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Palazzolo Acreide

The Chapel of the Sepulchre of S. Lucia
February 11, 2022
The statue of the dying Saint Lucy
February 14, 2022
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino

Palazzolo Acreide

Antonino Uccello and Antonello da Messina
There once was a man, as light and thin as a reed or twig, like a bird; in fact his name was Antonino Uccello and uccello means bird in Italian, as if there were an omen, a prediction in his name. His face looked like the sharp profile of a bird, one of those of fragile appearance, but when you see them flying, they cut through the air like bolts of lightning. Most extraordinarily of all, he really knew how to fly.
His thoughts flew, his writing flew, the house around him flew, in fact, he had named it ‘Icarus’, thinking perhaps of a pair of wax wings, those secret wings which he certainly used when no one could see him.
He had called that house ‘Casa-museo’, the House-Museum of memory and the past: a house where agricultural Sicily went back to being the Sicily of Calpurnio Siculo and Theocritus, where surely the Muses, freed of all erudition and rhetoric, wove harmonious joyous dances to the sound of flutes and bagpipes together with the man who was not a fawn, but a silvan, winged creature. It was a house, of course, but seeing as it was inhabited also by the Muses, it was a Mouseion, a place filled with enchanted religiosity which celebrated the changing of seasons, the times of body and spirit, the Works and Days.
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino

There everything made sense and had meaning, so the house lived a life of its own, parallel to the months, to the torrid sun and the deafening cicadas, and then the shade, the cool rain or springwater, the sip from the quartara, a terracotta bottle, and then again in the cold, the rain, the wind and also the snow, as even that was extraordinarily present at the time! Even if it didn’t belong to the Spirits, that house decided on everything there was to do: today the oven is abbruciato a puntino - fired up perfectly! and tomorrow, bread and freshly pressed olive oil, green and dense, that’s a true delicacy! And for Easter and Christmas, sweets that fill you with just their smell, the perfume of sugar and flour, really mature fruit or wild and sour, rendered edible with honey.
Between those walls, ancient, traditional objects would gather, objects which belonged to the house and the work of the farmer, collected by that Pied Piper, that Icarus, owner of the house, who placed them, almost by virtue and their own effort, in the right places, and once there, they reclaimed their ancient life. That is what happened to terracotta figurines and lamps, vases and lanterns, nativity scenes and jars, coloured prints of poor saints and frazzate and cuttunine, the textiles of rustic dowries: through these objects the ancient life which inhabited them was restored and the whole house breathed in harmony with it.
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino

Even singing was heard, it was melancholic from the cart driver on the stony track, love-struck under a window or despairing from an inmate.
So it was a house of harmony, at one with humans and the environment, with the moods of the time and the house owners and also - why not? - of the moody local saints. Warrior saints, irritable, in continuous conflict with each other, cautious in the protections they might concede and therefore rigorous in the respect required towards devotional acts. But in the deep breathing of the large house, there was a place for everything, in time and in a natural way, as if in a large body of living stone.
And if it was alive, then of course it had to take care of food, and so the house trembled with joy, smelling the scents and absorbing them into its grey plaster, filtering them through the thick walls, freeing them later through the windows and balconies, letting them spread through the streets and stairs and gracing the nostrils of those lucky people who could then say: it’s time for strattu, tomato paste, or Jams have been made! or even Pork sauce! Lent is over!.
Palazzolo’s Icarus would listen to everything, to the comments on the streets, those of the citizens and scholars and professors and the words would combine with the objects and the sounds in a single register that was Memory. It was like a symphony, a choral song in which everyone could recognise something, catch a memory, and as they did so, many thought it was a nice thing, a good opportunity to seize, as they couldn’t remember many of these things any more. And then all of a sudden a little at a time, loved faces and lost ones returned, good habits which had disappeared returned and the beauty of that memory struck them for a moment.
And that was the beauty of it all, a great idea by that man there, always polite and with a faint voice, perhaps a bit insistent with all the questions he asked. And how? And why? and when? But with his head of diamonds he was able to make these beautiful gifts for everyone! The locals were pleased to have such a special master, a truly good teacher, one of those Sicilians with pedigree, and everyone understood that - even if they didn’t yet know that there could also be bad teachers.
Casa Museo A.Uccello Palazzolo Acreide © ph. Antonio Gerbino
Antonello da Messina, Annunciazione 1474 © Regione Siciliana – Galleria Palazzo Bellomo
He of the bird-like flight, migrating from south to north and then back south again, had arrived in that place by chance, and while we can’t say that he discovered it, he had fallen in love with it right away. A town with the name of a rock, Akrai, a town of fortresses and soldiers, but beautiful and gentle! It’s surely no coincidence that Antonello da Messina painted his most beautiful Annunciation for the main Church of the town, the blonde Madonna with her gentle face, amazed by the angel’s surprising words! In the sweet winter countryside the girl with serene eyes embraces her destiny while everyday life is all around her, the fields, the work, the trees, the water.
The immensity of the announcement marks the moments of amazement: the flaming angel with the shock of golden hair is immobile, the girl’s gentle gaze is still, only the fluttering of the white pages of the book on the lectern reveals the Divine Breath. This work of art was commissioned for the land of Acrai, Palacioli, by the “venerabilis dominus” Giuliano Maniuni, a forefather to our Icarus, who in the contract with the great Antonello wanted not flashes of golds and blues but the “virginis Marie et angeli Gabrielis” … “cum casamento”, at home - the true novelty of painting in the Quattrocento.
At the bottom of the painting, a vase of white and blue pottery, with its round spiny cactus, speaks of commonly-used ceramics, present those days in the houses of everyday people, and now found in museums like Palazzo Bellomo in Siracusa.
But let's get back to our town! Its name isn’t an omen this time, but rather represents an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms! It vests itself with a rough hardness, Acrai, name of a hard rock, garrison outpost of Greek Syracosia, it then changes its name in the middle ages to Palacioli, meaning fortress, castle, defensive keep, and it is always, ever since its founding, filled with grace and measure, and rich with gentle fascination.
How to escape from the domestic grace of its theatre, perfectly made for the community, perceived as an extension of the personal space of its citizens so much so that it isn’t unusual for the people to feel obliged to intervene during the plays, warning the actor on stage who seems unknowing of what is about to happen to him!
January 2022
Photos provided by Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana with prohibition of duplication,by any means. © Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana – Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana – Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali, Ambientali e dell’Identità Siciliana – pubblicazione concessa. © Regione Siciliana – Galleria Palazzo Bellomo e Casa-Museo Antonino Uccello

Essay writer and author, her works include Archimede. Siracusa e il suo genio. She studied Classical Literature with a focus on Archeology. She has worked on numerous cultural heritage promotion projects in Sicily, and on the texts and contexts of audiovisual material regarding the history of the archeology of Siracusa.