Medieval history of Caltavuturo

See further down this page for the (possible) more ancient origins of Caltavuturo.

In the Middle Ages, Caltavuturo was occupied by the Normans (1063). Count Roger (1031-1101), in 1084, assigned it to his daughter Matilda, and then to Adelasia (1074-1118), his niece. In 1177 the city passed to Ruggero di Aquila from Adelasia and her son Adam; then later the city returned to the royal demesne [11].

According to studies by V. M. Amico, the city was always a feudal land, despite its attempts to become part of the demesne; at the end of the 13th century it came into possession of the heirs of Frederick De Manna; then in 1374 King Frederick gave it to Orlando Cavalieri [12].

It then returned to the royal demesne, and in the late 14th century the town was enfeoffed (made a feudal domain) to Antonio Ventimiglia.

The 'document of infeudation' is preserved in a parchment dating back to Oct. 18, indiction V, in which is registered the consent of the inhabitants of the city of Caltavuturo to the infeudation to Count Antonio Ventimiglia:

“We, Henricus de Stefano, and Iohannes Blankimano Catalvuturo judge and public notary (...), note that King Martin of Aragon and Queen Mary, King and Queen of Sicily, grant as feud and barony the city and the castle of Caltavuturo to Magnificent and powerful Count Antonio Ventimiglia" [13].

The document was written before all the city worthies - judges, captains, priests etc. It is curious to know that among the notables, there was also an illiterate, "Perellus de Richono", who was replaced by the notary Iohannes:

“I, Perellus de Richono, since in truth I can not write, I sign at the hands of the above-said notary Iohannes"

In 1397 King Martin granted Caltavuturo to Raymond de Bages, who returned it to the “Regia Curia”. Then, in 1401 the estate passed to Ludovico Rajadellis and Ruggero and Guglielmo Spatafora, who during the 14th century possessed Caltavuturo, which later returned to the royal demesne.

The 15th and 16th century

"In the early 15th century, the son of Thomas and Beatrice Rosso, Antonio Spatafora, inherited the castle and the “Terra” of Catalvuturo" [14].

Another important event in the history of Caltavuturo was the investiture of the fief to the powerful Moncada, in the second half of the 16th century:

"The Moncada (1585-1713) came into possession of the county of Collesano after the wedding of Francesco Moncada e Luna, Duke of Bivona, Count of Caltanissetta with Mary, the daughter of Antonio Aragon (...) To Francesco Moncada, as heir to the Luna, also went the County with the lands of Caltavuturo, Sclafani, Scillato and their feuds" [15].

Caltavuturo from the 18th century

From the 18th century, the feud of Caltavuturo belonged to the Dukes of Ferrandina:

"The Alvarez de Toledo, Dukes of Ferrandina, were the last Counts of Collesano, as Catherine Moncada, only daughter and heir of Ferdinand Moncada-Aragon in 1713, married Joseph Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Ferrandina (...) To Catherine's son, Frederick Vincent (...) was assigned the County of Collesano, Bivona and the County of Sclafani, with the lands of Scillato, Catalvuturo and feuds " [16].

As we have seen, apart from brief periods in which the city belonged to the Royal demesne, Caltavuturo was always a feudal city, with pernicious effects which manifested themselves in all their gravity in the 19th century.

Challenges of the 19th century - the massacre of Caltavuturo

The Dukes of Ferrandina, even after the abolition of feudalism, maintained possession of huge estates of Catalvuturo. In the late 19th century in Sicily developed the peasant movement called "The Sicilian Fasci", with the farmers claiming some ancient rights on the communal lands. In fact, until the abolition of feudalism in 1812 the farmers of Caltavuturo obtained the right to collect firewood in the feuds.

With the abolition of feudalism, the Duke of Ferrandina forbade peasants to continue to exercise their so-called "civic rights" and then, in exchange for the abandonment of these civic rights, the Duke promised to cede 250 acres of arable land to the city to be distributed to farmers. However, these lands ended up in the hands of a few notables of the city.

In consequence of this fact, serious bloody events happened in Caltavuturo that had a national resonance. There was an occupation of public lands and a violent clash with the Municipal Guard, which caused the death of many peasants. This act of violence is recalled as "the massacre of Caltavuturo" of January 1893, when:

"a detachment of troops opened fire on farmers who had come to occupy a fief of the Duke of Ferrandina" [17].

Art history and legacy in Caltavuturo

Despite the vicissitudes suffered over the centuries, Caltavuturo today can offer much to cultural tourism. The intense campaign of excavations in the area showed that Caltavuturo is one of the richest archaeological sites in Sicily, and we add that even in the field of art history the city has acquired a certain prestige.

We recall, for example, the presence in Caltavuturo of a work by Andrea Quagliata (1594-1660), an imitator of Caravaggio (1571-1610):

“Nor should the contributions of painters from Messina such as Andrea Quagliata and Giovan Battista Quagliata [1603-1673] be overlooked; to Quagliata in particular is attributed the fine 'Visitation' at Caltavuturo. The Caravaggesque movement is in turn represented by an extraordinary unpublished painting (‘quadro da stanza’) depicting ‘St. Peter’, which should be considered an autograph work of the Master of the Judgement of Solomon, now identified with Ribera [1591-1652] (...)

There is a magnificent painting at Caltavuturo depicting ‘Mary Immaculate before God the Father and Saints Peter and Paul’. Documented around 1666, the painting closes at Palermo the current linked to Van Dyck [1599-1649] and Pietro Novelli [1603-1647]; the hypothesis, already proposed, that its author is the Flemish painter Wilhelm Walsgart [1512-1666], who worked in Sicily, is here revived” [18].

In Caltavuturo there are also works by the Spanish painter Juan de Matta, who had his "studio" in Polizzi:

"From his studio in Polizzi Juan de Matta (16th century) sorted out on muleback his works in Palermo, Termini, Nicosia and Caltavuturo" [19].

Ancient beginnings and the origins of the name Caltavuturo

According to 19th century historian M. Amari, Caltavuturo was of Arab origin and he explained that:

"the following year, which was the Hegira 268 (from 31 July 881 to 19 July 882 AD), began with a severe defeat and it ended with some stunning victories of the Muslims. Ibn-el-Athir told that a group of knights led by Abu-Thur, ‘that of the bull’, as we would say, when it stumbled across the Byzantine army, was wrecked, so that only seven men escaped. The name of Caltavuturo, which means ‘the fortress of Abu-Thur’, is five miles from Polizzi, and it indicates the location of the battle." [2].

Also writing with regard to the antiquity of Caltavuturo, Pasquale Cipolla, a 19th century scholar, was opposed to the idea of the town having an Arab origin, and proposed a pre-Greek origin of the city [1].

So according to M. Amari, Caltavuturo means "the stronghold of Abu-Thur" (that of the 'bull'). The hypothesis proposed by P. Cipolla was based instead on a passage of Diodorus (90-27 BC), who spoke of a mountain called "Gorgònion" and "Torgion", which was identified by the same Cipolla and other scholars (A. Holm) as being Caltavuturo.

In reality, Diodorus did not point at the existence of a town on the mountain, but P. Cipolla established an equality between Terravecchia, where the ancient town of Caltavuturo stood, and the mountain called "Torgion". Through a very careful linguistic analysis, he showed that the name "Caltavuturo" derives from the Greek expression "Torgion Oras", that is "the rock of the vultures nest," or "Torgion", that is "the place of the vulture".

According to Diodorus Siculus it was here, near Mount Torgion, that Agathocles (361-289 BC) attacked Dinocrates, who lost the day and withdrew to the nearby town called Ambica. P. Cipolla, after a topographic analysis about the places mentioned by Diodorus, concluded that Torgion and Ambica could be identified respectively with the modern Caltavuturo and Sclafani.

The two opposing armies “camped at a place called Gorgium (the site is unknown)”. Among other things, also the great historian of antiquity A. Holm:

"Identified Gorgium with Caltavuturo which is above the pass over which the road from Termini to Leonforte now runs. Whether Caltavuturo (=Vultures' rock) is really an ancient name or merely a popular form of the Arab name 'Kalat-Abi-Thaur' may be uncertain, but there can be no doubt that such a mountain region would be the last place where a Greek battle would have been fought” [3].

A very accurate study of the issue was that of Domenico Pancucci [4]. Despite the divergence of views between Amari and Cipolla about the origins and etymology of the city, D. Pancucci identifies a point of convergence between the different etymologies.

Pancucci basically accepts the hypothesis of Cipolla, according to whom the Arabs, when they arrived at Caltavuturo, "translated" the Greek word "Torgion" (vulture) into "Thur" (bull). According to Pancucci, the confusion between the two names “Torgion”-“Thur” could be derived “from the phonetic similarity which exists in Arabic between  "vulture" and "bull" [5].

Beyond that, as we shall see, some interesting antiquities have been found in the territory of Caltavuturo, the etymology of M. Amari today enjoys a degree of consensus:

"Reaffirming that the etymology already proposed by M. Amari about Caltavuturo ('Abu Qal'at Tawr' [the rock of Abu Tawr], hero of the Muslim conquest), always seems to be the most appropriate, it will not be superfluous to recall that a name of Arabic origin is not necessarily a sure indication of an Arab foundation of an urban center" [6].

D. Pancucci, as we shall see, after having tackled the problem of the antiquity of Caltavuturo, also attempted to tackle the etymology; however, he, as opposed to Maurici, sees it more related to the term "Torgion" (vulture).

D. Pancucci did not believe that the assumptions made by P. Cipolla about the pre-Greek origin of Catalvuturo are justified, nor does he believe that it was of Arab origin, as asserted by M. Amari, but as we said, he favors the etymology proposed by P. Cipolla:

"In our opinion, we believe that the 'oros Torgion' of the ancients was a real Mount (...), which for its height and its isolation can really have hosted the vulture nests and for this presence derived the name (...) In conclusion, accepted the etymology of Caltavulturo for which the name derives from an original 'Torgion' and not from the Arabic name of the leader Abu Thur...

... rejected for lack of any evidence the pre-Greek origin of the site, and as the existence of Caltavuturo was established since Arab times, we believe that it dates from Byzantine times" [7].

D. Pascucci concludes that the site was presumably disputed between the Arabs and Byzantines for more than two centuries, but a little before 851, as Amari and Cipolla believed:

"If the rock of Caltavuturo was inhabited by the Byzantines, or by some Christians, and supposing the Arab occupation of the site prior to 851, it is also possible to interpret the first attack of Abu Abbas as a repressive intervention. The site, therefore, for its strategic importance, was contended for two centuries between the Arabs and the Byzantines" [8].

Despite its recent origin, the archaeological site where the city is located had brought some very interesting findings:

"A study at the end of last century reconstructs the history of Caltavuturo under the Muslims: however, it inclines to show that the origin of the site is more ancient  in relation to Arab rule. The whole area has attracted the interest of the classics archaeologists, who have obtained significant results” [9].

In fact at Terravecchia there are also the ruins of a Byzantine settlement and the ruins of the contemporary Castle. It was near Caltavuturo that the famous gold "Phiale" was found (now at the Museum of Himera, which houses many artifacts found in the territory of Caltavuturo), that is a fine votive glass presumably dating from the late fourth and early third century BC.

The phiale mesomphalos

The shape of the so-called "phiale mesomphalos" (Latin "patera umbilicata" = bellied platter) was very common in ancient Greek ceramics and jewelry. It was dedicated to libations in honor of the gods. It is decorated with friezes, lotus flowers, ornaments with grape vines and bunches. The outer rim is engraved with an inscription indicating the name of the dedicatee, that is Damarco  Achyrio’s son. The motif for the friezes, acorns, grapes was used in the Greek jewelry of  Hellenistic times [10].

See also the travel guide for Caltavuturo visitor information.


1. See P. Cipolla, “Sulle probabili origini di Caltavuturo e Sclafani”, in “Archivio Storico Siciliano”, N. S. anno V, Palermo, 1880, pp. 67-120

2. See M. Amari, “Storia dei Musulmani di Sicilia” ["History of the Muslims of Sicily"], Le Monnier, 1854, Vol. I, p. 419

3. See Henry Julius Wetenhall Tillyard, “Agathocles”, University press, 1908, p. 197 note 2

4. D. Pancucci, “Caltavuturo. Le Origini”, in “Sicilia Archeologica”, 1989, pp. 65 ff.

5. See D. Pancucci,  pp. 65 ff. , p. 68

6. See F. Maurici, “Sicilia Bizantina. Gli insediamenti palermitani”, in “Archivio storico siciliano”, 1994, p. 54

7. See D. Pancucci, p. 69

8. D. Pancucci, pp. 67-69

9. See R.M. Dentici Buccellato, “La terra e il castello di Caltavuturo”, in  “Mediterraneo medievale: scritti in onore di Francesco Giunta”, Catanzaro, 1989, p. 190

10. For a detailed description of the "Phiale", See F. Spatafora-S. Vassallo, “La 'Phiale aurea' di Caltavuturo” [also in English] , Palermo, 2005 , pp. 13 ff.

11. See I. Peri, “Villani e cavalieri nella Sicilia medievale”, 1993, p. 181

12. See V.M. Amico, “Dizionario topografico della Sicilia”, edited by G. Dimarzo, Palermo, 1855, Vol. I, p. 216

13. the complete document can be read in E. Mazzarese Faldella, “I feudi comitali di Sicilia dai normanni agli aragonesi” , Milano, Giuffrè, 1974, pp. 116-120

14. See C. Salvo, “Giurati, feudatari, mercanti: l'élite urbana a Messina tra medio evo e età moderna” , 1995, p. 80

15. See “Il Seicento in Sicilia: aspetti di vita quotidiana a Petralia Sottana, terra feudale” 2008, Appendix I, p. 144

16. as ref 15, Appendix I, p. 145

17. See G. Cherubini-I. Barbadoro, “Storia della società italiana”, 1980, p. 205

18. See A. Cuccia, “La pittura a Termini Imerese e nel suo territorio”, in “Bollettino d'arte”, Libreria dello Stato, 2008, p. 166 [in Italian and English]

19. See F. Abbate, “Storia dell'arte nell'Italia meridionale: Il Cinquecento”, Donzelli, 2001, Vol. III, pp. 39-40