Between history, sea and Carnival
The origins of this town, located on the slopes of Mont Etna, are connected to the legend of the shepherd Aci, who was in love with the nymph Galatea and was murdered in a battle by his rival Polyphemus. A river called Akis originated from his blood, so the names of the other towns near Acireale beginning with “Aci”, would derive from here. These towns are probably located in an area where once the Greek village Xiphonia rose. Nowadays it has completely disappeared, but evidences about its existence can be found in the writings of the historian Diodorus Siculus and in some references made by Virgil, Theocritus and Ovid in their works.
Over the centuries, the name of this town had several changes and its final form was fixed during the Spanish reign. In this period, Acireale became an important merchant centre and strengthened its defences on the sea with the construction of various fortifications, such as the squared tower of Sant’Anna in Capo Mulini (1585), the watchtower in Santa Tecla and the Fortezza del Tocco on the Timpa di Santa Maria La Scala (1592-1616).
This economic growth fostered a cultural development that made possible the birth of the traditional Carnival feast, whose origins probably date back to the end of the XVI century. This celebration is part of the folkloristic heritage of Acireale and is considered the most beautiful Carnival in Sicily, being also one of the most important in Italy. The protagonists are the grotesque allegorical floats made in papier-mâché and the floats with flowers decorated with attention to the smallest details. They parade through the streets in a sparkling of lights and colours.
Due to the earthquake of 1693, also Acireale was seriously damaged, even if less than the other towns in Val di Noto. However, it was rebuilt in baroque style just like them and preserves many treasures represented by buildings and churches. The main example of baroque architecture in Acireale is the facade of the Basilica di San Sebastiano, showing orders with cherubs, festoons, and statue of biblical characters. The magnificent Piazza Duomo is another pearl of the baroque architecture, where two churches overlooks: the Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Annunziata and the Basilica dei Santi Pietro e Paolo.