzo, was located along a road of important trade.

The Alcantara river, the ancient "Akesines" mentioned by P. Orsi [the Arabs called it 'al-Kantara,' which in their language means 'bridge' [18], which rises near Randazzo, formed the axis on which in ancient times there developed towns and cities that had a remarkable cultural vitality, as evidenced by the artifacts of great artistic value found in this area.

Origins of the name Motta Sant'Anastasia

The name Sant'Anastasia is presumably of Byzantine origin, and it means "resurrection"; or, as the ancient annotators explained:

"Anastasia derives from 'ana', that is 'on high' and 'stasis' = status, that means ‘on who is above vices and sins to follow the path of virtue’" [4].

When writing about the blameless life of St. Anastasia, Jacobus de Voragine said:

“Anastasia was the daughter of an important Roman imperial official, but of pagan religion; by her Christian mother named Fantasta  and by Chrisogono she was raised in the Christian faith. Married to Publius, she always simulated a disease, to abstain from marital relations]"[5]

The name is connected with Byzantium and the Byzantine civilization:

"Anastasia is the name of a chapel in Constantinople, where St. Gregory of Nazianzius gathered Catholics, renewing, as he himself said, the word of truth. He called it sometimes a new Bethlehem = Resurrection." [6].

The Arabs preserved virtually unaltered the name of the saint, calling it "Nastasiah".

In the 14th century, next to St. Anastasia there appeared the name "Motta"; in fact, F. Maurici stresses that:

"until 1327 the city was called 'Saint Anastasia'. Al Idrisi (1099-1166) mentioned it without any specification about the type of settlement, and a diploma of 1169 speaks of the 'Castrum Sanctae Anastasiae', so indicating the entire city, that is ' Mocta Sancte Anastasie'" [7].

With regard to the term "Motta", it was explained very well by E. Lesnes, who notes that the term refers to a "maison forte":

“The term 'Motta', which in northern Italy since the 11th century means a small natural or artificial relief  (…) in Sicily was used from the 14th century, and it indicates a new city or a hamlet fortified during the 14th century" [8].

F. Maurici: is also of the same opinion:

"First, it should be noted that (…) the 'castles' of Paternò and Adrano (and that of Motta) are really donjons, or tower-houses" [9].

See also the travel guide for Motta Sant'Anastasia.


1. See Giorgio Chittolini, Dietmar Willoweit, “L' organizzazione del territorio in Italia e Germania: secoli XIII – XIV” , Il Mulino, 1994, p. 408

2. See “Archivio Storico per la Sicilia orientale”,  1961, p. 50

3. See G. Conte, "Mocta Sanctae Anastasiae. Cronache di un villaggio nei secolo XIV-XV”, Landoni, 1979, p. 68

4. See “Jacobi a Voragine Legenda Aurea …”, Cap. VII, “De Sancta Anastasia”. Recensuit Th. Graesse, Lipsiae, 1801,  p. 47

5. 4. See “Jacobi a Voragine Legenda Aurea …”, Cap. VII, “De Sancta Anastasia”. Recensuit Th. Graesse, Lipsiae, 1801,  p. 48

6. See A. Bonavilla- M. A. Marchi, “Dizionarìo etimologico di tutti i vocaboli usati in teologia, diritto canonico, storia e letteratura ecclesiastica, magia, divinazione, giurisprudenza e politica, che traggono origine dal Greco”, 1822, pp. 20-21

7. See F. Maurici, “Castelli Medievali in Sicilia ...”, Sellerio, 1992, p. 177

8. See E. Lesnes, “Peut-on parler de maisons fortes en Sicile?”, in Jean-Marie Pesez, Laurent Feller, Perrine Mane, Françoise Piponnier”, “Le village médiéval et son environnement: études offertes à Jean-Marie Pesez”, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998, p. 146

9. See F. Maurici, “Castelli Medievali in Sicilia…”,  Sellerio, 1992, pp. 184 ff.

10. See Michele da Piazza, “Cronaca”, edited A. Giuffrida, 1980, p. 343

11. See “Documenti per servire alla storia di Sicilia”, Palermo, 1878, Vol III, p. 193

12. See G. Scoglio, “Monforte San Giorgio e il suo territorio nel medioevo”, UNI Service 2007, p. 60

13. See E. Lesnes-F. Maurici, “Motta Sant'Agata de Pietra d'Amico: due siti incastellati nella Sicilia del Trecento” in “Archeologia Medievale”, Clusf, 2007, p. 259

14. See Daniel Malfitana, “Per una ripresa degli studi sulla necropoli di S. Anastasia...”, in “Il Greco, il Barbaro e la ceramica attica...”, edited by Filippo Giudice-Rosalba Panvini, Rome, 2003, p. 35

15. See P. Orsi, “Notizie scavi di Antichità”, 1907, pp. 497-498, in Malfitana, p. 38, footnote 42

16. Malfitana, pp. 38-39

17. Malfitana, p. 39

18. See G. Bellafiore, “La civiltà artistica della Sicilia dalla preistoria ad oggi “, Le Monnier, 1963, pp. 144 ff.