The earliest archaeological traces of Paternò date back to the Neolithic period, but the historic city starts with “Ibla”, also called "Galeatis," once famous for its sect of priests that were able to interpret dreams, and dedicated to the worship of the goddess “Ibla”.

The Hellenization of "Hybla Maior" began as early as the 6th century BC, reflecting the influence of Catania, of Greek origin. In Roman times the worship of the Goddess Hybla experienced a moment of special good fortune, and the Roman cult of "Venus Iblea” was born.

With the fall of the Roman Empire the town suffered serous damages because of the barbarian invasions,; in fact, it was occupied in turn by the Goths, Byzantines and Arabs. These were expelled by the Normans led by Ruggero d'Altavilla (1021-1101).

With the death of William II (1166-1189), the last Norman king, rule of Paterno transferred to the emperor Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250).

At the end of the 13th century Paternò passed under the rule of the Angevin; and then it belonged to the feudal family of the Moncada, who ruled it until the unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the town and name Paterno

The name of the city, "Paternò" poses serious problems of interpretation that still are not completely resolved. There are essentially two problems: Where was the ancient town?  What is the meaning of this name?

As regard the first question, there was the question of whether to place the ancient site at Ibla or Inessa-Etna. Already in the 17th century it was common for scholars to identify the site of Paternò with the ancient "Hybla Maior." Proponents of this point of view were scholars of great prestige:

"[...] supported the identity with 'Hibla Maior' especially the German archaeologist Philip Cluver (1580-1623) and then the Geographer  Giovanni Battista Nicolosi (1610-1670)[…] "; today this hypothesis is strongly supported by contemporary scholars such as Italo Mariotti" [1].

In the early 20th century, G. Savasta, a distinguished scholar of Paternò, was absolutely convinced of the identification of Paternò with Hibla, referring to several witnesses, such as the Cluverio:

“[...] I believe that Hybla Maior was placed on this site, where today we see the walled city which is popularly known as Paternò." [2].

However, more recent studies confirm the hypothesis:

"The only positive identification is that of Paternò with ‘Ibla Gerearis’" [3].

At "Hibla Maior" the cult of the Goddess Hibla was deeply rooted and the cult enjoyed great prestige and veneration for its priests devoted to divination. From this hypothesis there also originated an etymology that now enjoys a substantial credit, by which the place-name of "Paterno" derives from the "temple of Partènos”. B. Conte writes that we must connect the name with a millennial cult of 'Partènos' or 'Virgin' and with his temple on the hill:

"[...] I think we need to connect the name with the Paternò millennial cult of ‘Partènos’  and with its temple on the hill, the so-called 'Partènio' (...) The current name derives from 'Paternion', with the normal fall of the final syllable and the syncopation of the euphonic 'i'. In summary, from 'Partènio'> 'Paternio'> ‘Patern(i)ò(ne)’> Paternò .[...]" [4].

However, the question is really intricate and difficult to resolve, mainly because there are very many different proposal. For example, as well as the etymology mentioned above, there are some significant other hypothesis, such as, for example, one that proposes, for the modern name, a mark of Arab origin, because the Arabs called it "Batarnù" or "Paternò" [5].

Michele Amari also believed in an Arabic root [6], and listed a number of place names derived from Arabic such as ‘Saraqusah’ (Syracuse), ‘Lantini’ (Lentini), ‘Qataniah’ (Catania), ‘Batarnù’ (Paternò). Santi Correnti notes that:

"[...] the Arab influence is clear in a number of place names in Sicily so vast that at the beginning of the 19th century, Domenico Scinà wrote: 'The mountains, springs and many other places, changed the old names, and bring to our days only Arab names' [...] " [7].

Other hypotheses that could capture the truth are those which think of a praedial name, meaning "farm belonging to his father," which also is a very common name in Italy and elsewhere in Sicily;  in fact, the place name 'Paterno' ("Paternu"), which indicates "a farm inherited from his father", is very old [8].

According to another hypothes proposed in the website of the Province of Catania, "Paternò" would be of Byzantine origin and makes reference to the shape of its site, located at the junction leading to the most important city in the western part of Etna, or ‘Adernò’ (ep 'Adernon = "to Adernò"). Another hypothesis assumes instead that "Paternò" comes from the Greek word "Pterna", meaning "foot of a mountain," with obvious reference to the geographical position of the city, at the foot of Etna.

It's obvious that, faced with such a wide and varied range of cases, where some etymologies have strong similarities with the modern name [ ‘Partènios’ (Sicilian-Greek), ‘Batarnù’ (Arabic), ‘Paternu’ (praedial Latin name), and ‘Pterna’ (Byzantine name)], it would seem almost impossible to say which name has given rise to the modern “Paternò”.

However, the only criterion good enough, at least from a logical point of view, would be to rebuild the ancient name. In this sense, "Partènos" precedes the Latin term "Partenu", the Arabic “Batarnù”, and finally the Byzantine name “Pterna”. It is therefore possible that "Partènos" is the cause of the subsequent name change, and that the etymology proposed by B. Conti has real substance.

See the visitor guide for Paternò.


1. See Carmelo Ciccia, "The Myth of Hibla in literature and art," Pellegrini, Cosenza, 1998:  56

2. See G. Savasta, "Memoirs of the Historical city of Paternò, Catania, 1905, ch. IV

3. See "Memoirs and Proceedings of the Society Magna Grecia", 1983: 177

4. See A. Consolo. B. Conti, "Historical Notes on Paternò" Paternò, 1972: 15-19

5. See "The Myth of Hibla," p. 53, note 86

6. See "Arabic-Sicilian Library”, Vol 2:  669

7. See Santi Correnti, “History of Sicily”, Newton and Compton, 1999: 261

8. see G.B. Pellegrini, "Italian toponymy" Hoepli, 1990: 252