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Paternò is a medium sized town in south-eastern Sicily, to the south of Etna and at about 300 meters above sea level.
While the castle is undoubtedly the most important monument in Paterno and the highlight (and suggested starting point) of your visit, be sure to spend time exploring the rest of Paterno, especially the old town.
This Norman castle was built on the hill in the second half of the 11th century as a fortified outpost for the conquest of the plains below and to keep control over the Simeto River Valley. The castle was also the residence of the Angevin and Moncada.
The castle donjon consists of a rectangular and irregular block, and is over 30 meters high with walls made of lava stone.
You enter the ground floor via a staircase on the north side to find an interior space divided into five rooms. A large living room opens immediately after the entrance, vaulted with pointed arches, and lit by two single-light windows on the west side. On the floor of this room there was once a huge pit, now covered.
The chapel is artistically important and consists of a rectangular room with a single nave and semicircular apse. The walls of the chapel show a series of mural paintings in tempera, in places very faded, and thought to date from the 13th century. On some walls the figures are still visible however, such as the Angel and the Virgin of the Annunciation, St. John the Baptist and St. Nicholas.
Above the apse there are four symbols of the evangelists within a few medallions. The rest of the decoration shows various knights, among which Saint George stands out.
You reach the first floor of the castle via a stone staircase with two flights. It proceeds to the east with a large hall covered by a rib vault and illuminated by four light windows. The other half of the space is divided into three square rooms. On the second floor the space has a great gallery with a rib vault and lit by two large mullioned windows.
Finally, the structure is topped by a large terrace. The castle now contains a city museum and art exhibitions.
Paterno old town - a tour and churches
The old town of Paternò is best characterized by the presence of many churches of great artistic value.
The Church of Santa Maria dell’Alto is the Mother Church: it was re-built in the 14th century on an earlier Norman structure, and is a Romanesque-style basilica. The façade falls in three parts, with a portal in lava stone topped by a window, while in the two sides we see two pairs of arches, with the bells in the one on the left. The Church is divided into three naves - note the Chapel which holds a wooden 17th century crucifix.
The Church of the Santissima Annunziata dates from the 17th century, with notable paintings of "The Death of St. Benedict", "The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara" (17th century), and "The Madonna dell'Itria" (16th century) .
The Church of Santa Barbara (16th century) has a façade embellished with a loggia flanked by statues of St. Peter and St. Paul and a central niche containing the statue of Santa Barbara. Inside it is characterized by a great many paintings, as well as a large dome.
Among the other monuments to be seen in Paterno we mention the holy Church of Cristo al Monte (16th century), which has a rectangular shape with a barrel vault, and contains valuable frescoes and decorations; the Church of St. Maria delle Grazie (16th century), with a barrel vault with fine decorations in Baroque style; and finally the Church and Convent of St. Francis, with a single rectangular nave and portals with pointed arches.
In the region around Paterno there are also some new archaeological sites of interest, such as the cemetery where a terracotta funerary cover of the early Christian era was found, with the Christian symbols of the fish and the Trinity, and the remains of a Roman aqueduct, probably from the Age of Augustus.
Paterno traditions, food and wine
In recent years Paternò has developed its tradition of handicrafts production and there is a permanent exhibition in the town and at the Norman castle, which exhibits important artifacts to the public in wrought iron, ceramics, and lava rock.
It is almost a duty for visitors to taste the cuisine and wines of Paternò during your visit! We must not forget that we are on the slopes of Etna, which has made the soil fertile and allowed the cultivation of citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges, and olive trees. Hence the local cuisine, with starters of olives seasoned with chili peppers that accompany all kinds of vegetables.
The main courses also reflect local traditions, with pasta served with broccoli or beans, and pasta seasoned with fish sauce. Finish perhaps with the typical Sicilian cakes, such as the pistachio cream, biscuits with dates and figs, baba egg, the "schiumoni" ice cream and, of course, the famous "Cassata" of Sicily.
See also Paterno history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.