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The Saracen neighborhood and the thousand years house

The meeting is scheduled in Piazzetta Ponte Silvio, where a small stream flows, right under your feet, the Crati, now covered by the road. Right in front of you is the Salita Orologio which until 1900 used to be called Via dei Saraceni.

There the Arabs settled and founded their neighborhood, at the foot of the castle – probably from the Byzantine era – which they called Hottirisch, from the Arab name Qratiris. According to the news reported by Arab historians Bauijan and Inb-Hawqal – later expanded by Amari – it would appear that Gratteri, along with Cefalù, Brucato and Marineo were conquered by the Saracens around 835-838.

And Rosario Gregorio, in the story of the Arabic deeds in Sicily, cites him also with that name: “A Kalat Asserat (Arabic name of Collesano) to Cefaludi via maritima VIII, atque his inter jacet castellum Hottirisch’‘. The oldest part of the building – with an amphitheatre-shaped structure – was built in the period of Arab domination and it is characterized by circular houses erected on the rock that can still be seen in the oldest part of the town core.

Proceeding towards Salita Orologio you can see a narrow alley called Manzoni, originally called Vicolo Saraceni, and on the left a stone underpass, u Dammusu. At the corner between Via Orologio and Vicolo Albanesi, you will notice a circular house of a body, recently renovated, which still retains a portal with round arch, typical of the primordial Arab dwellings.

This is the last house with original Arabic architecture, which today can be called the “The Thousand Years House”. However, following the street, you can also find other dwellings built on the rock crouching, for example, at the Clock Tower.

Going up a little more, towards the highest part, you will arrive at a widening, the original Piazzetta Saraceni, commonly called “A Chiazzietta ”, which in 1900 was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi. According to the tradition, it was from that very point of entry that the Arabs managed to penetrate the ancient stronghold, leading it to the capitulation.

But walking through the old town, what remains today of that old Saracen town? Surely, an interesting aspect to note, in addition to the circular structure of some dwellings built on the rock, is the fact that, up to ten years ago, the facades of houses were painted with azole, a term used in Sicily to identify the indigo colour.

It was a colouring powder used during the ancient ages for laundry which, in many Sicilian countries, used to give an indigo glaze to the lime. even the internal alcoves (part of the bedroom) sometimes were “azzolate”, like the characteristic dwellings of the blue city of Morocco.

Therefore, get lost inside the old town, you will not find difficult to discover exterior walls, peeled by time, still tending towards blue.


Amari M., Biblioteca arabo sicula Palermo 1880, riveduta in seconda edizione da U. Rizzitano, Palermo 1997, Vol.II.

Storia dei Musulmani di Sicilia, Firenze 1854.

Di Francesca, Gratteri, Palermo 2000.

Gregorio R., Historiam Siculam PA 1780.

Peri I. I Paesi delle Madonie nella descrizione di Idrisi, Palermo 1955.

Scelsi I., Gratteri, storia, cultura, tradizioni, Palermo 1981.

Terregino G., Frammenti storici ed evocativi dell’almo Castellare di Gratteri, Palermo 2004.

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