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mapThis city in central Sicily is identified with ancient Nissa, and natives of Caltanissetta are called nisseni. It is about 568 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Mount San Giuliano overlooking the Salso River Valley. There are traces of both Sicanian and Greek villages at Caltanissetta. The former dates from about 600 BC.

The remote city's true foundation as a fortified settlement dates from the Arab rule of Sicily. Like many Saracen towns, Caltanissetta's name shares the onomastic Arabic kal indicating that it was protected by a castle. Greatly expanded in Norman times, this fortress (Pietrarossa Castle) is visible on the edge of the city, though only part of a tower and some walls remain. Protected by an Angevin castellan and a small garrison, the castle was sacked during the War of the Vespers, following which the looters were pardoned by King Peter of Aragon, the new sovereign.

Caltanissetta boasts a large seventeenth-century cathedral built on the site of a much older church, and several late-medieval churches in the old part of town, though most of the latter, having been extensively modified in successive centuries, reflect little of their Middle Ages. There are also several interesting Baroque palaces (particularly Palazzo Moncada and the Bishop's Palace), and the streets of the old quarter are not without a certain charm. The town is not as high as Enna, traditionally more important because it was a more populous royal city that appertained directly to the Crown and afforded its knights an extensive view of the surrounding country. Caltanissetta was a smaller feudal town belonging to a family of counts.

Though it is now a provincial capital and the seat of a Catholic diocese, Caltanissetta, until the nineteenth century, was barely distinguishable from other Sicilian agricultural towns, even if it was a bit larger than most. The archeological museum, though interesting, is not particularly remarkable. If your travels take you to this part of central Sicily but you haven't much time to spend visiting too many places, Enna might be a more attractive stop than Caltanissetta, whose most interesting sight (Pietrarossa Castle) is not usually open to the public.

This is not to say that all towns of the rugged Sicilian interior are dreary and uninteresting. Enna, as we've said, is well worth seeing if you plan on spending any time in central Sicily. Mussomeli, in the same province as Caltanissetta, has a splendid castle that you may be able to visit if this is arranged in advance. Piazza Armerina has some interesting architecture and a castle, and happens to be near the famous Roman Villa. Castelbuono is also charming, though rather isolated. Alcamo (between Palermo and Trapani), which has a fairly large castle, remnants of a medieval monastery and vestiges of medieval architecture throughout the town, can make for an interesting visit if you're already in the area.

For Visitors: There are a number of good trattorias (small restaurants) in the old quarter, and the Passion Play held on Good Friday each year is famous throughout Sicily.

Last revision June 2016.

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