Bagheria is located a few kilometers from Palermo, in north-west Sicily. The town is best known for its imposing villas, but there are also other monuments of interest to discover.
Before starting your visit it is useful to understand a little about the lifestyle of the Sicilian nobility of the time and the construction of the magnificent villas of Bagheria.
When the local aristocracy first abandoned their castles they moved to cities, especially Palermo, which soon became decorated with magnificent palaces. Later the nobles wanted to moved their city comforts into the countryside, and Bagheria was chosen as a privileged area, among the hills that stretch towards the sea.
Some of the nobles even changed the appearance of the hills, clearing them so that their luxurious villas could be seen in all their grandeur. An example can be seen at Villa Valguarnera, built by Princess Marianna Valguarnera in 1709 and known as the "capital of all the villas of the nobility of Palermo".
A visit to Bagheria will usually begin with a visit to its most important villas, the most famous of which is the Villa Palagonia.
You access the villa through a large arch. The long avenue that leads to the palace is surrounded by balustrades on which are located about two hundred statues. The monsters are carved in tuff, with a typically Baroque taste for the grotesque.
Vincenzo Pitini tells us that the Prince of Palagonia, a landowner with vast estates, filled his mansion with “monsters” invented by himself. He even depicted monstrous images in the holy chapel, in mockery of the forms of men and animals. Everyone at that time spoke openly of his madness - but everyone wanted to see the villa and its monsters.
His peasants told of the strange habits of their Lord: they tell us that this rich man slept on the floor, lashing himself in front of religious images. However, they also said that he was a very generous gentleman, and by his will bequeathed all his property to his servants.
Villa Palagonia is certainly famous for its mysterious statues, such as those found at the entrance to the villa. The Prince's father enriched the palace with statues, busts and rare furniture, while his son filled it with strange statues.
These statues are often described as "monstrous" and perhaps, according to some critics, the product of his own obsessions and nightmares - such as the statue, for example, that we can see along the avenue, depicting a woman with a horse's head sitting in front of the toilet, and surrounded by monsters.
The apartments of the villa are beautiful and well arranged, and the walls and doors of Villa Palagonia are covered with slivers of glass of different colors.
The furnishings also reflect the morbid taste of the Prince, with armchairs, for example, hiding needles of iron, while the ceilings are covered with mirrors, which reflect in many ways as you enter.
The interior of the main floor of the villa starts from an ovoid room from which you access the Hall of Mirrors. The walls are lined with polychrome marble and decorated with medallions in which you can see the busts of the ancestors: Margaret Albate of Villafranca and Maria Joaquina Gaetani, respectively, mother and last wife of Ferdinando Francesco Gravina.
The ceiling of the room is covered with sheets of mirrors decorated with bright colors, with images of birds, fruit, flowers and other eye-catching ornaments. Even the floors are lined with polychrome marble. The other rooms contain paintings with themes from mythology.
The room retains some of the vestibule frescoes depicting the Labors of Hercules, but we do not know the names of the artists who performed them.
The Valguarnera Villa at Bagheria is also very important, and built to a design by Tommaso Maria Napoli. The entrance consists of an iron front gate, supported by two pillars of limestone, followed by a long avenue. The building has a neo-classical style, with the main entrance reached by a granite staircase.
On the door of the main floor there is the family coat of arms, surrounded by stucco with two female figures, flags, and animals. The walls of the palace are topped with many statues. Inside the palace, a large lounge and several small rooms have frescoed ceilings and walls decorated with stucco.
The Frescoes and paintings depicting mythological scenes of ancient Greece are by some modern and contemporary artists, such as Interguglielmi (1746-1835), Fumagalli brothers (20th century) and Velasco (born in 1960).
Another noteworthy villa is the Villa Trabia built by Michele Gravina (died in 1777), Prince of Comitini, in the mid-18th century to a design by Nicolò Palma (1694-1779). On the main floor there are several rooms painted in the late 18th century and furnished with antiques.
The Cutò Villa was built in the first half of the 18th century by the Prince of Aragon Baldassarre Naselli to a design by Giuseppe Minore and it is accessed from the ancient “Via Consolare”. The family of the Prince Tasca di Cutò bought it in early 1800. The spacious rooms, with their gaudy decorations and red marble, taking a tone of elegant taste, are accentuated by the visible remains of fine decorations that line the vaults of the ceilings.
The staircase, with two flights, is enclosed in a court of the palace and is one of the few examples of monumental staircase of this period. After restoration the palace is now used as a public library, and the building also houses the Museum of Toys dedicated to Pietro Piraino.
The Villa Galletti-Inguaggiato is one of the best preserved 18th-century villa sin Bagheria. Built around 1770 by the Marquis of Santa Marina, Giovanni Pietro Galletti (1745-1784), it is a work by Andrea Giganti (1731-1787), between the Baroque and Neoclassical style.
The Villa San Cataldo was built in the early eighteenth century by the family of the Princes Galletti di San Cataldo; it was then radically transformed in the late 19th century and decorated in neo-Gothic style. Notable is the garden with its lush vegetation, full of exotic plants and today planted with citrus.
Also among the Palaces, we mention Palazzo Butera, built in 1658 by Giuseppe Branciforti. The castle, of medieval style, is protected on either side by two towers and has two wide staircases: one on the south side and the other to the east side. The two sides had a courtyard, lined with low houses. The portal on the east staircase is from the 16th century. At the entrance to the castle Prince Branciforti carved the words: “O Corte Addio” [“Oh short goodbyes”].
The Larderia Palace was built in 1752 by Prince Francesco Litterio Moncada (1696-1763); it is of Baroque style, and its vaults are covered with frescoes and decorations of the 19th century.
The Villa Arezzo–Spedalotto is of Louis XII style with neoclassical elements, and frescoes that decorate the vaults of the large rooms.
As mentioned above the great nobles of the region of Bagheria built many towers and fortresses in the region, some of which are open to tourists. The Tower Amalfitano is among these: its construction dates back perhaps to the first half of the 16th century and has a square plan - it was originally a lookout tower.
The Parisi Tower is a tower with a rustic porch with a painted figure of a saint of the 17th century, and among the other towers near Bagheria, some of which have now vanished, we should mention the Sperlinga Tower; the Torre Monaco with a small church from the end of the 18th century, the Torre Valdina with some frescoes by Pietro Novelli (1603-1647), the Torre Mongerbino largely destroyed, and Torre Chiarandà, now in ruins.
The artistic heritage of Bagheria is substantial and we conclude with a mention of the highlights among the churches of the town.
Among these churches of Bagheria visit the Cathedral Church, which was began in 1769 and completed in 1771. Made with the famous stone of Solanto, on the central door you can see the emblem of the Branciforti family. Inside you can see a statue of St. Joseph and a great Christ crucified, both works by Filippo Quattrocchi (1738-1813). Near the altar a marble medallion by Antonello Gagini (1478-1536) is set in the wall depicting a “Madonna with the child.”
The Church of Holy Souls in Purgatory was the second church founded in Bagheria. It has three aisles, and the nave is decorated with frescoes by Onofrio Tomaselli (1866-1956), an important local painter. In the nave on the right there is a statue of the “Immaculate Conception”, carved from solid wood by Filippo Quattrocchi.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was began in the eighteenth century and then remodeled, retains a valuable Sicilian marble altar, a statue of the “Sorrows”, attributed to Filippo Quattrocchi, and an urn of the dead Christ, carved wood gilded, a work by Giuseppe Aiello (1891-1930), a local sculptor.
The small town keeps alive its ancient craft traditions, especially in the field of decorators of carts - in Bagheria at Villa Cattolica there is a “Museum of Contemporary Art”, dedicated to Renato Guttuso (1912-1987).
The “Guttuso Museum” is divided into ten sections, with one dedicated to film and photography and a very interesting section dedicated to local artists, such as Renato Guttuso (a strong realist painter, depicting in his works the personal and social aspects of daily life).
Among the paintings in the Museum note “Bagheria sul golfo di Palermo” ["Bagheria on the Gulf of Palermo"], and the “Battaglia al ponte dell'Ammiraglio” ["Battle at the Bridge of the Admiral"] in which he portrays his grandfather, and a number of works depicting landscapes, friends and critics.
With regard to tradition in Bagheria, we must not forget that Bagheria has been a holiday resort since the 17th century, and now it is also a seaside resort, with the beaches of Aspra close to hand.
See also Bagheria history and etymology.