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I Borghi più belli d'Italia - Sicily, Brolo
Lightbox (15) Tags: architecture borghi-piu-belli-ditalia europe history italy sicily Posted: Dec. 14, 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
Streets of Brolo (Brolo, Sicily, Italy). Media credit: Copyright atsubor, License details
Il Castello di Brolo (Brolo, Sicily, Italy). Media credit: Copyright atsubor, License details
I wish I could write more about Brolo included recently as a member of the "I Borghi più belli d'Italia" club. Unfortunately, the historic context related to this small town located on the Tyrrhenian coast (about 56 miles or (90 km) and 90 miles (145 km) west from Messina east of Palermo) is scarce. All you can find in most sources about Brolo's ancient times is that the settlement located here already existed in the 4th century. It seems that this knowledge comes mostly from the fact that the Sicilian version of road Via Valeria was traversing Brolo. It is believed that Brolo, the name of the town, originates from the Latin ‘brolum’ which meant a "cultivated land."
Few things are known about the origins and the history of the town in early Middle Ages. It looks like the medieval town grew as a settlement developing around the castle built very close to the sea dominating a wide stretch of the Tyrrhenian coast. One of castle's towers is still standing, and actually is in a good shape (after several modifications and repairs) - a must to see spot if you visit Brolo. Who built the castle and when is not clear.
In literature related to the history of Brolo there are frequent references to the Italian noble family of Lancia (or Lanzia) with the Castle of Brolo as their ancestral residence. However, it is unclear under what circumstances Lancia family inherited and already owned the Castle by 13th century (as required for consistency with other alleged events - see below). Other sources (including Lancia family genealogy) indicate that the family's roots in Sicily originate from the marriage of Cesarina Lancia to Giovanni d'Aragona around 1320. Their descendants eventually received in feud Ficarra with Brolo as a part of the barony dominion (the whole feudal domain was terminated in 1738 when the barony of Ficarra was sold at public auction to Vincenzo Abate, Marquise of Longarino).
The above is in direct contradiction with some claims according to which the Castle of Brolo was the birthplace of Manfred who became the king of Sicily in 1258 (born in 1232, died in 1266) (see, for example, related page on the official "I Borghi più belli d'Italia" web site). Moreover, while there is no dispute that Bianca Lancia d'Agliano (also called Beatrice), mistress and later wife of emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen gave birth to Manfred from Frederick II, other sources indicate that Manfred was actually born in Venosa, a town in the province of Potenza (Basilicata).
No doubt, Brolo is a charming town with its core having typical medieval layout and surrounded by the scenic mountain chain of Nebrodi. However, its historic and artistic heritage is not as pronounced as in many other places in Sicily which nevertheless do not enjoy a membership in the Club and the proud name of one of "the most beautiful" villages in Italy. To me, Brolo seems more like a seaside resort that in addition to its beaches and pleasant nature also offers some medieval charm as an additional attraction to tourists. The medieval core of the town is small; only about 300 people live there. The rest of the Brolo's population, about six thousand (and growing), lives in an environment that, no matter how pleasant and relaxing it may be, has little association with one of the main goals of the Club targeting "the preservation of a great heritage of monuments and memories that would otherwise be irretrievably lost."
I would like also to mention that Brolo is sitting right in the middle of the section of the Tyrrhenian coast between Capo d'Orlando and Cape Calavà. Incidentally, this part of the coast is also known as Costa Saracena - allegedly because the area was pillaged in 1543 by Hayreddin (Khair ad-Din) Barbarossa, an Ottoman admiral and one of the Barbary Corsairs who dominated the Mediterranean for decades in 16th century. Costa Saracena is the tourist designation by itself set in unspoiled landscapes, a world rich in folklore, history and traditions with the Aeolian Islands on the horizon.