The Cyclops Archipelago of Aci Castello
The municipality of Aci Castello on the eastern side of Sicily, in the province of Catania, can provide a journey enriched with a touch of legend, a zest of traditional religious rituals and a taste of history and archaeology.
The town itself developed around a castle that was constructed in black lava stone in 1076 upon the foundations of an earlier seventh century Byzantine fortification.
A walk through Aci Castello’s historical center reveals a refined baroque style architecture, while a stroll along its splendid beaches exposes the area’s natural beauty. Yet the biggest attraction of this region is the Cyclops archipelago with its odd concentration of huge volcanic rocks which have maneuvered their way out of the earth and projected themselves high into Aci Trezza bay.
The mysterious allure of this area is believed to have inspired ancient Greek poet Homer while he was writing his epic “The Odyssey.” The features became legend when he alluded that the blinded Cyclops Polyphemus created the archipelago when he threw enormous rocks at the retreating Ulysses.
Visitors can enjoy a boat ride around the spectacular rock pillars known as faraglioni. It is also possible to land on Faraglione Grande, which is an enormous basalt rock the locals have turned into a religious sanctuary.
Faraglione Grande features a stone staircase that leads sightseers up to a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus overlooking the town of Aci Castello. In early September, this particular faraglione is delightfully adorned with candles lit at night during the feast dedicated to Our Lady. Devotees who visit this site leave rosary beads hanging on the statues’ hands and flowers at their feet as a supplication and thanksgiving for the protection of the town. Aci Castello had to be reconstructed twice after the area was completely destroyed by earthquakes in 1170 and 1693.
During a trip to Aci Castello, visitors may stop over at the little island of Lachea, which lies only a few yards away from the faraglioni. Lachea has a museum exhibiting collections of flora, fauna and archaeological artifacts which have been retrieved from this island.
In order to preserve this valued environment, in 1989 the Cyclops archipelago and Lachea were established as a protected marine reserve.