San Cataldo is a town situated on a hill in northern Sicily. Although it arose in an area of ancient settlement, as evidenced by archaeological remains found in the area, it is not an ancient city, and the town you visit today dates largely from the early 17th century.
The city's old town is most noteworthy for its fine religious buildings, and these will form the highlights of your tour around San Cataldo.
Chiesa Madre: the building of the 'Mother Church' was commissioned by Marquise Vincenzo Galletti, who built it close to his Castle, on the highest point of the hill and in front of the city's most populous district in 1633.
Variously restored over the centuries, the church was re-designed by Giovan Battista Vaccarini in the 18th century. The façade recalls the style of Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), while the interior has three naves divided by columns topped by a cupola. The artistic glory of the church lies in the presence of some artifacts of great artistic value, among which are an ivory crucifix, a statue of San Cataldo, and several paintings depicting the “SS. Heart of Jesus” and “The Nativity of Our Lady”, by the local painter Carmelo Riggi (18th century).
Next on your tour of San Cataldo, visit the Church of St. Nicholas, built by Nicholas Galletti. This Church has a single nave and inside there are some fine stucco works. One of the most interesting is of the “Mercedari” Fathers, which is enhanced by the presence of a statue of the Madonna, an impressive work by Girolamo Bagnasco (1759-1832).
The Rosary Church, dating from the early 18th century, holds a statue of “San Francesco di Paola”, by Girolamo Bagnasco and the “Penitent Mary” by Carmelo Riggi.
Other artifacts in San Cataldo include the Capuchin Monastery, once home to a rich library of valuable manuscripts, which are unfortunately now largely missing; and the "palace-castle" of the Galletti Princes, dating back to the 18th century.
Little is known about the original castle of the Galletti although we know that it was situated on a hill called the “Quartiere Forca” [Gallows District]. In the early 18th century Prince Giuseppe Galletti built a second palace-castle, with a octagonal square, but the building remained unfinished, and was then later completed in the neo-Gothic style.
Also worthy of mention are the two towers constructed by King Philip III (1578-1621), to defend the city. One of them is located on Mount Taborra, and in the 18th century a clock with four dials in marble was installed in this tower. The other tower, next to the church of "Ss.mo Rosary", dates from the early 19th century.
In addition to visiting the religious and civic buildings in San Cataldo, a point of great interest at San Cataldo is the archaeological site of “Vassallaggi”, established on a rocky hill. The excavations have identified a prehistoric stage, dating back to the Bronze Age, with evidence of a settlement, a proto-stage, evidences by indigenous pottery and chamber tombs and also a Hellenistic phase, dating back to the sixth century BC.
The first inhabitants of Vassallaggi were the so-called "Sicanians", in the Early Bronze Age and known for their red ceramics. These were later replaced by the "Sicules", a people of Indo-European origin.
The archaeological remains were taken from a cemetery with graves accompanied by some Greek red-figure craters, together with various other objects such as knives and other articles intended for the "toilet" and a sarcophagus of white ceramic. From a historical point of view it is very interesting to note that the site of Vassallaggi has been identified by some scholars as the ancient city of Motyon, mentioned in a fragment of Diodorus Siculus [90-27 BC] (XI, 9)*
* Historical note: Diodorus Siculus wrote that Deucetius (488-440 BC), chief of the Sicules, increasingly ventured further to the northwest, to win ‘Motyon, a territory of Agrigento'. However, the identification with Vassallaggi is uncertain.
Spending time exploring the region around San Cataldo is also recommended both to enjoy the wooded landscapes and to visit some areas of natural interest such as those of Mimiani, Gabbara and Mustigarufi.
As you explore you will also discover small restaurants that offer tourists a variety of very tasty traditional dishes such as the black pig, cheeses, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, followed by grilled black pork, stuffed roast pig and “alla siciliana” roll with vegetables.
See also San Cataldo history and etymology.