Sicily is a fascinating and enigmatic territory, rich in history, art and culture: a land of sun and sea, with warm colours and scents that captivate. There, diverse gastronomy and immeasurable natural beauty attend extraordinary climatic conditions, that optimise grape production, and the realisation of supreme wines. This, the Mediterranean’s largest island, has been tuned to perfect viticulture for millennia: it is believed that vines grew naturally in Sicily in the second millennium BC; and that the first grapes were introduced by the Phoenicians, while the Greek colonists must take the credit for importing superior grapes, and new cultivation techniques. Under Ancient Greek rule, wine was the beating heart of each Sicilian city centre.
The most famous ones were Mamertino, Tauromenio, and Inicynio – as well as Etna. With the Roman conquest, these happy conditions vanished, as grain cultivation replaced vines. But, with the successive conquests of the island, wine production was re-invigorated: the ancient Mamertino re-emerged. From Sicilian ports, rich ships began to sail, with wines from Syracuse, Etna, Palermo and Trapani brought to Rome, Liguria and Tuscany. The light wines of the Etna slopes began production, along with the coloured ones of Milazzo and Syracuse; those rich in alcohol from Trapani and Palermo; robust wines from Ragusa, aromatic wines of the islands of Aeolia and Pantelleria – and that extraordinary wine, that has made Sicily famous worldwide: Marsala. From 1870, and over the following decades, phylloxera and mildew destroyed the French vineyards, and robust Sicilian wines began to be exported from the industrialists of that country throughout Europe. However, the terrible insect plague appeared on the island, ravaging its wine business. The problem was later resolved by the crafting of the European vine, producing quality vines via the root of the American vine, or its hybrids – then resistant to phylloxera attacks. This method is still in use, as an invaluable tool today.
In Western Sicily, Partanna rises on a bright hill, suspended regally over the valleys of Belice, where the landscape entices the visitor’s gaze on a dancing journey, between winding hills and plains, to the sea. The origins of the name are uncertain. Some authorities rely on a derivation of Greek origin (from Παρθένος, Parthenos, “Virgo”), while others speak of a Sican wreck, with the suffix “anna”. The corresponding Arabic form is “Bartanna”: the presence, at the town’s current site, of a house named Barthannah, or “dark land”, is confirmed by the 988. The area’s archaeological revelations, including the tombs of Grotticella, in which Bronze Age ceramics were found, attest to the presence of humans since prehistoric times. The historic centre has the old foundations of the village, dating from the mediaeval period, first under Arabic and then Norman rule.
From 1139 AD, it was the fiefdom of John II Grifeo, who was invested with the title of First Baron of Partanna, by King Roger II, after saving his life from the Grand Count Ruggero I, and killing the Arab warrior Mokarta, during the conquest of Mazara. In the following centuries there was strong urban development, with the construction of churches and monastic complexes and, in 1627, when the village peaked culturally and economically, Grifeo was made a Prince. Later, Partanna was to participate in the most important historical events, especially in the Risorgimento and post-unification period. Like all Belice’s other cities, Partanna suffered the devastating force of the earthquake of 1968, that marked it both structurally and socio-economically. The city centre lost some of its Arabic artefacts during the earthquake, while several buildings were badly damaged, and others destroyed – razed to the ground in some cases. Partanna, its rich, fertile land forged by its passion for the wine tradition, is today a centre dedicated to agro-wine activities, with the production of fine wines, a renowned olive oil and various gourmet cheeses – including the “Vastedda of the valley of Belice Dop” – all revered elements of its ancient vitality. Partanna is also the city of the red onion – in local dialect, “Cipudda partannisa” – with its delicate taste, sweet notes and crisp texture when consumed raw. Thanks to the singular magic of this land’s produce, Partanna is a member of the National Association’s City of Wine, City of Oil and Belice Valley Protection Consortium.