Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sicily Journal IV: Scicli's Chiafura

Photo: Hallie Cohen
Pasolini’s Il vangelo secondo Matteo used the smoke emanating from the famous caves of Scicli to evoke Dante’s purgatory. The caves were used as tombs by the original Sicilian inhabitants. It was only with waves of Arab and Byzantine invasion that the remains of the dead (who were buried in fetal positions in mother earth) were removed so that the caves could be turned into dwellings. In 1693 the town was struck by an earthquake and the well-to-do inhabitants, who had employed the caves for storage moved their nearby dwellings to a lower elevation where the Bourbons replaced the devastation of the earthquake with the ornate Sicilian Baroque which characterizes both the churches and palazzos which still exist today. The impoverished lower classes occupied the caves until l959 when the Chiafura, as they are called, became a source of shame to the post war government—interested in eradicating the association between Sicilians or Italians in general with cavemen. Today they have become a designated archeological site that is near becoming a source of pride and prices for the former caves, which are undergoing some degree of gentrification, are climbing with a growing market of vacationers who use them as summer homes. Whether some Milanese developer turns the Chiafura into condominiums with time shares remains to be seen.

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