One of the most beautiful areas of Sicily is located along the island's eastern coast, the Riviera dei Ciclopi: this is a land where history and legend come together, enwrapping every place and village with fantastic and fascinating stories, from that of Aeneas, who landed here to save his friend Achaemenides, to that of Jupiter, who hung the bodies of the Titans he defeated in the forest once present in the area.
There is also the legend of Aci and Galatea, two mythological characters whose love for each other gave life to the villages scattered along the Riviera dei Ciclopi and in the immediate hinterland.
Ovid, in Book XIII of his work Metamorphoses, tells of the Cyclops Polyphemus, inhabitant of the volcano Etna, madly in love with Galatea: she was one of the fifty Nereids, the nymphs daughters of Nereus and Doris. Galatea was beautiful and had skin the colour of the moon: it is not surprising that Acis, a young shepherd who was also charming, son of the nymph Simetide and the god of the woods and mountains, Pan, also fell in love with her. It is said that Acis, while grazing his flock of sheep by the sea, met Galatea and the two young people fell madly in love with each other.
Each of Polyphemus's courtships was unsuccessful, fuelling the Cyclops' anger and thirst for revenge: one day, in fact, while Galatea and Acis were walking lovingly on the beach, Polyphemus saw them and unleashed all his wrath on the young shepherd boy. He took a rock and threw it at Acis, killing him.
Maci's cuna cartoon
When Galatea heard the tragic news, she ran to her beloved and wept so much over his tortured body that the gods took pity on her: they decided to turn poor Acis' blood into a river, which would flow from Mount Etna to the very beach where Acis and Galatea met.
It is said that this river, which in Sicily is called U Sangu Di Jaci, is none other than the Lavinaio stream, called Akis by the Greeks, whose waters are in fact reddish.
Aci's body, on the other hand, according to legend, was literally dismembered into nine parts, which fell in the same places where the Catanese villages whose names all begin with Aci were born.
In the Villa Comunale of Acireale, famous for the island's most important carnival, there is a sculptural group depicting Aci and Galatea at the saddest moment of their love, when the nymph finds her lover dead.
Photo by catania.italiani.it
Among the most beautiful villages linked to the legend of Aci is Aci Castello, located together with Aci Trezza on the Riviera dei Ciclopi, in front of the spectacular Protected Marine Area of the Isole dei Ciclopi. The village is famous for its Norman Castle, situated on top of a sharp rocky promontory of volcanic origin that emerges from the crystal-clear sea: it seems that following the eruption of Mount Etna after the earthquake of 1169, a lava flow joined this promontory to the mainland. A flight of steps from Piazza Castello leads up to this fortress, which in the past also hosted Ruggero d'Altavilla and Roberto il Guiscardo: today the castle houses the Civic Museum, dedicated to the palaeontology, archaeology and mineralogy of the area.
Aci Trezza, on the other hand, is identified with Giovanni Verga's I Malavoglia, set in this very village in front of which are the Faraglioni dei Ciclopi (Cyclops stacks): legend has it that they were thrown by Polyphemus after he was tricked and blinded by Ulysses and his companions. From Aci Trezza you can also see the Isola Lachea, where Odysseus landed but found only goats. In Aci Trezza, a visit to the Casa del Nespolo (Medlar House) is a must. This is a typical 19th-century Sicilian house where, in the novel, a family of fishermen lived. Today this house is a museum where memorabilia and objects related to both the novel and Luchino Visconti's film based on Verga's work are on display.
Other villages linked to the legend are Aci Sant'Antonio, where there is the Museum of the Sicilian Cart linked to the folklore and history of the island, Aci Bonaccorsi, which hosts the "National Fireworks Festival" in August, Aci Santa Lucia, the ancient Aci San Filippo and Aci Platani, where there is a museum dedicated to the peasant culture and the Mother Church with paintings by Platania and Vasta.
Faraglioni di Aci Trezza