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The Calanna Rock

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The Calanna Rock

«'A Rocca Calanna»

Covering the panoramic road that from Bronte takes to Randazzo (S.S. 284), in Brancatello quarter at about 1043 of height, in a luxuriant valley which frames the impressive mass of Etna, one finds the "Canalaci Roccazzo", a sandstone mass, better known as "Rocca Calanna".

After a little slope, at about three kilometers from Bronte midway between Bronte and Maletto, suddenly the horizon widens out and a big valley, full of greenery, secular woods interrupted by ancient and recent lava flows, of volcanic cones extends itself up to the feet of Etna which here raises in all of its majesty.

From the Canalaci Roccazzo, or the panoramic road in Difesa district, it is possible to enjoy the most spectacular sight of Etna, the highest active volcano of Europe and one of the biggest of the world.

The Etna ("a muntagna", like it is called locally) rises, majestic and terrible, above a basement of sedimentary rocks to a height of about 3.350 meters, and has a diameter of about 44 kilometers.

According to what Giuseppe Cimbali wrote, from Bronte "it shows itself in all the agreement, in all the purity, in all the harmony of its perfect and solemn lines".

In harmony with the beginnings of the institutive decree of the Etna Park, an old project foresees in the zone of Difesa district, the building of an important tourist pole, comprising receptive and sporting structures (hotels, campsites, fields equipped for the practice of several sports, riding tracks) and an articulated system of equipped  green.

The zone of the Difesa

The zone of the Difesa is easily reachable, besides the car and the bicycle, also with the Railway Circumetnea  which  makes a stop right in Difesa district (soon after the station of Bronte).

Besides the rural beauty, the archaeological interest of the rock is due to the presence of two excavations dug n the sandstone as artificial little grottos (the "gruttitti") which were used to bury the deceased together to a rich outfit.

These funeral little cells,  present a typology totally different from the several grotto tombs known in the bronze and iron age, because they present themselves like some burial niches with opening and rectangular plant while the other existing types in that period have a small corridor of access and a sub circular cell with vault.

The strange typology which is found in several sandstone emersions, included between the high Simeto valley and the Alcantara valley, is at present, object of study and is assumed, at the moment without decisive tests, that can actually go back at the Byzantine epoch.


The "Contrada Difesa" (Difesa district) is one of the most beautiful zones of the territory of Bronte, where, in any period of the year, the Etna, the woods, the lava castings and the cultivated fields give an image of incomparable beauty.

As to this subject here is what Benedetto Radice writes in his “Memorie storiche di Bronte”:

«In Bronte’s territory, to testify of their life, or rather of their death there are, scattered here and there, some funeral cells, built like ovens, as can be found in many other moun­tains of the island, of which, to the critic eye of some future archaeologist willing to explore this western part, I wish to indicate two in the “Primaria” superior, below the “Colla” towards south, one in the “Contura” superior.

Close to the cell there is a vat and a winepress ; two at “Fontanamurata”, on the fields owned by Vincenzo De Luca and Giuseppe Rizzo, two at Margiogrande, called “Gruttitti”, in the property owned by Vincenzo Rizzo, others at Placa Baiana and Macchiafava.

No funeral furnishings were found. Ignorance and human greed destroyed or made disappear everything. …”
(…) ”remarkable are the funeral cells at Rocca Calanna, called in the Schemettau’s papers Torre Giulia or Advice Tower, located between Bronte and Maletto, along the provincial road.

They have been dug in a sort of limestone marl surrounded by recent lava flows, those of 1851, were vomited by a lot of tremendous craters in the western part of Etna. Other small cells can be found at Canalaci.
The Rocca Calanna ones have nearly an elliptical shape.

Are at the feet of the rock and haven’t got a manhole cover.

They measure 1,50x1,80 m.. The professor Saverio Cavallari, who visited these places, thinks that they could belong to the Sicani or Siculi and assumes that in some part of the terri­tory, later on invaded by ancient lava flow, were living very ancient people like the Sicani who used to bury there their dead.»

(…) «The Amari also talks of these caves as very ancient work. Those of Rocca Calanna are mentioned by Holm and he writes: «Very ancient caves dug by men are found between Bronte and Maletto.»

They are three: One, at the feet of the rock, is shaped like a corridor two meters high and one and a half wide; the second, a little higher, is divided into two rooms with pillars dug around it, at about two meters height were dug some small shelves, is square shaped and four square meters wide, at the entrance there are other two pillars of white stone.

The third is high above, is nearly square with three lateral openings looking south; is eight meters long and six wide.

More than tombs they look like rooms for the living: lookouts where, maybe, in the early Middle Ages, from the VI to the XII century, lived country people, devoted toMappa dei luoghi visitati - 94,4 Kb agriculture and sheep farming for the safety of country areas. Some sort of troglodytes descending from the ancient Siculi, of which were left some semi-barbarian elements.

The diggings look like the caves of the famous Sperlinga castle.

The Rocca Calanna and, in its base, the burial cells, presumably of Byzantine epoch; are similar to those of Contrada Contura and other zones near Bronte (Placa Baiana, Margiogrande, Mangiasarde, Grotte dei Saraceni, ...)

Horatio NelsonQueen Elizabeth slipper’s legend

«On the highest rock of Difesa district, the “Rocca Calanna”, fell the slipper of Queen Elizabeth, when the demons in 1603 threw the queen into the Etna crater to send her to hell.

A long time after, a young shepherd saw the slipper sparkle in the sun and tried to touch it but he burned his hands Then a friar exorcist was called and the slipper flew away and went to alight over a tower of the Maniace Castle, near Bronte.

Of the slipper they started to talk again; nearly two centuries after, when in 1799 the Castle was donated by the Bourbon to the English admiral Orazio Nelson, they believe that during a ball at Palermo a mysterious lady - possibly the ghost of Queen Elizabeth - gave secretly to Nelson a precious casket in which was preserved the prophetic slipper and recommended him never to show it to anybody and to take great care of it, but Nelson’ lover, Emma Hamilton, got hold of it and that same night the mysterious lady appeared in a dream and told him: "You scoundrel! You have lost your luck!". Few days after Nelson died in the Trafalgar battle, the 21st of October 1805.»

(Santi Correnti, Guida Insolita alla Sicilia, Newton & Compton Editori, Roma 1998)

Translated by Sam Bella


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