Cefalà Diana is a "small" town in Sicily with a history that presents many difficulties of interpretation - only in recent years have these found a satisfying solution. The 'current' town of Cefalà Diana has quite 'modern' origins, only dating back to the late 17th century

The ancient village of Cefala

However, even if Cefalà Diana is of recent origin, in the ancient feudal region of "Cefalà" there was a village, the name of which was also "Cefalà" (discussed below), which is of very ancient origins. We have the first mention of a place named “Cefalà” in a medieval document dating from 1093 of Count Roger (1031-1101), in which a deed of gift to the church of Mazara was mentioned:

"[...]This parish goes to the territory of Jatin and 'Cefalà', that is up to the big rock ridge, and from the ridge goes toward Sagana and from Sagana to Carini and from Carini to the district where there are the areas of Palermo and Carini" [1].

Cefalà is also mentioned in a document of 1240, the so-called “Libellus de successione Pontificum Agrigenti”, in which we read:

"[...] It is known that in the Book of pre-emption of the Kingdom of Sicily (...) preserved in the Royal Chancellery of the Kingdom of Palermo, there is the 'Libellus' of the succession of pontiffs and  the imposition of some prebends in favour of  the canonicals of the Church of Agrigento, and of Bishop Gerlando by Count Roger in 1093, and confirmed by Urban II [1035-1099] (...) The fourth prebend ("tithe") was ‘Cefalà’ with its properties, besides the Church of Santa Maria" [2].

Medieval history of Cefala-Diana

The history of Cefalà is rather convoluted, because over the centuries it passed into the hands of several baronial families. The feud was inhabited as early as the Norman and Swabian eras, and during the 14th century it belonged to the Chiaramonte family, and then to the Abbate, who was also responsible for building the castle.

Towards the end of the 14th century, which was a period of adjustment of the feuds, Cefalà was granted to the Catalan Thomas de Olzenelles, then the "feudum Chifale" went to another Catalan, Giovanni of Abella and afterwards to Peter Raymond Falgar, who sold it to Giovanni Abbatellis. It was Abbatellis who was first granted a "licentia populandi” in 1431.

Licentia populandi

The "licentia populandi” was the privilege that allowed local landowners the opportunity to establish new villages and to cultivate land that was previously deserted and unproductive.

Giovanni Abbatellis not materialize this privilege and did not found any village (although it must be said that, contrary to all scholars, G.C. Garufi said that Cefalà Diana already existed in the 16th century, and wrote:

“In his study ... G.C. Garufi points out how in the 16th century the towns of Cefalà Diana (Palermo) and Villa-Frati (Palermo) were founded, that other sources attribute to the 17th century” [7].

The old feud was sold by his descendants, loaded with debts to Niccolò Diana in 1620. His grandson, also named Nicolò Diana, towards the middle of the 17th century, built a new village in 1684 which became a municipality, first called "Diana" and also "Cefalà of Diana," and then "Cefalà Diana".

Origins of the name Cefala

According to G.B. Pellegrini, the name derives from the Greek "Kefalè": "Cefalà Diana, a ‘fortress on a top of a high cliff’, from the Greek masculine" Kefalas' ('big head') [3]. Similarly, according to G. Alessio "Cefalà" is a Greek name of Byzantine origin, "Kefalas" ("Big Head”) [4]. The name is probably related to the shape of a skull of the rocky outcrop where the castle is located.

However, we also mention a very interesting hypothesis of Biagio Pace, a great Sicilian archaeologist, who thought of the Greek expression "Kefalè Potamou" or "source of the river" and the "source", says Ferdinando Maurici:

"could be that of river 'Milicia', which actually originated in this area" [5].

Among other things Biagio Pace linked the concept of "source" to the "salutary water" sources, such as that of "The Arab Baths" of Cefalà:

"[...] This is also the waters that flow into the Arabic bathroom of Cefalà Diana, if we believe in the value of this place-name [that] takes us back to the classical age [...]" [6].

The contemporary name brings back into use the ancient name of the feud ("Cefalà") combined with the name of its founder, Giuseppe or Nicolò Diana [8].

See the Cefalà Diana travel guide for more details.


1. See “Archivio di Stato di Palermo (ASP SMS F2 B1631) in G. Nania, “Toponomastica e topografia storica delle valli del Belice e dello Jato”, Palermo, Barbaro, 1995: 72 Note 2

2. We can read the document in A. Inveges , “La Cartagine siciliana”, Bisagni, Palermo, 1651: 106-107

3. See G.B. Pellegrini , "Italian toponymy" Hoepli, 1990: 81

4. See G. Alessio, “L'elemento Greco nella toponomastica della Sicilia”, Bollettino I, Palermo, 1953: 65 ff.

5. See Ferdinando Maurici in" Mélanges de l'Ecole française de Rome: Moyen  âge, L'Ecole, 1993, Vol. 105, 1: 232 and footnote 5

6. See B. Pace, ,”Arte e civiltà della Sicilia antica” ["Art and civilization of the ancient Sicily], Editrice Dante Alighieri, 1938: 243

7. See S. Correnti (“La Sicilia del Cinquecento…”, Mursia, 1980: 79

8. See in particular about the origins and the sixteenth century, F. Maurici, "Illi de domo et Familia Abbatellis ...", Officina di Studi Medievali, 1985: 10-37 ff. and " Rivista Geografica Italiana ", Florence, 1920, vol. 20: 160 ff.