The old Arab paper mill
or Grangia of the Ricchisgia
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.