Geographically Enna is the heart of Sicily, but this idea runs deeper than simply its position: here you will find Sicily untouched by time and mass tourism. The town is a sleepy dreamy place, high on a plateau overlooking the dramatic Dittaino valley, with its jutting rocky outcrops and neighbouring hill towns. Its position as the highest regional capital in Italy (at nearly 1000 metres above sea level) has earned it the nickname ‘Belvedere or ‘Beautiful View’ and it certainly has that. It is also known as ‘l’ombelico’ or the ‘navel’ of Sicily.
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Historically Enna has been important as an agricultural centre since Arab rule. Indeed the area is still responsible for a large proportion of Italian grain production, and the pasta you eat anywhere in Italy may well have started life in Enna. A tour round the surrounding countryside will give any tourist an interesting insight into a traditional Sicilian way of life.
As well as links to a practical working past, Enna is steeped in mystery and mythology, due to an ancient link to the cult of Demeter (Roman Ceres) the goddess of grain and the earth. It is said to have been at Lake Pergusa near Enna that Persephone (Roman Proserpina), Demeters daughter, was carried off by Hades (Pluto) to become Queen of the Underworld. Although these days there are no extensive Classical ruins, a sense of myth and tradition can still be felt in the town, particularly if you visit in springtime or around traditional festivals.
Enna tourist attractions
Enna is a wonderful town to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and take in the breathtaking views. However it also contains many historical buildings and places of interest. The Castello di Lombardia is a good place to start, as it is one of the most important examples of military architecture in Sicily. Although only six of its original twenty towers remain, it is none the less impressive as it dominates part of the town. Enna has a strong defensive military history – its position at the top of sheer cliffs meant that it was extremely hard to capture; indeed it is said that whenever it exchanged hands throughout history it was inevitably through treachery not force. These days the castello is open to the public and is a fascinating place to visit. In the summer it hosts plays, usually medieval in nature, in a theatre in the inner courtyard.
Enna also has a lovely Duomo (cathedral). Destroyed by fire in 1446, it was rebuilt over the next 200 years and is an interesting mixture of architectural styles. It even contains Classical ruins at the base of the pulpit. Near the Duomo is the Alessi Museum (recently under refurbishment) displaying the Duomos treasury, including a lovely selection of vestments and jewellery. The archaeological museum is also nearby, which although small is worth visiting for its selection of regional artefacts.
Other sights worth seeing in Enna include the Torre di Federico, an interesting octagonal tower named after Frederick II of Swabia (constructor of the famous and also octagonal Castel del Monte in Puglia), in the towns public garden – at 24 metres high it is the perfect point from which to gaze at the views. There are also many beautiful private buildings worth peering at on a city stroll, such as the Palazzo Pollicarini, built in the Catalan-Gothic style, which has a lovely medieval staircase in its courtyard.
A short walk down a small road near the Castello di Lombardia leads to Rocca di Cerere, the site of the foundations of the Temple of Demeter. Although not much remains, the ruins are not enclosed, so it is a lovely spot to absorb the mythical atmosphere of Enna, have a picnic and stare peacefully at the distant views.
For mythology fans Lake Pergusa (the scene of Persephones abduction) is 9km south of Enna. As Sicilys only natural lake, and with its astonishing mythological importance, one would think it would be preserved as a heritage site. Unfortunately it is ringed by a racetrack and the shore is quite highly developed. Perhaps a nice place to sit by the water on sandy shores if you want to relax out of town, but it could be a disappointment if you are searching for a magical atmospheric site – that can be found much more easily in Enna itself.
When to visit
Like most of Sicily, unless you are a fan of really hot weather, the best time to visit Enna is spring and early autumn. Spring is particularly lovely and at Easter you can really see the mystic side to Ennas history, as there is a grand procession of people in capes and hoods through the town to the Duomo. July 2nd is the festival of Maria Santissime della Visitazione, where an effigy of this patron saint is dragged through the town by farmers wearing sheets, followed by a firework display. Fans of motor racing might enjoy the Formula 3 races that take place 9km south of Enna at the Autodromo di Pergusa between April and October.
The only downside to visiting central Sicily is that it is less accessible by public transport than coastal areas. However there are buses to Enna from Catania and its airport as well as from Palermo. Buses are operated by SAIS Autolinee (see links panel). Regular buses also run to Piazza Armerina. There are trains to Enna, but the station is a couple of miles from the town centre at the bottom of a very steep hill. Train services run from Caltanissetta, Palermo and Catania a few times daily, but the bus is probably the easier choice. If you are feeling brave, a great way to visit Enna and its surrounding area is to hire a car and drive. Driving in Sicily is not for everyone – even by Italian standards it can be a hair-raising experience – but as long as you keep your wits about you and drive defensively it can be very rewarding in terms of sightseeing, and gives you easy access to many interesting attractions such as Piazza Armerina and the beautiful nearby hill towns. All the main Sicilian airports offer a car hire service.
Text and photographs by Alice Maddicott
Enna is a good place to stay if you are looking for excellent and/or cheap bed and breakfast accommodation. The choice in town includes the classy and good-value Bianko EcoChic & L’Angolo di Levante and the Locanda Susuiusu, where rooms have balconies. In a higher price bracket is the elegant P&G Design by Lago Welcome Enna. You can book these, along with other B&Bs, hotels and apartments through my affiliate link below – thank you for your support.