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Peoples of Sicily

Enna and Morgantina
The high, fortified town guarding central Sicily
Related pages: Piazza ArmerinaAncient & Medieval HistoryTimelineSikelsGreeksThe MountainsRomansArabsNormans

mapThe city of Enna (known as Castrogiovanni until the 1920s) is located high on a mountaintop almost in the exact center of Sicily, affording a panoramic view overlooking the scenic valleys of Sicily's rugged interior. Enna's position makes it a natural strategic defensive position; any army that sought to control Sicily's interior would have to hold Enna.

Morgantina Venus.Enna is not only Sicily's highest major city (several smaller towns are higher), but at an elevation of 931 meters above sea level, it is the highest provincial capital in Italy (actually higher than Potenza and Aosta). Historically, it is unique in being the only important city of ancient Sicily that was not founded by foreign invaders; it was established by one of Sicily's three indigenous peoples, the Sicels (or Siculi), from whom the name "Sicily" (from Sikelia) itself derives. This makes Enna one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on the island. Although scholars are not certain exactly when Enna was founded, most agree that a major settlement existed there as early as 1200 BC. Enna is also the capital of the only one of Sicily's nine provinces that has no coastline.

When the Greeks arrived a bit before 700 BC, contemporary sources described Enna as a native stronghold inhabited by the Sikels. The name "Enna" supposedly derives from the older Sicanian term Henna. Enna's early history sheds a rare light on the obscure origins of the three indigenous Sicilian peoples: The Elami, the Sicani and the Siculi. Since Enna was an established native center, the early Greeks were able to record the precious little history that exists regarding these peoples, in an epoch before extensive contact and conquest by the Greeks and other outsiders influenced their culture.

According to Diodorus Siculus, known as the "Father of History," what may very well have been one of Europe's first official armistices was drawn up between the Sicani and Siculi "newcomers" around 800 BC. This accord established Eastern Sicily as a "permanent" Siculi territory, relegating the Sicani to Western Sicily, with Enna acting as the boundary. If Diodorus' information is correct, this would obviously indicate that there had been previous warfare between the two peoples.

By the time of the Greek conquest of Enna by the tyrant Dionysius I in 397 BC, the Siculi were already Hellenized to a great extent. The Greek domination of Enna continued under Agathocles. In 309 BC, the city, led by its native son Xenodichias, rebelled against Syracuse. The revolt was successful, thanks to the aid given to the Ennans by the Greek forces from Akragas (modern Agrigento). Afterwards, Enna placed itself under the protection of Agrigento, voluntarily becoming part of that community.

Enna was first occupied by the Romans in 258 BC during the first Punic War. In the Second Punic War in 214 BC when Roman forces were besieging Syracuse which had allied itself with Carthage, the Roman Consul Pinarius, fearing that the people of Enna were on the verge of rebelling against their Roman rulers, massacred a large part of Enna's population, including almost all of the city's leading citizens, and sacked the city.

Roman rule of Enna, and Sicily in general, was oppressive and exploitative. The island was transformed into a giant wheat farm whose sole purpose was to feed Rome and her citizens. This was the beginning of the "latifundiae" system which saw great tracts of land in the hands of a few wealthy individuals or politically-connected noblemen, who reaped profits while their slaves reaped crops. The Romans brought in slaves and criminals to work these estates, and through one excuse or another, they eventually reduced a good part of Sicily's inhabitants to slavery.

In 137 BC, Enna became the springboard for the first great slave revolt against the Roman tyranny. Led by Eunus of Apamea, the rebellion achieved initial success, but was slowly beaten back by the Roman Legions. Three years later, the Romans besieged Enna, which had become the rebels' last stronghold. In 132 BC, Enna finally fell to the Legions, and the city was, of course, sacked and nearly destroyed once again. This tragic event marked the beginning of a long period of decline for Enna. The Romans also bequeathed Enna with another lasting legacy: they renamed the city "Castrum Hennae" or Camp Enna, a name change that would lead to a corrupted and confused nomenclature for centuries.

Under Byzantine Greek domination, Enna became known as "Castro Yannis" a corruption of the Roman name, which meant "John's Camp" in Greek. The Byzantines were only concerned with holding Enna for its strategic value; they cared little for the city's economic development or the welfare of its people.

Enna became the focal point of Byzantine resistance to the Arab invasion of Sicily, which began in AD 827. Upon the capitulation of Palermo to Saracens in 831, western Sicily rapidly fell to Muslim control. The Byzantines adopted a strategy whereby they would protect their capital of Syracuse and Eastern Sicily by keeping the Arabs at bay in Central Sicily. The key to this plan was control of Enna. After several failed attempts, the Arabs, led by the formidable Emir, Abbas Ibn Fahdi, finally managed to take Enna in 859. The fall of the "Navel of Sicily" signaled the death knell for Byzantine Sicily. The Arabs did not gain total control of the Island till circa 900, and Enna became known as "Kasr Yannas."

In 1087, Enna, by then the capital of one of Sicily's three emirates, fell into the hands of Count Roger of Hauteville after a siege on the part of the Normans. Some sources maintain that the city's capitulation was due to treachery on the part of a pro-Norman traitor in the Arab garrison, who purposely left a small gate unguarded. Other sources maintain that the fall of Enna was due to a very unwise cavalry attack by the Arabs. Their leader ordered the Arab forces to leave the shelter of their impregnable fortress to challenge the heavier armored Norman knights on open ground, where the Arabs were quickly defeated. This very decision by the Arab commander suggests that the Emir of Enna may have chosen to surrender his position to the Normans and only ordered the attack to save face.

Compared to Palermo and Siracusa, Enna's monuments and sights are not overwhelming. However, they are worth a look, especially if your visit there is combined with visits to other nearby places such as Piazza Armerina, Caltagirone and Morgantina. All can be visited briefly in one long day or covered thoroughly in two days. Enna is the crossroads of Sicily. The ancient Greeks called it the "umbellicum (navel) of Sicily."

Enna's main attraction is the Lombard Castle, built by Frederick II in the early part of the 13th century. Many historians, however, agree that the castle was erected upon the ruins of an earlier fortification, possibly Arab or Byzantine. That older fortress could have been built on the remnants of an even earlier structure dating to the Roman period.

It is believed that the castle's name derives from the fact that Frederick II garrisoned the fort with troops from what is now northern Italy. In the 14th Century, Frederick III (son of Peter of Aragon), as ruler of Sicily, further improved the castle's defenses. It was here that he was crowned "King of Trinacria."

The "Lombard Castle" originally had 20 towers, but only six have survived to the present day. The so-called Pisan Tower is the tallest and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Sicily's scenic Dittaino Valley. The castle is built in three levels of courtyards which seem to run haphazardly into each other. One of these courtyards serves as an open-air theatre; archaeological excavations are being conducted in the others.

Enna's other noted medieval fortification is Frederick's Tower, which stands twenty four meters high on top of a hill in a public park on the other side of town. It is a fine example of medieval defense-tower construction and has three floors, the top one having collapsed. The tower is built on an octagonal foundation instead of the more common round or square floor plan. (Presently, Frederick's Tower is being restored and is closed to visitors, but can be viewed externally.)

Scholars are not sure why Frederick II von Hohenstaufen built the tower, though an observation post would seem to have been necessary. Local legend maintains that the Hohenstaufen had it erected to mark the exact center of Sicily and called it the "Tower of the Winds."

The Lombard Castle, previously mentioned, lies at the extreme northeastern end of Enna, and marks the end of Via Roma, Enna's main street, on which most of the town's tourist attractions are located. The Duomo, the city's principal church, is located on Via Roma. It was built in 1307, and almost destroyed by a serious fire in 1446, to be restored during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Thus its architectural styles range from medieval Gothic to late Renaissance to Baroque. The elegant apse and transept were part of the original Gothic structure, while the rest of the church boasts many lovely, if not well-known, works of art from the Baroque period.

The Alessi Museum located near the duomo has the usual collection of area artifacts, none of them particularly outstanding, with the possible exception of the coin collection. The collection of the Church Treasury, however, justifies a visit to the Museum. This collection has many fine examples of Renaissance jewelry, with its showpiece the splendid gold-enameled "Crown of the Virgin." The Alessi Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 to 1 in the morning and 4 to 7 in the afternoon.

If you continue west down Via Roma you'll encounter several praiseworthy monuments and churches. Piazza Crispi has a fountain with a bronze reproduction of Bernini's famous sculpture "The Rape of Persephone." She was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of grain, whose cult was very influential here. Persephone was abducted in a valley nearby, not far from the shores of Lake Pergusa. The church of San Giovanni (St. John) in Piazza Coppola is a fine example of Gothic lines with Arabic construction. Right near the church there is a recently opened Archaeological Museum, housed in an elegant old palace. The Museum is open daily 9 to 1 in the morning and 3 to 6 in the afternoon.

Located off Route 288 near Aidone, in the province of Enna, Morgantina may have been settled by a certain King Morges who arrived with colonists from central Italy around 1300 BC. Therefore, the early Morgetian culture was perhaps somewhat distinct from Sikel civilisation. The Greeks absorbed the city some six centuries later. It was sacked by the Romans during the Punic Wars in 213 BC, but eventually rebuilt as a Roman city populated by Hispanic soldiers. Eunus "liberated" Morgantina in 139 BC during the slave revolt, and died a prisoner in this city. Morgantina was sacked by Verres in 72 BC and abandoned around 30 BC following its destruction by Octavian. It had been a wealthy and prosperous city.

The city was famous for its mint, a public building still easily identified. Its amphitheatre dates from the 3rd century BC. The ruins of a temple dedicated to Demeter and Kore have been identified. Pliny the Elder and other writers mention the particularly fine grapes of Morgantina.

Some of the site's finds, including the Morgantina Venus (shown here) and the Morgantina Silver, are on display in the museum at Aidone near the archeological site.

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