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Belvedere Castle

The Belvedere Castle of Fiumedinisi, a medieval gem nestled among the majestic southeastern Peloritani mountains at an elevation of approximately 750 meters above sea level, stands as an architectural marvel and a genuine glimpse into the history and scenic beauty of eastern Sicily. Overlooking the Nisi Valley and the Ionian Sea, this castle serves as a living testament to past eras, its ruins emanating an atmosphere of solemn grandeur.

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The history

Despite the absence of precise documentation on its foundation, historical traces begin to surface in September 1197, when Henry VI, the father of Frederick II, met his tragic end at Fiumedinisi. Over the following centuries, the castle experienced various phases, being mentioned in 1271 as a farmhouse and in 1296 as a fief of Ruggero de Vallone from Messina. In 1354, the farmhouse and castle were captured by Giovanni Saccamo and later reclaimed by the Count of Aidone.

A significant chapter in the castle's history opened in 1357 when King Frederick IV granted Fiumedinisi, the farmhouse, and the fortress, along with Limina, to Giovanni Mangiavacca, appointing him captain and castellan of Francavilla. This period of grants and assignments continued through a series of handovers, culminating in 1392 when Tommaso Romano Colonna received the settlement from King Martin and Queen Maria. The Colonna Romano dynasty maintained control of Fiumedinisi and the castle until the abolition of feudalism.

In 1495, Bembo recalled the castle by the toponym "Niso," describing it as a fortress on a sheer cliff, visible from every point to travellers. However, accounts of tunnels connecting the fortress to surrounding mines, though present in later documents, lack material confirmation.

The structure

The Belvedere Castle, erected on the summit of a rock known as "Belvedere," enjoys an exceptional strategic position. From the peak, the view spans miles, allowing constant monitoring of the sea and coast. The structure, with its irregular polygonal layout, reveals surprising architectural details.

Inside the castle, the southern side features wall crests that outline the dividing walls of interior spaces, while the northern portion is better preserved, with the imposing remains of the keep in the northeast corner and the main entrance to the northwest. A large cistern, about 5 meters deep, is located on the southern side, while the surrounding walls retain traces of patrol pathways.

The summit of the rock offers an irregular geomorphological formation, with medium and small-sized caves still partially unexplored. The massive rock drops sharply to the east, forming a separate platform about 100 meters lower. This platform, called Castellaccio, is isolated from the eastern and southern sides by sheer cliffs. A path from the north allows access, avoiding the Belvedere to the west.

Despite the name Castellaccio, no relation has been found between the toponym and the surrounding area. There is suspicion that this rocky platform at the foot of the castle, in very ancient times, could have hosted the ancient indigenous Greek settlement of Fiumedinisi, with the acropolis likely occupying the area now held by the majestic fortress.

Exploring the Belvedere Castle of Fiumedinisi means diving into a rich history and enjoying breathtaking views of picturesque eastern Sicily.

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Mint Palace

Fiumedinisi, steeped in millennia of history that traces its origins to antiquity, has consistently attracted the interest of foreign dominations in Sicily, thanks to its mineral wealth. The river in its valley, named Chrisorhoas by the Greeks, has historically been famous for its mineral riches, particularly the traces of gold found along its banks. The gold extracted from the mountain stream had various uses, from coinage to the creation of household tools and high-quality jewellery, often commissioned by the patrician families of Sicily.

The history of the mining complex

Since the time of the Chalcidians, mining extractions have characterized the region, helping to forge its historical identity. During the Arab period, particular attention was given to iron mines, while King Roger II focused on vitriol, alum, and gold, using the latter to adorn the capitals of the Messina Cathedral.

In the 15th century, following periods of internal turmoil, King Martin showed a keen interest in the metallurgical complex of Fiumedinisi. In 1402, he granted authorization to Berto Billone, Filippo di Orzano, and Andrea Carlino to search and exploit silver, copper, iron, sulphur, alum, and gamillu powder (saltpetre). The following year, the license was granted to the Venetian merchant Disiato di Brolo. During this period, a forge operating in the upper area of the territory significantly contributed to the production of special nails for the shipyards of Messina. Later, the forge was moved downstream to the Giallinello district. The new plant exclusively produced iron weapons and artillery shells and was supported by an aqueduct, which drew water from a nearby mill. A water wheel located in the middle of the forge enabled its operation. The forge's construction utilized skilled workers from Bergamo, Calabria, and Milan.

Tradition, supported by subsequent explorations, speaks of an ancient gold mine in the Caloro district, where thirty soldier-miners and the Spanish-origin director were killed in a landslide that permanently buried the mine.

The construction of the palace

In 1669, intensified mining research and extractions led to the construction of the majestic Mint Palace, an imposing government building located in the heart of the town. According to tradition, the Mint was active during the anti-Spanish revolt of 1674-78, temporarily substituting for the Royal Mint of Messina. In 1726, Emperor Charles VI of Austria revived mining exploitation, inaugurating a new foundry in the Ruppone district. In 1734, he extracted a significant amount of silver, used for coinage. Mining activity continued under the reign of Charles III of Bourbon, lasting until the 1960s when it ended due to rising labour and transportation costs.

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Whar remains today

The Mint Palace, a symbol of power and importance during the peak period of the district, was later divided and sold as private residences in the 19th century. However, its main part has been preserved thanks to acquisition by the municipality of Fiumedinisi, followed by a recent restoration process. This monument represents an indispensable historical and cultural heritage for the local community, testifying not only to the district's glorious past but also to its crucial relevance in the mining context of Sicily. Fiumedinisi's rich history is manifested through tangible testimonies of its past, confirming its prominent position in the island's history.

Mother Church

The Sanctuary of Maria SS. Annunziata, known as the Mother Church of Fiumedinisi, stands as a historic and religious jewel in the heart of this captivating Sicilian town. Its origins date back to the 12th century, making it one of the oldest and most representative structures in the area. Details from a 1594 manuscript reveal that the church was once managed by a substantial group of clergies, including priests, deacons, subdeacons, and other minor clerics, who also oversaw many smaller churches throughout the surrounding territory.

Over the course of the 15th century, the church underwent significant expansions, followed by artistic enhancements in the subsequent centuries. This sacred site has been at the heart of major historical events and religious celebrations that have shaped its identity over the centuries.

Originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Purification, also known as La Candelora, the building has become the focal point of the community's religious activities. In 1635, a majestic bell tower was erected on the left side of the church, helping to define the architectural profile of the entire complex.

However, the history of the Church Maria SS. Annunziata is not without its difficult moments. During the Messina siege in October 1676, the monument suffered severe damage, but its resilience became a symbol of strength and endurance. Again, in 1908, the church was struck by an accidental fire, destroying many of its artworks. After a meticulous restoration process, in 1976 the church was recognized as a Diocesan Sanctuary.

The structure

The interior of the church is a spectacle of beauty, featuring three naves delimited by imposing columns and a transept that houses magnificent altars. In addition to the main altar, the side naves are enriched with smaller altars, each adorned with paintings and statues of significant artistic and religious value.

The church facade still bears the marks of gratitude from King Charles II, the last Habsburg of Spain, to the local community for their loyalty during the anti-Spanish revolution of 1674-78. A commemorative plaque remains to remember this important historical episode.

On the sides of the roof, there are 28 carved stone "masks," monster-like creatures that serve to exorcise and protect the sacred site. These architectural details, besides their symbolic function, convey a message of warning: evil spirits can only threaten the sanctuary from the outside but cannot penetrate its interior.

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The Patron Saint's festival

The patron saint's feast on March 25th is an annual event of great significance, marked by engaging processions that see active community participation. March 24th, the eve of the feast, is highlighted by 'The Journeys,' a procession of faithful on their knees winding from the Church of San Pietro to that of the Annunziata, an ancient tradition that adds charm and devotion to the celebration.

The Vara festival

Another significant event is the Vara Festival, established in the 16th century during Spanish rule. Similar to the one in Messina, this festival occurs roughly every five years on the second Sunday of August. Its uniqueness lies in the unique procession of a Vara, a votive cart made of wood and iron dating back to the 1600s, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Lord. About 150 white-clad devotees lift the Vara and traverse the Vara road (Strada Vara), creating a spectacular display. Three children, selected from the townspeople, personify the Eternal Father, the Madonna, and the Archangel Gabriel. The event involves the entire community and attracts visitors from around the world, helping to keep the tradition alive and reinforcing the cultural identity of Fiumedinisi.

The sanctuary today

The historical, artistic, and religious importance of the Sanctuary Maria SS. Annunziata makes Fiumedinisi a unique destination. This cultural heritage can play a key role in promoting religious tourism, attracting visitors interested in history and culture, and preserving and enhancing the area's riches. Looking ahead, tourism can become a driver of sustainable development for the local community. Encouraging and supporting initiatives aimed at promoting Fiumedinisi's cultural and natural resources can contribute not only to economic growth but also to preserving and passing on the unique legacy of this fascinating and unexplored corner of Sicily.

In conclusion, the Sanctuary of Maria SS. Annunziata is not just a place of worship but also a symbol of the history, faith, and cultural wealth of Fiumedinisi. The community has the potential to share these riches with the world, opening the doors to a new era of discovery and appreciation for this extraordinary destination.

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter's Church, an independent parish until the 19th century, rivals the prestigious Mother Church and boasts a fascinating history that unfolds through the centuries. Founded in 1308 under the guidance of the Greek chaplain Berardo, as ancient manuscripts preserved in the Vatican testify, the church has deep roots in local history.

In 1594, a parish priest, three clerics, and two priests managed the church, which at the time featured sumptuous decorations. Its current architectural splendour is the result of a reconstruction process that began in the 16th century, expanding on a pre-existing 12th-century chapel. The construction of St. Peter's is traced back to 1580, and its supporting structures were completed in 1597. During the 17th century, the interior was enriched and refined, giving the building an aura of grandeur and spirituality.

In 1710, the church gained further prestige with the addition of an adjacent tower, now a bell tower, while in 1724 the facades were embellished, and in 1791 the central facade was restored after damage caused by natural disasters. Its exterior reflects an evolution in architecture, transitioning from Baroque decorative exuberance to sober linearity, while the interior, meticulously maintained, features three majestic naves supported by monolithic marble columns.

The artistic heritage

The artistic heritage of St. Peter's Church is notable, with thirteen altars adorned with marble inlays, statues, and valuable paintings. Among the artworks, the painting "The Nativity," attributed to a Caravaggesque school of the 16th century, stands out. The Nativity altar, erected in 1718 with inlays of fine marble, may have received the canvas from a descendant of the noble Romano Colonna family.

Further artistic masterpieces enrich the interiors, including the main alabaster altar with a bas-relief depicting the martyrdom of St. Peter and a marble statue of the saint from the 18th century. The Blessed Sacrament altar, with its richness of detail and vibrancy of colours, the altar of St. Anthony of Padua, a wooden and silver cross, and an 18th-century gilded chair, complete the church's artistic heritage.

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The bell tower

The bell tower of St. Peter's Church, originally a watchtower built on a rocky ridge in the 11th century, played a strategic role in controlling the valley. Visually connected to the Belvedere Castle, it served as a key point for security against possible attacks. However, in the 16th century, with the construction of the new church, the bell tower changed its purpose, becoming the palace of the Magistrate or Governor. In 1710, after the completion of the church's restoration and expansion, the tower was integrated as a bell tower, preserving its Arab-Norman style with loopholes, cornices, and a central location in the heart of the town centre.

Despite multiple transformations over time, the bell tower stands as one of the most ancient and fascinating monuments in the urban centre, witnessing the historical and architectural evolution of this church. St. Peter's Church remains a jewel steeped in history and art, captivating visitors with its majesty and rich cultural heritage.

Other Churches

In Fiumedinisi, the practice of Catholic faith has roots in the 12th century, as evidenced by a papal bull from Pope Celestine III preserved in the Cathedral of Messina since 1196. The Curia, holding lands and properties, secured significant income, highlighting the direct interest of the Pope in assigning them to the Archbishop of Messina. This likely aimed to divert ecclesiastical revenues from Fiumedinisi, which was of great value to the Swabian-Norman court.

The Basilian monks played a crucial role in spreading Catholicism in Fiumedinisi, originally following the Greek rite, but the Latinization gradually reduced the number of clergies of this tradition. By 1349, the Greek rite disappeared in some parts of Sicily but persisted in the diocese of Messina for several centuries.

A cash register, known as "giuliana" and stored at the State Archives of Messina, documents the church's income and expenditures, underlining its significance to the community.

Over the centuries, numerous churches have been constructed in Fiumedinisi, reflecting the deep devotion of the community. Below, we highlight only those accessible to visitors, as some are privately owned or have unfortunately not withstood the test of time.

Madonna delle Grazie

The Church of Madonna delle Grazie, established towards the end of the 17th century, is located at the entrance of the town, opposite the local cemetery. It plays a key role in the celebrations of the deceased—traditionally, the souls of the departed are blessed on its forecourt before burial—and in the festival of Madonna delle Grazie. The interior, though modest, features an interesting altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, adorned with typical Baroque stucco work.

Beata Vergine del Carmine

Originally a private chapel, it was built in 1769 at the highest point of the town, reflecting the new post-Baroque artistic trends. The church has been recently restored, allowing the resumption of worship.

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San Nicola di Bari

Dating back to ancient times, it was presumably the Mother Church in the 12th century. Documents confirm its management by the Greek chaplain Mena in 1308, followed by renovations in 1311 and 1619. Now closed to worship, its significance comes from being the traditional keeper of pieces of the Vara; indeed, the first function of the Vara festival occurs on its forecourt, from where the costumed procession of devotees carrying the Vara, along with children representing the Eternal Father, the Madonna, and the Archangel Gabriel, starts.

Sant’Anna

Known as "la Nunziatella," it dates back to the 12th century and is a pilgrimage site for the faithful of Fiumedinisi and Nizza di Sicilia on the eve of the patron saint's feast and the Vara festival. Built near a stream, it was restored in the early 19th century and reduced in size.

Santissima Trinità

Another typical rural chapel, located on a private estate in the district of Santissima, is the church of the Holy Trinity. It is considered by many a sanctuary because—at least until the pre-pandemic period—it was a pilgrimage destination on the first Saturday and Sunday of September, for hundreds of years. The church, now quite modest and small, was part of the nearby Carmelite convent of the Holy Trinity, of which only the ruins are now visible.

These churches not only serve as centres of worship but also hold cultural and historical significance, offering a deep insight into the religious and community life of Fiumedinisi, enhancing the town's appeal to visitors interested in religious and historical tourism.