The Eastern Etna Riviera

Ancient job and crafts

Sicily is one of the regions of Italy with the biggest variety of high-quality typical artisan production, which still today is the feather in the cap of the Sicilian economy. Hidden behind the typical products of this region is a many-centuries-long history, the guardian of the cultural and historical heritage of the civilisations of the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans, and the inventive creativity of the Sicilians. Typical, traditional crafts  is one of the most important sectors in  Sicily’s  economy, in addition to tourism. Indeed, artisan production is still widespread today, and some of the most characteristic, typical products are embroidery, ceramics, wrought iron, lava stone, and also Sicilian puppets and carts. In the towns near Etna and Acireale, crafts using lava stone are very typical. There are also  artisans working with reed and other natural fibres, such as  making parchment out of papyrus. In the past, they produced only  “cavagne” and “fasceddi”, baskets used to “form” ricotta and other cheeses, but now the range of production has greatly developed. Artisan production connected to food is also widespread:  martorana fruit is very famous – sweets made from marzipan and sugar, made with the shape and colours of various types of fruit. The name comes from the  nuns of the Martorana cloistered convent, in Palermo, which is recognised as being the first place to have produced them.

Falling into the category of artistic artisan production is the traditional Sicilian cart, a true work of art constructed by the best master cabinet-makers and skilled blacksmiths. There is no part of the cart that is not decorated, from the sides, where historical scenes or images taken from the Matter of France were reproduced in a range of colours such as turquoise in the Catania area, to the bracket that connects the wheels to the body, skilfully carved and adorned with wrought iron decorations.

Unfortunately, however, the number of these cart makers, who work only for a market of passionate collectors, is gradually decreasing, while some of them, especially in the Etna area, have started to make scale reproductions.

Another sector linked to cart making is puppet makers: the heroes of this traditional form of theatre, who are also suffering through a period of crisis. Just like Sicilian carts, the puppets are also connected to the cycle of the Matter of France. From Angelica to Orlando, from Rinaldo to King Charlemagne, they are all impersonated by puppets made by hand with great skill. Indeed, a puppet maker has to be able to carve wood to form the structure of the puppet, be able to forge metal to construct the puppet’s armour, and paint its face and sew its outfit.

Sicilian carts are one of the most important symbols of Sicilian folklore. In Aci Sant’Antonio, an important centre of the so-called School of the Art of

Sicilian Carts, a large part of the town’s economy was based on this business. There were over 16 workshops that brought together hundreds of people, including

artisans, cart makers and apprentices. Thanks to them, working simply and almost unknowingly, we now have the legend of the Sicilian Cart.

Today, typical Sicilian artisan products are appreciated not only by tourists, but even exported overseas, so in Harrods in London, for example, it is possible to find items made in Sicily, to the extent that we can speak of a real phenomenon of internationalisation of Sicilian crafts.