Gangi, il Borgo dei Borghi

April 29, 2014 / Places
Gangi, Sicily

Every year in Italy there is a competition between towns and villages to decide which one is the Borgo Più Bello d’Italia (The Most Beautiful Village in Italy). Promoted by a popular television travel programme where the general public vote their preference, 20 villages from Valle D’Aosta down to Sicily compete to win the coveted award.

This year 134,000 people voted the town of Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, as the winner. Artistic qualities, culture, local handicraft, traditions and good food were all taken into account.

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Gangi has a population of less than 8,000 and a history of mass emigration at the beginning of the 20th century towards North and South America as well as Northern Europe.

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Built atop Monte Marone there has been a settlement since 1200 BC when the Minoans from Crete in Greece established themselves here. Resembling the shape of a tortoise shell, one of Gangi’s landmarks is the XIVth century Castle of Ventimiglia, still partly owned by a descendant of this one time powerful family. 

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Other noble builidngs are: Palazzo Bongiorno with its frescoed ceilings by Roman painter, Gaspare Fumagalli;  Palazzo Sgadari, seat of the town’s museum and art gallery, and the Chiesa Madre with its famous Judgement Day painting by Giuseppe Salerno, one of the Zoppi di Gangi painters. Zoppo means lame in English but it is thought that the term referred to the fact that the painters were itinerant.

Judgement Day Lo Zoppo di Gangi

In the church of San Nicolò, down in the crypt, there are even 100 mummified priests from the 1700s.

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Local cheese making – caciocavallo – and bakery and biscuit cottage industries together with some of the most suggestive local festivals in Sicily, all helped win this award. The patron saint San Cataldo is celebrated on May 10th and the most characteristic, Sagra della Spiga (Harvest Festival), takes place over a week in August where farmers celebrate the fruits of the land. Amazing bread sculptures are hauled through the streets by oxen pulled carts.

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As with every self respecting village Gangi has its own colourful character in the form of  ‘The Queen of Gangi’. So called by a British journalist of The Times, the name stuck.  Peppina Salvo was the first female Sicilian bandit who became the local boss controlling the town after the former capomafia, her husband, died. A feisty woman who preferred dressing like a man, she was the irrevocable judge of village disputes and official matchmaker between young girls and members of her mob. Outlawed for her whole life, she was the last person to surrender during the Siege of Gangi in 1926 when Cesare Mori, il Prefetto di Ferro (The Iron Prefect) was sent by the Fascist regime to wipe out all mafia strongholds over the island.

Aside from the anecdotes and other attractions, the reason Gangi won the award is mostly because of the people who live there. Spontaneous, warm and welcoming towards visitors, theirs is an inborn hospitality culture which probably belongs – dare I say it? – only to Sicilians.

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by Marian Watson-Virga

Marian has lived in Sicily for longer than she can remember. British by birth, Sicilian by marriage she loves all things Sicilian, even pani ca’ meusa!   For the past few years she has been collaborating with Carmelina Ricciardello of www.sicilianexperience.com, developing responsible tourism and discovering Sicily on walking and car tours. Marian’s blog page is here.

26 Responses to “Gangi, il Borgo dei Borghi”

  1. How absolutely super. Great Note. In my “must see list.” Bravi i Gangiani! Thanks, Marian, for bringing yet another Italian jewel to our attention.

    Reply
    • Thanks Louise. Glad you liked it. BTW, the inhabitants of Gangi are called GANGITANI!

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  2. Maria Libera

    Being of Sicilian descent and having been to Sicily several times to discover my roots, I was totally taken by this wonderful note of a place I had never known existed. I have it on my list for next Spring when I return to celebrate a big birthday. Thank you so much. CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE IT’S LOCATED? Grazie mille

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    • Maria, Gangi is about 1 hour inland from the northern coastline. You have to take the SS113 coast road from Cefalù towards Messina then after Tusa there is a sign on the right indicating the inland road to Gangi.

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  3. Marie Giacalone

    Thank you Marian for this wonderful information- it is on our “must see” list for our trip this Fall!

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  4. Frank Bettinelli

    I, like Marie Libera, am of Sicilian descent, born 6 months after my parents landed in NY, appreciate Marian Watson-Virga’s insight on her
    view of “the inborn hospitality culture which probably belongs-dare I say it?– only to Sicilians.
    I use to have a friendly feud with my Mother in law, who was born in Italy, saying that we Sicilians were “barbarians”. I corrected her by telling her that we Sicilians, under the tutorlege of the Greeks, educated the barbarians to the North………….

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  5. I visited Gangi last Sunday and could not agree more… Loved their people. I even took part of a funeral while I was there. I will come back On The 10th May with a group of friends. My Husband is English. I had to twist his arm to come to Sicily. Now I will have to twist again to get him out… He tottaly fallen in love to a point that he said he could easily live here. As for me, I feel something deeper … Like I am coming home…

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    • Marian

      That’s great Lukie. Had a look at your blog. Thanks for posting about Sicilian Experience

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  6. ellen

    My sister, oldest daughter and I are going to Sicily in early September, 2014. We will be staying in Enna as our “home base” and would love to visit Gangi as our grandfather and his twin sister lived there before coming to America via Ellis Island in the early 1900’s. What is the best way to get there? Are there buses from Enna? Any hotels you could reccommend to stay in? Thank you for your help.

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  7. Lisa Hurley

    My grandmother was from Gangi and I would very much like to go there. We were very close and would like to go back to my roots and wondered if there were any families left there who were related to family, “Patti.” My great grandmother was Anna Patti. Is there a local newspaper, (although, my Italian is extremely limited) that might connect me to any relatives. Just curious if you knew who to contact?

    Many thanks
    Lisa

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      • Dear Ms. Lisa, for news of his family, please contact the City of Gangi, writing to the Registry Office at the following address Mail: servizi.demografici @ comune.gangi.pa.it
        with best regards
        Nino Bracco
        Instructor computer – City of Gangi

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    • Audrey

      Just got back from a trip to Rome, Gangi, Monterspertoli and Venice. My grandparents came from Gangi to Philadelphia in 1905. The family here lost contact after my Grandmother passed away in 1966. In 1997 I made my first visit to Italy. It inspired me to find the relatives. With a couple pictures and pages from the Gangi phone book I copied in Rome I wrote letters and randomly picked 8 or 10 people with the same last name as my Grandfather. Within three weeks I heard back and now have visited three times. Even stayed with two of my Mother’s first cousins. I think you could do the same thing by using the internet directory of Gangi.

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    • Lillian Patti Ching

      My grandfather was also born in Gangi. His name was Salvatores PattI. His birthday was December 25, 1890 . The family first went to Brooklyn , New York. Then migrated to California. Some in San Diego, some in Los Angeles, some in Monterey. Who knows maybe were related. My mother did tell me that our last name was fairly common in Sicily. My family is fair skinned, redhead, freckle with green eyes. Very handsome

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  8. I am Sicilain on both my mother’s side and my father’s. My husband and I traveled to Sicily in 2000 and stayed in Toramina. It was beautiful. I am sorry I did not know about Gangi at the time. I have read that they are selling homes there at a very reasonable price. Would love to have one. Hope to come back soon. Thank you for all your information.

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  9. How many of the 1 euro houses have been snatched up thus far?? I would love to by one and have it as a vacation home for my family. Even with the estimated repairs that is still a great buy!! Please let me know Marian. Thanks for a wonderful article!

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  10. I have just returned from a month in Sicily.
    I just kept telling my Sicilian friend…I have been here before. Not when it was new- Now.
    My Mother was 100% Sicilian. I have a profound depth for this land. I can not explain. I will live here soon.
    Please give me any advice you can about the transition. Please tell me they have internet there in Gangi.

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  11. C. Scavuzzo

    My husband’s grandfather was from Gangi, immigrating in 1909. As a family: my in-laws, my husband and myself, and our two children took a weeks tour of Sicily and a trip to Gangi. This was the most momentous trip we have ever taken. We found grandfather’s baptismal records at the church and they were read aloud to us by the alter boys there. What a beautiful village it is! We are proud to be Scavuzzo descendants.

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    • Joseph C Scavuzzo

      As I sit poolside at my hotel in Taormina on my honeymoon on my iPad, I can’t help but think of the profound difference in my experience of Sicily to that of my great-grandfather Guiseppe Scavuzzo, leaving Gangi for Philadelphia via New York around 1905. We are only here from Friday to Monday morning, but I only dream of one day returning to walk the very streets that my ancestors left behind only a few years younger than I am now. For those interested in contacting me, I can be found via the webpage of my lifelong hometown, Pennsauken, NJ, U.S.A.

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  12. Lora Bencheikh

    I’m taking my mother and my uncle both in their late 70’s to Gangi as a surprise for Easter they haven’t been back since they emigrated to the UK in the 50’s I’m hoping there will be some family members still living in the town they were related to Arancio, Genzone and Bracco families

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  13. santo ciappina

    I been there many times visiting my cousins its a breath taking village food is great the feast are as great I was very impressed with Mayer it seams he is very involve keep on doing what you are doing and continue to promote gangi my cousins are Ciappina and Scagarellos

    Reply

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