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Gela is located east of the river Gela and close to its outlet on the south-west coast of Sicily, island off the south-western part of Italy. The old town of Gela is rich in monuments to remind visitors of its long and ancient history.
Note that Gela is quite an extensive town, and rather overdeveloped - including heavy industry and an extensive oil refinery and industrial port. Of course we talk rather more about the interesting monuments...it is a town to explore to rather than a town to be based in for your two week summer visit.
Gela Archaeology Park
To better appreciate the town and its history we suggest you start a visit In “Capo Soprano” at the Gela Archaeological Park. Here you can see the greatest example of Greek military architecture, namely the Greek fortifications of Timoleon, dating from the 4th century BC.
Perfectly preserved for over 2000 years the peculiarity of the building is the construction technique, the top of the wall is brick clay baked in the sun, commonly known as “crudi” [trans: raw, like crudites].
A few meters from the park you can see the remains of the Baths dating from Hellenistic times (4th century BC), a complex with 36 tanks with heating and underground drainage.
Gela old town
Along the main street of the old city are the Byzantine style Church of San Biagio (dating back to the 11th century, and the oldest local church) now home to the Town Library and the Church of Our Lady of Grace, with a Gothic façade and containing a precious wooden altarpiece.
Next stop in gela is the 'walled city' where we find the Church del Carmine - 18th century with a font from the second half of the 16th century and a 15th century crucifix).
Also here visit the Church of the Rosary (late 18th century) with a late Baroque interior and a tall bell tower with a majolica spire. Inside this church there is a picture of the "Via Crucis" painted by the local painter Salvatore Solito (1906-1983), some frescoes and a small organ of the second half of the eighteenth century.
A little further on you reach Piazza Umberto I, with the neoclassical Gela Cathedral, built between the 18th and 19th centuries. Built in sandstone the cathedral has two rows of Ionic and Doric columns, a dome and bell tower. Inside, the three aisles with a basilica plan hold some paintings (the “Madonna dell'Alemanna”, “Assumption of Mary” and the “Assumption of Our Lady” by Giuseppe Tresca (1710-1795)), marble gravestones, and a precious altar in polychrome marble and glass.
The main façade of the cathedral was built in 1844 in Neo-Classical style by Giuseppe Di Bartolo Morselli - it is divided into two superimposed parts strongly pointing to the center with projecting columns, and above it an oval stone plaque with a bas-relief with the arms of Mary.
Inside there are several 18th-19th century paintings, plus many by Giuseppe Tresca and Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670, a disciple of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Jusepe de Ribera, and a great panel painting dating back to 1563, attributed to Deodato Guinaccia (Italian painter of the Renaissance).
After the cathedral...
Behind the cathedral is the Monastery of the cloister of St. Benedict (15th century). Among the notable works of art in the church we mention a panel painting from the 18th century depicting the "Lovely Lady of the Sick", attributed to Luigi Borremans and a picture of "Santa Maria della Porziuncola", attributed to Filippo Paladini [1544-1614, a disciple of the Tuscan Mannerism]).
Also notable here is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, dating from the second half of the 17th century. Inside it has a wooden ceiling, painted and adorned with gold. It presents the typical Sicilian late-Baroque style, with several paintings attributed to “Zoppo di Gangi” ("Life of St. Francis") (Note: there were two painters who used the pseudonym 'Zoppo di Gangi', Gaspare Vazzano (1550-1630) and Giuseppe Salerno (1588-1630). It seems that the two painters worked together.)
Also worthy of note for visitors is the Gela Regional Archaeological Museum. The museum consists of five sections on the ground floor and four on the first floor. On the ground floor are the remains of prehistoric artefacts that have come to light around the city, including the ancient Greek Acropolis, and a large number of Attic and Corinthian vases.
On the upper floor are the finds from the sanctuaries and urban centers of the Prehistoric age and the Ancient Greeks and Romans. In addition there are several display cases containing ceramic materials, glass and bronze sculptures from medieval times .
Leaving the museum we enter the Acropolis Archaeological Park. Along this promenade there is a portion of the ancient archaeological Greek city with the ruins of houses, chapels, streets and walls.
To the south lies the sacred area which had at least three temples, of which only the foundations remain today. Of the Athenaion temple, the most majestic, you can still see one Doric column 8 meters high.
A short distance from the Acropolis, through the “Littorio wood”, tourists can visit the remains of the Archaic Greek Emporium, dating from the sixth century BC, with warehouses, offices and shops.
Gela local highlights and culture
Near to Gela, in Manfria near the resort area on the west coast, lies the 12th century 'Castelluccio' [“Small Castle”], an ancient fortress of Fredrick II of Swabia.
For nature lovers, we recommend a visit to the Natural Reserve of Gela, with the largest coastal lake of Sicily. Here many species of birds stay that migrate between Africa and Europe, as well as many rare plant species (some of which are found only here).
The culinary traditions of Gela are very ancient and prestigious; it is said that that Gela was home to Archeostratus, the first gourmet of history, who lived in the 4th century BC.
Eating out in Gela - our recommendations
Because the region produces a remarkable quantity of wheat, wheat-based preparations are the specialty of this area, such as bread, pizzas and flat bread. In particular, the bread of Gela is regarded as one of the tastiest of Italy (a typical example is the bread of St. Joseph). The breadcrumbs can also be used in many ways, eg stuffed with sausage, with cod, broccoli and spinach.
Since Gela is also a maritime city, there are also numerous local seafood dishes including prawns, red mullet, squid, swordfish, octopus, squid, mullet, bass and various others. The typical first course dishes of Gela are pasta with wild fennel, ricotta and cockles.
Among the main courses try the artichokes (cooked in a pot roast or stuffed), sausage or grilled pork ribs, blood sausage, and eggplant (fried or stuffed). Other specialities local to Gela include fried olives, salads of all kinds, and the "cchiappe" (sun-dried tomatoes) and artichokes.
Among the desserts are ravioli filled with ricotta cheese (with cinnamon and a drop of chocolate) and the "Sphinx" (pancakes with honey or sugar).
See also Gela history and etymology
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.