History of Trabia


See Trabia guide for highlights and historic monuments

To learn something about historic “Taarbia” it is necessary to turn to Al Idrisi, the only ancient Arab source about Trabia. Al Idrisi wrote:

"To the west of Termini there is a town that is called 'At Tarbî'ah' ["the square", town of Trabia], a charming resort, full of perennial waters that move several mills. Trabia has a plain and vast estates in which are manufactured  large quantities of pasta [in Arabic ‘Itriya’), which is exported to all places, [ especially] Calabria and to other Muslim and Christian countries" [7].

Al Idrisi, writing about Trabia, also added some other details about the fishing: "[...] Near Trabia runs the ‘Termini” River, wide and rich in waters, where they could catch salmon, while in the harbor they capture tuna [...]".

The fishing of Trabia was an important source of income for inhabitants over the centuries - it was commercially exploited until the 14th century, then it was granted with the land and the castle of Trabia by Frederick III (1341-1377) in 1375 to Bernardo del Campo, then to the town of “Termini Imerese”, which later gave it in fief to Antonino Salamone.

The mills of Trabia in 1408 were owned by Guglielmo Tricotta, who appears in the "Descriptio Feudorum" at the time of King Martin I (1374-1409), and then by Bernardo Tricotta, who wrote to the "Convento del Carmine” in Palermo. Then Trabia was granted to Leonardo di Bartolo, Protonotary of the Kingdom; then next the town passed by marriage to Blasco Lanza (1466-1535), and from that moment  the dynasty of the "Lanza di Trabia” began.

Don Blasco in Trabia

Blasco in 1517, when the castle was burned down, restored it and fortified it considerably [10]. Don Blasco was a man aiming for high position. He graduated in law at the University of Catania, and for a couple of years he held the office of judge of the Supreme Court.

With a first marriage he married Aloisia, the daughter of the Protonotary Leonardo Bartolomeo who owned Trabia, and he endowed his daughter with it. Around 1509 Don Blasco was able to obtain the feudal investiture of Trabia, although this was not legal as Trabia belonged to State Property.

With a second marriage Don Blasco then also got the investiture of the fief of Castania.

The "licentia populandi" (or the honour of being able to build a village to cultivate the fertile soil of Trabia) was granted in 1635 to Ottavio Lanza (1605-1675), who offered 20,000 escudos to the sovereign [11].

Trabia today is a holiday resort, thanks to its clean sea, beaches and comfortable hotels and holiday villages that have sprung up in the immediate vicinity of the ancient castle of Princes Lanza, hosting thousands of tourists  - many attracted by the seafood restaurants.

Is ancient Olulis the same as modern Trabia?

The geography of Ptolemy (100-170 AD) indicated a city called "Olulis", located between Solunto and Termini Imerese (“inter Eleutarii ostia, et Thermas himerenses 'Olulis’”) that corresponds exactly to Trabia. However, many ancient and modern historians argued that Ptolemy was wrong and that "Olulis" was not the ancient Trabia:

"Olulis is an ancient city of Sicily, which Ptolemy places in the western part of Sicily, but about which we would not know to clarify the situation” [1]. Certainly we should not underestimate the reasonable considerations of P. Palmeri, who, in the late 1830s, talking about "Olulis," handed down the etymology of this ancient lost town, which in Greek had a name very similar to Trabia.

After saying that the Romans were accustomed to change the names of some cities, and for which it is very difficult to identify the ancient pre-Roman name, he wrote: "[...] 'Olulis' was so named to indicate the vessels of clay which the Romans called 'ollulae', and that however the Greeks called ‘tryblìa’, from which the present name of Trabia seems to derive [...]" [2].

It is certain that both "Olulis" and "Tryblìa" disappeared from the horizon of history, only to reappear in the Middle Ages with another name, which in Arabic resembled the Greek word "Tryblìa" or “Tarbiaa.” Talking of "Tarbiaa", one usually begins with a quotation from a famous passage of Al Idrisi (1099-1165), who described the marvels of the city. This is due to the fact that, as we will see, the Arabic name of Trabia is traditionally associated with the invention of a type of pasta similar to modern "macaroni", an internationally renowned dish.

Apparently, the Arabs talked about Trabia long before Al Idrisi, or at the time of the conquest, when the Arab commander Aadelkum [the "supreme commander"] [3] described his arrival with the army in the city of "Tarbiaa", on the etymology of which there are no doubts.

In fact "Tarbiaa" means "square", that is the city with a “square urban plan”, as it is divided into four sections of two streets at right angles. It also seemed that Aadelkum el Chbir had built a fortress at “Taarbia”, receiving the congratulations of his Caliph. This run-down about the Arab conquest of Sicily was published in “Il Mercurio Italiano”, which also had an English edition [4].

It seemed that the old code containing the letters of Aadelkum el Chbir had been preserved for centuries in the Monastery of San Martino di Palermo, and contained many letters exchanged between the commanders nominated head of the Arab conquest of Sicily with the “Mulei Abrahim el Aalbi” just after the conquest of Sicily, that is from 213 according to the Arab chronology (827 AD) to 462 (1074 AD), the year of the Normans arrival in Sicily [5].

But things are actually different. The famous "Diplomatic Code," published in 1789 by Monsignor Alfonso Airoldi (1729-1817) was a forgery, and therefore all the letters in it were a falsification [6] and on the forgery of the ‘Diplomatic Code’ prepared by Airoldi, the ancient and modern critics agree.

See for example what is said in the“Atti dell’Istituto Veneto di scienze, Lettere ed Arti”, 1936: 649: “The document in question is, like all the 'Diplomatic Code', a solemn imposture. It is in fact the famous forgery made for the learned patron of Arab Studies (who did not know the Arabic language) Monsignor Alfonso Airoldi, by the infamous Friar Joseph Vella).

Airoldi and the Diplomatic Code

Since the “Diplomatic Code” by Airoldi was also published in English, for the enquiring minds of readers we give here a brief example of it, and in particular the passage on “Taarbia.” If nothing else it makes for poetic reading!

According to the "Diplomatic Code," the author of the Arabic collection of letters was "the Grand Mufti Mustafa ben Hani" [8], and he transcribed the following letter from Aedelkum el Chbir, commander in chief of the Arab armies in Sicily to Muley Abrahim ben Aalbi:

“[...] I arrived at Tarbiaa, and encamped for that night, in order to rest from the journey of 20 miles, which we performed from Khalfa to this place, where we are encamped. On the 11th of March, in the morning, we advanced, to lay siege to the City of Hamiera [Termini Imerese]. After an hour's journey, we arrived at the distance of half a mile from Hamiera: we encamped, to hold a consultation, in what manner we were to give the assault.

On the 12th of the said March, in the morning, we have given our assault, which succeeded but indifferently, without being able to obtain any thing; and in this first assault 216 men were killed. We retired to a mile's distance, where we arrived a little before sun-set, and encamped for that night. On the 13th, we gave the second assault, which also was fruitless, with the loss of 205 men: we retired back into the plain of Tarbia, where we encamped.

On the 14th of March, I began to build a Castle near the sea, to serve us as a guard and defence. On the 18th, we again advanced towards the City of Hamiera. On the 19th, we gave our assault with greater ferocity ; and, having thrown down the City gate, together with its wall, our people could not enter the City, as the enemy threw large stones and pieces of wood at us; so that the poor people who endeavoured to get into the City were all killed.

Observing therefore that we could not gain any thing, we retired a mile off; and being encamped I ordered the people to be numbered, and found that 135 men had been killed; and we rested ourselves that night. The Mulei Abrahim ben Aalbi responded by praising the decisions of his commander in chief: “[...] I much praise your design of building a Castle at Tarbiaa, to guard that shore. I am glad that thou causest those damages which have been done in Hamiera [...]” [9].

See also our Trabia guide and visitor information.

References

1. See G.B. Rampoldi, “Corografia dell’Italia”, Milan, 1833, Vol II: 985

2. See P. Palmeri, “Intorno al sito di alcune antiche città della Sicilia”, in “Giornale di Scienze e Lettere per la Sicilia”, Palermo, 1839, Vol 65, Year 17: 153-154

3. See below, the book by A. Airoldi, p. 2 and note 3

4. “The Italian Mercury” (London, July 1789)

5. Airoldi, below, p. 44

6. See A. Airoldi, “Codice Diplomatico di Sicilia sotto il governo degli Arabi”, Palermo, Dalla Reale Stamperia, Tomo I, Parte I, 1789

7. See Al Idrisi," The Book of Roger ", edited by M. Amari, Salvioni, 1883:  28, 38, 69

8. see Airoldi, p. 1

9. See "Il Mercurio Italico" (“The Italian Mercury”, London, July 1789:  381 ff.

10. See, S. Mazzarella-R. Zanca, “Il libro delle torri; le torri costiere della Sicilia nei secoli XV-XX”, Sellerio, 1985: 374

11. See, S. Giurato, “La Sicilia di Ferdinando il Cattolico”, 2003: 241 and footnote 16