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I Borghi più belli d'Italia - Sicily, San Marco d'Alunzio
Lightbox (15) Tags: architecture borghi-piu-belli-ditalia europe history italy sicily Posted: Dec. 12, 2011 by Vassilik
Location of "The most beautiful villages in Italy" in Sicily
From left to right (Click on map markers for details): Cefalù, Geraci Siculo, San Marco d'Alunzio, Brolo, Montelbano Elicona, Novara di Sicilia, Savoca, Castelmola
San Marco d'Alunzio (Sicily, Italy). Media credit: Enzian44 (Wikipedia, San Marco d'Alunzio), License details
Date licensed: Dec. 6, 2011
San Marco d'Alunzio
There are many similarities between San Marco d'Alunzio and other small towns which are members of the "I borghi più belli d'Italia" club - if not in details but certainly in principal. First thing to notice is that the town has just slightly more than two thousand inhabitants; moreover, since 50s of the last century there is a clear declining trend in the number of people living there - 40% from 1951 to 2001. Secondly, as the rest of club members, San Marco d'Alunzio is a charming town with typical medieval appeal. In fact, the history of the village, at least in all major events, is not different from the other towns in the region - from the prehistoric period it followed through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Norman periods.
The original Greek name of the settlement (around 4th century BC) was Alontion; when Romans conquered it, they change the name to Haluntium. During Byzantine and Arab times, the name of the place was Demenna, and after Normans defeated the Arabs, it became San Marco. Some theorize that it was done on the memory of the eldest son of Robert Guiscard (Roberto il Guiscardo, a Norman warrior who first invaded Sicily in 1061 and conquered its significant part) and christened Marco at his baptism. The first Norman castle built in Sicily (by Robert Guiscard) was the one in San Marco.
During Middle Ages, San Marco did not play as important role in local feuds as some of its neighbors. The medieval history of the town is linked closely to the name of Filingeri, a family of Norman origins which ruled the town (with some interruptions though) until the end of feudalism in Sicily. On July 30, 1862 the city council of San Marco decided to commemorate the ancient origins of the center by adding the name of the appellation of Alunzio to San Marco: San Marco d'Alunzio.
The ruins of the castle of San Marco (built in 1061 by Robert Guiscard on remains of a previous fortification) are still there at the highest part of the place. Among the oldest and still remaining structures is the Church of St. Mark (Chiesa di San Marco). It was erected upon the Temple of Hercules (Tempio di Ercole, dated 4th century BC) of which only few stone blocks still remain. Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore (Church of the Holy Salvatore) is another very old church of the original Norman construction of the 12th century. There are many other churches in San Marco d'Alunzio (more than 20) representing a great deal of its architectural heritage. Just to highlight one of the them: Chiesa di San Teodoro was founded in the sixteenth century on the ruins of a Byzantine chapel.
There are several museums in San Marco d'Alunzio, perhaps the most interesting is the Byzantine Museum. It was created in 1997 and is housed at the former Benedictine Monastery built in 16th century (on the place of the Byzantine-Norman church) and inhabited by the nuns until 1866.
There are several traditional celebrations in San Marco d'Alunzio. Most interesting are Palio dell'Assunta (August 15) which includes a parade with medieval costumes and Festa del Crocifisso di Aracoeli (last Friday in March) commonly known as Festival of Babbaluti. The latter involves the procession of 33 "Babbaluti" in hoods.