Photo of Cefala Diana

Visit Cefala Diana

The town of Cefala Diana is situated in north-western Sicily, south-east of Palermo.

The town has always had a focus on agriculture but recently, thanks to a better appreciation of its artistic and architectural heritage, it has become an attractive tourist destination. It is set in a pretty landscape which is now part of the "Natural Reserve of Cefalà Diana", created in 1997.

Explore Cefalà Diana

The "Arab Baths" and "The Castle" are the two main highlights in Cefalà Diana, although both are surrounded by much confusion about their real origins - in particular it seems likely that the 'Arab baths' were constructed in the 12th-14th centuries, not during the Arab period and not, as is also sometimes suggested, with origins in the Roman period.

In the words of Michele Amari, one of the greatest scholars of the Arab-Sicily period who despaired of reaching a solution about the dating of the Cefalà Diana Baths: "We cannot hope for now, or for ever, to arrive at the origin of this monument"

Arab Baths in Cefala Diana

Although not of Arab origin the baths follow the Arab tradition of building, which has certainly confused their identification - and the baths have great charm, whichever period they date from.

The plan of the building is rectangular, about five metres wide and two metres tall, with a barrel vault and five pointed arched openings, two of which were later closed and converted into two windows. The masonry wall was built according to the "opus incertum", that is, with stones of irregular shape.

Inside the baths there are two rooms of different sizes, divided by two columns with Tuscan capitals and bases on which stand three red clay brick arches. The central arch is of ogival shape and the two sides are curved, with one arm resting on the capitals and the other on the side walls.

The vault has a number of cylindrical holes, for lighting the interior, and for allowing water vapor air in and out. The base of the vault has by many channels, which in addition to the aesthetic function, were also used to stop water formed by condensation from flowing along the inner surface of the vault. In the floor there are three basins.

The front is separated from the back of the room with the "tribelon", a triple arcade of Arabian style, thin columns with marble capitals and terracotta pulvinus, while behind the "tribelon" there is another smaller basin, where the thermal waters gathered that flowed naturally from the ground before being channeled to the big basins.

The presence of an inscription in Arabic "Kufic" letters (Arabic script which is a geometric shape of graphemes), did much to strengthen the idea that the building dated back to the Islamic times.


Cefala Diana Castle

No less complicated than the dating of the Arab baths are the issues concerning the castle of Cefalà Diana, traditionally attributed to the Normans because of a document from 1121 which noted the presence of a castle in the feud of Cefalà.

This has led to considerable confusion, because it seems that the traditional data is accurate but incomplete i.e. it doesn't tell us everything that we would need to know for a correct assessment of the historical data. It is true that in 1121 there was a castle of Norman origin in Cefalà - the problem is, the castle was not located where today we can now see the remains of the castle of Cefalà Diana*.

So when Al Idrisi (1099-1165) wrote of the existence of "Cefalà, a small village...with farm-houses and spacious lands to be sown" he was referring to the "old" village of Cefalà, which was abandoned in the 13th century and moved to the foot of the "new castle", built by the Chiaramonte.

History of Cefalu Diana castle

It is useful to appreciate the historical setting for the castle. Cefalà castle was part of a system of fortresses located on neighboring peaks. With the development of feudalism the territory of Cefalà was fought over by the most powerful feudal lords, who struggled for control of the high impregnable places from which it was very easy to control the access roads to Palermo.

The castle of Cefalà was built for this expansionist strategy by one of the most powerful lords of Sicily, the Chiaramonte, in a social-political context of complete anarchy. With the death of the centralized figure of Frederick II of Swabia in 1250, the ambitious Sicilian feudal families unleashed a relentless struggle for domination of the region.

Hence the birth of so many castles, the construction of which was encouraged by powerful feudal Sicilian families such as the Chiaramonte, Ventimiglia,  Abbate, and several Catalan families who had settled in Sicily, such as the Alagona, Peralta and Moncada.

detail of Arab baths of cefala Diana

Visiting the castle

Inside the castle there were two large cisterns that collected rainwater. The castle was shaped like a triangle and built on sheer rock, so given the inaccessible area the walls were thin (less than a meter thick). To the west the walls reached a thickness of 1m 40 since the area was more exposed to external attacks.

The mighty tower, built on the highest point of rock and 20 meters high was of rectangular shape and divided into four levels. The tower certainly had a defensive purpose, but its main function was to control the road linking Palermo to Agrigento.

Its prominent position and its rough appearance, without a decorative detail, let us imagine it was a fortress without comforts. In fact Cefala Diana castle rarely served as home to the barons.

Perched on a sandstone cliff 657 meters above sea level, the castle has a certain originality; the central triangular courtyard is situated on the rock and was surrounded by a high wall, of which little survives today, with merlons and other defensive works. The castle was entered through a double entrance, in which there were some large rooms such as stables, storehouses and quarters for the garrison

Today, after restorations, the castle can be visited by tourists.

See also Cefala Diana history and etymology.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.

See also: 

Map of Cefala Diana and places to visit


Cefala Diana places to visit



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