Borgo di Pentedattilo
At 250 metres above sea level, Pentedattilo clings to an outcrop of Monte Calvario whose peculiar shape is recollective of a gigantic stone hand.
Pentedattilo, is a hamlet swathed in charm and mystery, surrounded by the enchanting Vallata Sant’Elia [The Saint Elia Valley], where it is possible to admire the bizarre sandstone rock-formations of Santa Lena and Prasterà lost among boundless fields full of furze, olives, mulberry and Indian figs, and, in springtime, almond trees and mimosa in bloom.
In the valley between Pentedattilo and Fossato, there are several mills powered by the typical Greek wheel, which once exploited the waters of the Sant’Elia River, one of the valley’s most important natural resources.
The element, however, that more than anything else draws the attention of visitors, is the majestic sandstone outcrop that towers over the hamlet.
This small village retains all its unspoilt charm and is an authentic historical jewel that well deserves to be known and safeguarded.
Pentedattilo is derived from the Greek penta + daktylos = five fingers.
Pentedattilo is one of Calabria’s most striking and enigmatic hamlets. It drew the attention and stirred the sensitivity of a number of foreign artists like the English traveller Edward Lear, enchanted by the remarkable crags of Pentedattilo and the Dutch engraver Maurits Cornelis Escher who made several drawings of the town on which he based four splendid etchings.
As stated in the Vita [Life] of Saint Elia of Enna, this town stood here already in the ninth century, most likely as a lookout post along the route between Reggio and Bova. At the end of the Byzantine era, the castellion [stronghold] was incorporated into the possessions of the Santa Maria di Terreti and San Nicola di Calamizzi monasteries, before becoming the property, in 1144, of the Santisimo Salvatore di Messina archimandrite and thus part of the assets of the Valle Tuccio monasteries. At the time of the Angevins, the fortress acquired considerable strategic importance during the war against the Aragonese. In 1274 it was occupied by a castellan and four servientes while, in 1282, during the war of the Vespers [the so-called Sicilian Vespers an insurrection against Charles of Anjou], it is listed among the castles to be supplied with barley and wheat, in case of reprisals.
The following year, Pentedattilo was captured by the Almogaveris, mercenaries at the service of the Aragonese in the war against the Provençals. The huge cisterns upon which the upper floors of the fortress once stood, are in stone of a colour and shape similar to the outcrop overlooking the valley. In the fourteenth century, the hamlet was owned by the Letizia family and in 1476 by the Francopertas, whose property it remained until 1589, when, due to financial difficulties, it was auctioned and purchased by Simonello degli Alberti di Messi.
Pietro Vitale, the Abbot of the Monstery of Grottaferrata, near Rome, who championed the union between the Eastern and Western Churches during the Council of Florence, in 1439, was a native of Pentedattilo.
On entering the town, visitors are welcomed by the church of the Santi Corifei Pietro e Paolo, [lit. Holy Spokesmen Peter and Paul] whose steepled bell-tower flanks a Baroque-style façade and a late-neo-Byzantine dome at the end of the opposite nave.
Inside, on the altar, is a copy of a canvas by the Marquis of Pentedattilo, Antonio Alberti nicknamed Barbalonga [Longbeard], who studied in Rome at the school of the well-known painter Domenichino. Of great historical interest is the plaque on the right side, recalling Father Domenico Toscano from Bova, proud of being Pentedatillo’s first Latin-rite archpriest. The marble, dated 1655, is the outcome of the Latinisation campaign promoted, at the end of the sixteenth century, by Archbishop Annibale D’Afflitto who, during his pastoral visits to this area, noted with utter annoyance that the clergy here could write in Greek only. Considerable support was given to the Church of Rome at that time by the Dominicans, who were invited to the hamlet in 1554 by Baron Demetrio Francoperta. The Baron granted these monks the rents of the ancient Byzantine church of the Candelora [Candlemas] at the foot of the village, and in 1564, endowed it with the statue of Madonna and Child, now attributed to an artist similar in style to sculptors Giovan Angelo Montorsoli and Martino Montanini. This monastery was short-lived, however. Its suppression, in 1651, put an end to the Dominican presence in the southernmost part of Calabria, as the Order was never able to penetrate the Greek diocese of Bova.
About thirty years later, another and far more dramatic event stunned the hamlet: the Strage degli Alberti [Massacre of the Alberti family]. This awful story stems from the love of Abenavoli Bernardino, Baron of Montebello, for Donna Antonia Alberti of Pentedattilo, a relationship thwarted by Antonia’s brother, Don Lorenzo. During the night before Easter, 1686, the Baron, with the intention of kidnapping his beloved, murdered the girl’s entire family. The Marquis, the Marchioness, who begged for mercy over the dead body of her son Lorenzo, along with his sister and brother, were all slaughtered. It is said that only a small grandson, hidden by a nurse in a crevice in the rock, was saved. Although charged with murder, Bernardino Abenavoli managed to gain time, marry Antonia and flee to Malta, having first placed his wife in a convent in Reggio Calabria, however. Under a false name, he enlisted in the army of the Knights of Malta and later became a captain in the Habsburg army, only to be recognised by a fellow citizen, while fighting alongside Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, who routed the Turks at Buda. Brought to Vienna and tried in the presence of Leopold I, he was reinstated into the Austrian army for bravery shown while fighting for the imperial forces. He died on the 21st of August 1687, on board an Austrian ship engaged in battle against the Turks.
Up until a few decades ago, the locals used to show visitors the blood-stained marks left by the five fingers of Marquis Lorenzo on one of the walls of the main hall of the palace, now in ruins, and whose shape strangely resembles that of the Pentedattilo stronghold itself.
The image of San Cristoforo [Saint Christopher] frescoed on a rock overlooking the valley through which the Pentedattilo River flows, may belong to this tragic period or to the dawn of the following century. The river once supplied water to a Roman statio: Decastadium, which stood here.
EXPLORING THE HISTORIC CENTRE
Recently this “ghost town” is acquiring new life thanks to initiatives promoted by the Borghi Solidali [Solidarian Hamlets] association which has sponsored and set up a number of important initiatives in some of the village’s old buildings: the widespread hospitality network, the museum of folk traditions, exhibitions, craft workshops and shops.
Furthermore, every summer, this ancient hamlet and its amphitheatre are among the venues of the highly prestigious travelling festival called Paleariza [lit. Ancient Roots], a magnificent celebration in music of Greek-Calabria’s ancient cultural roots, and which, for almost twenty years now, attracts thousands of visitors, as its travels through Pentedattilo, Melito Porto Salvo, Bagaladi, Condofuri, Roghudi, San Lorenzo, Bova, Palizzi, Bova Marina, Staiti, and, more recently, Cardeto, Montebello Jonico and Roccaforte del Greco.
As well as that, within the magical setting of Pentedattilo, usually between August and September, the international festival of short films, the Pentedattilo Film Festival, is held, hosting artists from all over the world.
A stroll through the hamlet’s narrow streets from which one can admire unique, suggestive, magical views of Mount Etna is unforgettable.
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