History of Vizzini


See Vizzini guide for highlights and historic monuments

As often when looking at the history of Sicilian towns, we can thank Paolo Orsi (1859-1935) for the first pioneering studies on the territory of Vizzini: the eminent archaeologist laid the foundations of knowledge about the city, the site of which had until then been mistakenly overlooked from an archaeological and topographic point of view.

Vizzin - Bidis in antiquity

For discussions about identifying the current town of Vizzini as the ancient town of Bidis see further down this page.

Exploring Bidis in antiquity, among the discoveries of P. Orsi in the area of Vizzini we mention in particular an example of "aes grave" [= heavy money in bronze]:

"Among the coins is worth a special mention a piece of ‘aes grave’ ... It was purchased by me from the same farmer who discovered it ... The piece arrived in Sicily in the 4th century BC through trade and ... it was introduced by Roman legions during the Second Punic War" [10]

This piece is considered to be "the first specimen of Roman 'aes grave' found in Sicily [11]. We also mention a mirror with the base relief [now preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Syracuse], depicting a seated afflicted woman. The mirror found in Vizzini was put in relation with other similar artefacts:

"The analogy is (...) with the fragment of an Attic stele from Menidi now at the Lowther Museum in England and with the metopes with a Doric frieze of a small monument of the Stoa of Hadrian in Athens; but we can also add a Boeotian pottery at the Museum of Athens, representing a woman seated at the foot of the funeral stele with his right hand supporting his head. However, the artefact of Vizzini is of undeniable inferiority compared to the Greek standards” [12].

La Rocca's analysis of the medieval history of Vizzini

With regard to the Middle Ages in Vizzini, the study by L. La Rocca is still very important, and he was able to analyze massive amounts of manuscripts. We can do little to improve on his work:

"[...] Vizzini was part of the Noto Valley when Sicily was divided, according to the civil parish of the Saracens, into three parts (...) we find in the events of Vizzini from these documents a few features that make the city a prime example of the municipal history of Sicily, because it was six times a feudal city and many times it was assigned to the royal demesne.

The oldest document (we have) is a perpetual privilege of state property, signed in the battlefield of Mileto (...) it is a copy of an act of 1458, in which for the will of the master, judges and advisers was made, in the presence of many nobles, a copy of the same privilege, for fear that it was lost..it says:

'The Emperor Conrad IV (1228-1254), as a reward for loyalty and services that the inhabitants of Vizzini, both individually and collectively, had first had his father Frederick II of Swabia (1094-1250) and then him, ordered from the battlefield of Mileto so that the city was returned to the Royal demesne in perpetuity and it enjoyed the privilege (…)  We observe that Vizzini is called in this privilege with the name of “terra” (...) This term lasted for a long time, until Charles V (1500-1558) in 1538 (...) raised it back to the status of a city...

... Before the War of the Vespers Alexander IV (1199-1261) gave it to Ruggiero Fimetta and after the Sicilian Vespers to Francesco Ruffino, appointed by Alexander IV as Vicar of Sicily, who became the real master of it. It was then that the pope, to reward again Ruggiero Fimetta, well-known enemy of the Swabian House (...) invested him with Vizzini Ragusa, Modica, Palazzolo, giving orders from Anagni, 21 August 1255 (…) The pope's supremacy in the island was short...

... The new viceroy Federico Lancia (born 1230) revived the partisans of the Swabian House, that imprisoned in Palermo  Ruffino and won Ruggero Fimetta in Lentini. In short, all the cities returned to obedience to Manfredi (1232-1266) in 1258 (…)

... In the privilege of July 5, 1396 we read that Martin, king of Aragon, with his son and daughter ... considering that the inhabitants of Vizzini supported with devotion and loyalty the crown in the wars (…) conceded them, both collectively as individually, the right to not pay the customs due to the Royal Curia for all commodities and goods, which cities should send in...

... In 1398 Lentini, Mineo, Paterno, Syracuse was immediately recognized to be of Royal demesne, but Vizzini was left in dispute, perhaps because of the doubts that arose from the fact that it was so long in feudal subjugation. But the inhabitants (...) obtained the help of Raimondo Xatmar. For the realization of their desires, perhaps contributed to by the death of Ughetto Santapau.

Finally, with the publication of the first chapter of Martin, Vizzini was returned to the Royal demesne [...] [13].

Vizzini from the 17th century

In the following centuries, although it was a town belonging to the royal demesne, Vizzini experienced difficult times (such as the earthquake of 1693) and social conflicts, even among the many monasteries in its territory. An effective study of Vizzini from the 16th to the 19th century was written by Francesca Gallo [15]:

"[...] Vizzini was a highly structured city since from the 16th century...The 1693 earthquake destroyed most part of the city and involved its reconstruction (...) In the early nineteenth century and especially during the so-called 'English years' the city also had some economic development, supported by the growth and maintenance of new and old industries (tanneries, pasta, honey production and processing) and trade.

The 1920's were difficult especially after repeated crop failures. At the same time, the questionable management of the municipality, by the local ruling class and the assault by local notables against the public lands aggravated the deficit of the municipal finance (...) and constituted one of reasons for the active participation of the town of Vizzini in the revolutionary movements of 1920-21 [...] "

Today, in addition to traditional economic activities related to agriculture and livestock, Vizzini is open to new sources of revenue related to tourism. In fact, there are possibilities for the territory for a viable farm use with the renovation and development of rural buildings in the area, and some cultural factors of major importance (Vizzini was the birthplace of Giovanni Verga (1840-1922), the great realist writer, whose home is a place of attraction and enhancement of the entire territory).

Identifying Vizzini with ancient Bidis

P. Orsi, in his memorable speech at the Academy of the Lincei in 1902, touched on all points of the history of Vizzini, from the ancient name, "Bidis", to its location in Sicily, regretting that the historians of the city wasted time on slip-slops (definition: 'Trivial conversation or writing, twaddle!') rather than devoting themselves to archaeological studies. He wrote:

"[...] However, Vizzini is too far away from Syracuse and for this reason it can not be ‘Bidis’.  Father [Ignatius] Noto, instead of cluttering his dense volume of slip-slops, would have done better work to gather and hand down us some data on the many discoveries, but to overlook the archaeological discoveries was the fashion of the time, with rare exceptions. However, there is no doubt that Vizzini is very ancient...

... in fact, its surroundings have given and continually give amounts of small material that no one takes into account. The stone and Sikan age are represented by many axes, several of which are in the Museum of Syracuse. The ancient local writers daydreamed about the origins of the city; a couple of centuries ago a Jesuit [that is Ignazio Noto] wrote ten books to show that Vizzini was “Bidis is a poor village not far from Syracuse". Today, however, that ‘oppidum’ is sought elsewhere, and  E. Pais places it in Biggieni near Syracuse, a place, in my opinion, that is not satisfying" [1].

E. Pais had written that that because there was:

"a farm called 'Serra del Biggino', I suspected that was the location of Bidis of which Cicero (106-43 BC) spoke (Verrine, II, 53)" [2].

During the long debate among scholars, there is still the uncertainty about the connection between Vizzini and Serra del Biggino. According to some scholars [3] Ettore Pais was "probably wrong". However, new researches carried out in recent years would be likely to identify Bidis with the current Vizzini on the Dirillo river with "Acrillae" and "Scornavacche" [4].

So also believes A. De Vita, according to whom there were some "large and small agrarian villages sited along the lowlands to the east of Dirillo, from Acrille to Bidis." along the river Dirillo [5].

An interesting note was added by of Francesco Tardia, who translated the "Roger's book" by Al Idrisi (1099-1166) in the 18th century, and wrote:

"[...] Maurolico Ferrario, Mugnos and especially Father Ignatius Noto claim that [Vizzini] was the ancient Bidi, and after them Father G.. A. Massa [7] and Father V. M. Amico (...) Cluverius believes that it is the ancient 'Callipoli', mentioned by Herodotus (5th century BC), Strabo (58-21 BC), Stephen of Byzantium (,6th century AD) and Marciano from Eraclea (4th-5th century AD). However, because of the strong reasons of Father Ignatius Noto, it is necessary that we must recognize the ancient Bidi with Vizzini.

I Add that the Saracens could easily form "Bizini" in their own language... starting from ‘Bidi’, since the Latin letters D and Z in Arabic were written in the same way ... so the Arabs from 'Bidi' formed 'Bizini', which I interpret from the etymological point of view as "vetust", "abandoned", from the Arabic word "Badhson", perhaps because the Arabs could still see the ruins of the abandoned city [.. .] " [6].

Origins of the name Bidis

With regard to the etymology of Bidis there are some interesting observations by G. A. Massa:

"The etymology of Bidis derives from two Greek words, "Bè dis”. “Bè” is the aorist tense of the indicative without augment from the verb ‘Beme’, meaning ‘went’; ‘dis’ is an adverb, and it means 'twice', for which  ‘Bidis’ means “went twice” (...)  alluding to the Dirillo river, which in the opinion of Cluverius, is the much celebrated 'Aebates' of the Ancients, which, having its origin near the city, with its two arms encircles it, going "twice" around it" [8].

That this etymology has to do with the arm of a river or a canal that is divided into two parts is also attested by contemporary linguistic studies, for which:

" ‘Bedesis’ dates back to Celtic Bedo / Bede / Bidi, (Du Cange) = canal. Probably the source was 'Vitis', which was popularized in 'Bedes', from which 'bidentem' (from ‘bidens’) which means 'with two teeth'" [9].

Or in the case of Bidis-Vizzini, meaning "with two arms that surround the city".

See the travel guide for Vizzini.

References

1. See P. Orsi, "Vizzini”, in “Memorie della Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche”, 1902, pp. 213- 214

2. See "Studi storici", 1893, p. 404

3. G. De Sanctis (1969, p. 289) and B. Pace ("Archivio storico siciliano", 1909, pp. 148 ff.)

4. See "Kokalos", 2001, p. 157; for the topography of Bidis, See p. 164

5. “Da Siracusa a Mozia: scritti di archeologia siciliana”, 1998, pp. 23 ff.

6. See Francesco Tardia, “Descrizione della Sicilia cavata da un libro Arabico di Scherif Elidris”, a cura di P. Bencivenga, in “Opuscoli di autori siciliani”, Palermo, 1762, Tomo 7, pp. 338-339

7. Father G.. A. Massa (Volume 2, pp. 338-339)

8. See G.A. Massa, “La Sicilia in prospettiva”, 1709, Vol. II, p. 339

9. See A. C. Garancini, “La romanizzazione nel bacino idrografico padano attraverso l'odierna idronimia”, 1975, p. 144

10. See P. Orsi, p. 217 and 219

11. see "American Journal of Archaeology: the Journal of the Archaeological Institute of America", 1903, p. 128

12. See E. Galli, “Nota su di un gruppo di specchi di bronzo del sec. IV BC”, in “Archivio storico per la Sicilia orientale”, 1919-1920, pp. 106-107

13. See L. La Rocca, “Vicende di un comune della Sicilia”, in “Archivio storico per la Sicilia orientale”, Catania, 1906, pp. 169-215

14. "L’antichità di Bizini", Palermo, 1730, pp. 127-129

15. See F. Gallo, “Guerra di santi, guerra di uomini. Conflitti socio-politici e religiosi a Vizzini (Sicilia) (1693-1820)”, in: “Mélanges de l'Ecole française de Rome. Italie et Méditerranée”, T. 111, N°2. 1999. pp. 883-932