Other monuments or places to visit, together

The cards, the places, the memory ...

Bronte's photo

You are in: Home–› Monuments–› Other monuments–› The Ricchisgia

The old Arab paper mill
or Grangia of the Ricchisgia

The "Ricchisgia" (from Greek Rhiacos or Rhiax = river of lava, place wasted by lava) is a fertile and water rich place.

Here a small paper mill built (probably by Arabs in the first years of the XI century): stood below a lava ravine overhanging on the Simeto banks, close to a spring called of Malpertuso, near today's bridge Passo Paglia.

The Ricchisgia, subsequently, was changed in a "Grangia" or "Grancia" (from the ancient French "granche", granary), that is an agricultural community built alongside a little convent where the Benedictine friars (and then the Basilians) also farmers, were praying and living of agriculture and of other small industries linked to it.

Such Grangia was depending on the Benedictine abbey of Holy Maria Of Maniace, to which was, somewhat, subjected and from where, every year, "jus padronato", the abbots were coming to pass the winter.

The pleasant place did not give hospitality to the abbots of Maniace after the awful earthquake that took place on Sunday January 11th, 1693 at 21 (then, four hours at night).
In that sad day the Maniace Abbey was razed completely to the ground together with the chorus; remained only the ruins of the three naves. In that terrible earthquake many Sicily country towns disappeared and in Catania of 25.000 inhabitants nearly 17.000 died, so that remained the saying: "guardati Catania a vintun’ura" (look out Catania at twentyone hours).

The Basilians moved to the near Bronte, in San Blandano district, after going through long fights against the local clergy that did not want them in the urban center, but wanted to relegate them to a district called Sciarone, a deserted area of lava, about 10 kilometers from the center.

The pleasant little church of the Grangia of the Ricchisgia dedicated to S. Benedetto, was officiated, in the Benedictine time, (1174-1585), by the Basiliani in (1585 -1586), by the hermits of Sant'Agostino, by the monks of S. Fran­cesco (1586 -1593) and at last by the Basilians who got back (1593-1870) not as masters any longer, like in the last centuries, but only to celebrate the holy rites on Sunday and on other particular celebrations.

In the Grangia of the Ricchisgia there was a water mill, the straw paper factory and a structure called "paratore" to make wool drape (rough irregular fabric similar to orbace,(famous material used for fasciost uniforms) whose final touches were made by hand using looms then existing in Bronte.

The drapes were sold also in Palermo, transported with handcarts or mules caravans, going across the Royal trail that through the Cattaino feud and the woods would get to the beaches of the capital.

From here comes the legend of the barter for the statue of our patron saint, the Annunziata, against the drapes.

The church, then, was detached by the principal body of the convent, that, in the ground floor had the kitchen and the refectory, the cellars, the granaries and other stores.
Later on, between the church and the convent, another three rooms were built and an outside wood stair to connect the ample balcony shaped as a corridor (where to dry the paper) supported by three big arcades.

Can be justly said that the humble, laborious, friars constituted the first agricultural and industrial core of Bronte: They were grinding the grain, making rough cloths and paper, they were tilling the soil, helping the local villagers by supplying them also with a sulphurous water (not existing anymore) dripping from the lava bounds overhan­ging the convent.

Adjacent to their convent, in the Marotta estate  cultivated all to pomegranates, the Pisciagrò Barons of Randazzo built also a mill (whose ruins still exist) where, with the precious cooperation of the farming friars, the fruits juice was extracted and a liqueur-like dessert wine was made and also exported.

A bit of history

The Grangia of the Ricchisgia was depending from the Benedictine Abbey of Holy Maria of Maniace, and it had to follow, through the centuries, all its unjust and tormented destinies:

In 1494, Pope Innocent VIII gave it, free title, in endowment, to build a poor mans' "Grand and New Hospital" in Palermo.

Three centuries later, in 1799, the Abbey underwent a second illicit transfer, (this time disguised as a regal donation) by the Bourbon sovereign of the moment, king Ferdinand of the two Sicilies, in favor of Horatio Nelson as reward for having drowned in blood the "Neapolitan Republic" rising.

The convent was built over an existing structure of probable Arab origin, at the expense of the Grand and New Hospital of Palermo who owned in Bronte, besides the Maniace Abbey, 13.963 hectares of ground, the possessions of the S. Filippo di Fragalà Abbey and also the feuds of Grappidà, Gollia, Masseria di S. Giovanni, all in Bronte's territory.


Few current state images of the Ricchisgia Gran­gia Basiliana: Above a view of the entry prospect with, to left, the simple prospect of the little church, in ancient times, dedicated to San Benedetto. In the two other images can be noticed the row of windows lighting up the humble little cells of the laborious friars.

The Paper mill of the Ricchisgia stood on a fertile and water rich place, below a lava ravine overhanging the Simeto banks, near a spring said of Malpertuso, near today's bridge Passo Paglia.

The water for the mill and other facilities for pro­du­cing paper and wool

drape was transported through an old aqueduct still in existence.

In that time the Ricchisgia estate was leased to the baron of Pisciagrò, Don Vincenzo Meli Papotto, who boasting some rights of property, refused to pay the "gabella" (canon, excise tax) to the Hospital In Palermo or to the Nelson Dukedom.

Started so a very long lawsuit that finished with the victory of the Nelson, who dispos­sessed the baron heirs of other properties of the "Mafia man Baron": the citrus orchard in the Marotta feud, the baronial palace in via Scafiti, the via Manzoni palace (ex carabi­neers' barracks once Nelson palace) built in 1642, other urban houses and a feud on the slopes of Etna.

Is useful, finally, to remember, with the words of the studious brontese historian Francesco Longhitano Checco (these notes were drawn from his writings ), that today the ancient paper mill at Ricchisgia on the Simeto river, is the property of Mr. Giuseppe Carastro, "who, with a lot of passion, tries to pull away from oblivion all that remains in that pious and laborious place, put on the banks of the roaring Simeto, among the rustle of the hoary willows, and is still witness of the history of the past".

The way it is today

Actually, half of the first floor and the arcade (where the paper was put to dry) went in ruin and what remained of them were ten little cells, some of them turned afterward into hygienic services. In the open space in front, a canopy (connected to the roof of the an­cient little church) was built and, next to it, a depot. The windows of the cells were tur­ned into doors. In this last period the ancient Basilian grangia  has suffered many thefts, devastations and true vandalic acts, and is now completely abandoned. However the place, that the friars had turned into the first agricultural and industrial zone of Bronte, still preserves a great charm.

The memory goes to the humble, laborious, psalm singing friars, who in that church, dip­ped in the green, and in those now empty cells, were living near the Simeto river perfor­ming multiform activities.

The last paper factory

The factory of the Contrada Ricchisgia or Malpertuso paper was resumed, in the old Arab paper mill, about the second decade of 1800.

The manufacturing process consistied in the recycling of rags (or cotton rags, flax, hemp) which were thrown into capacious containers, mostly dug in the lava rock, or suitably built and framed with cement, mortar and others bindings able to waterproof the walls and the bases.

The tanks, or vats, were filled with water that would serve to macerate everything with the help of a series of heavy wooden hammers which were hitting with regular cadence all matters making them become an homogeneous paste completely crumbled and ready for the next operation.

It was then added some adhesive which gave the mixture a certain degree of consistency and impermeability.

The mix so obtained, in the right consistency, was placed inside sieves pierced with very fine holes, resulting in making and having (a sheet) straining the liquids, and form a layer of variable thickness and dimensions.

To obtain the wanted thickness, the sheets were pressed down and subsequently put up to dry , similar to the washing hang out in the sun.

For whitening the rags they would use lime or lye. Often for a paper denser and rough they added straw which would give it a slightly yellow color (the so-called "cartapaglia", straw-paper), still used  in Bronte by the shop keepers ("the buticari") until the years fifty to wrap meat, pasta and various preserves).

Obviously the process described above, with other manufacturing tricks, were true and real "industrial secrets" handed down from father to son and not be disclosed ever to anybody.

Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION

HOME PAGE Powered by DLC / Reproduction not permitted even if partial - Last adjournment: 02-2019