Salemi, Town of Saint Joseph’s Breads

Salemi (prov. of Trapani) located in the Belice Valley in South-Western Sicily is a very characteristic town for its origines and traditions.
Originally denominated Alicia as “allied of the ancient Segesta”, the town after being conquered by the Arabs in 827 was then named “Salem” as it was a peaceful and safe village. Since then the town was conquered under the rule of Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragons and Bourbons.
In 1968 the city was badly hit by a strong earthquake that destroyed many towns in the Belice Valley. The recontruction and urban development of the town led a shift towards the the downstream part of the hill. The restored historic part of Salemi still detains the indelible imprint of  Arab influences with its articulate narrow roads that lead to dead ends and fascinating segregated courtyards and stone staircases particularly on steep cliffs.
In an elevated and strategically dominant position stands the Castel, a Greek-Roman fortress then modified and completed by Federico II in the 13th century.
Salemi is where on May 14 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi announced the annexation of Sicily during the process of unification of the nation.
The Museo del Risorgimento (Museum of Resurgence) with its documentary sources, paintings, portraits and collection of weapons and uniforms of the time, is testimony of the role of Salemi and its people in this glorious historic moment.
Salemi is renomated for the Festa di San Giuseppe during which the whole town is engaged in celebrations that go on from the beginning of March until the 23rd with exhibits and events. It is possible to taste delicious culinary dishes prepared by by the residents and generously offered to visitors and tourists. For the occasion extempore stands are set up where beautiful handicrafts are displayed to be admired or  purchased.
The very particular tradition of San Giuseppe in Salemi are the votive altars called “Cene di San Giuseppe”.  These votive altars are of different shapes and sizes and consist of wooden frames covered with leaves of laurel and myrth, decked with oranges and lemons and beautifully decorated with the “panuzzi” or “cuddureddi” which are tiny breads skillfully handcrafted by the women of the town representing animals, fruits and other objects with religious symbolic meanings.

written by Maria Lina Bommarito

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