Bisacquino, or Busacchinu in local dialect, is a splendid Sicilian village located in the western part of the island between Palermo and Sciacca, at the foot of Mount Triona from whose summit you can see Mount Etna.
There are at least a couple of hypotheses about the meaning of its name: on the one hand there is the reference to Latin and the ‘richness of the waters’ which is reflected in the large number of fountains and drinking troughs still present today in the city centre.
On the other hand, there is an Arab origin to indicate the ‘father of the knife’. The village was internationally known for the traditional skill of the master cutlers who exported their creations to many countries.
Its history is very ancient and it seems that the original nucleus was founded by the Sicans during the Iron Age, who were succeeded by the Greeks, the Carthaginians and finally the Romans who used Sicily as the granary of the Empire.
The current village, however, was to be born around the ninth century after the Saracen conquest that led the Arabs to choose this place for the richness of the waters. At that time Bisacquino was one of the Arab hamlets and appears in the first historical documents.
All the hamlets depended on castles and, therefore, in this period the construction by the Arabs of the Battellaro, or Patellaro, castle on the top of a hill about 560 meters above sea level also began here.
Its name derives from that of the family that controlled it and its task was to protect people and guard the road from Palermo to Sciacca. For this strategic function, the castle was then reinforced by the Normans who finally donated it to the Cathedral of Monreale, continuing its agricultural functions for many centuries.
The arrival of the Normans in Sicily greatly changed the political order as they arrived in southern Italy having been called by the church of Rome who wanted to affirm the Latin rite.
In fact, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines had brought their Orthodox church and their rites that linked them to today’s Turkey.
The Norman, William II the Good, therefore began a profound social restructuring work by strengthening the role of churches and building monasteries such as that of Monreale, to which he assigned the fief of the Battelario di Bisacquino in 1183.
From this moment the historical events of Bisacquino followed those of this monastery, which is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The various lords of the castle took part in historical events on the island such as that of the Sicilian Vespers during the dispute between the Angevins and the Aragonese. But the maximum splendour of Bisacquino came after 1500 and this wealth is recognizable in the magnificent architecture of the churches and convents of the ancient village.
For example, the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi is arranged with one of the most unique bell towers in Sicily due to its rare triangular shape.
In this period, thanks also to the rich noble families, Bisacquino was awarded the title Nobilis Universitas and was governed by a governor, four jurors and a treasurer along with other public bodies. The whole history of the town is told in the records of the historical archive of the splendid Mother Church of San Giovanni Battista.
The wealth of this period also led to the birth of popular festivals such as that of the Bisacquinese Carnival, the oldest in Sicily, with its modern “dominò” mask. This was a woman who, thanks to a tunic and a hood that hid her, behaved like a man and led the dances.
Another great event of this period was the construction of the famous sanctuary of the Madonna del Balzo, begun in 1664 on a steep wall of Monte Triona. It all started as a result of a large spontaneous pilgrimage of faithful who came to pay homage to the place where the Madonna had appeared to two shepherds and where she had performed some miracles.
Even today the sanctuary is one of the most beautiful in Sicily and gives rise to the great feast of the Madonna del Balzo which lasts almost two weeks and winds all the way from the town to the Sanctuary.
In 1700 in Bisacquino there were 16 churches, which corresponded to 16 neighborhoods, and life in this century flowed without major episodes apart from the reconstruction of the Mother Church and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Bosco, this one based on the design of the famous architect Luigi Vanvitelli who had built the Royal Palace of Caserta.
In 1812 the Bourbons took over the government of Sicily and Bisacquino stopped gravitating around the archbishop of Monreale, definitively assuming its current name. The Bourbons abolished the fief and changed the town’s coat of arms by introducing royal symbols and a fountain full of water.
In 1860, many citizens of Bisacquino enlisted in Garibaldi’s army helping him in the fall of the Bourbon Kingdom in favour of the new Savoy Kingdom of Italy.
In 1866 the Savoy Kingdom put much of the church and state property up for sale, but the lands were all bought by a few bourgeois families, giving rise to the phenomenon of land ownership and losing the dream of justice that had moved Garibaldi.
The disappointment of the poorer classes led on the one hand to the creation of peasant communities that tried in vain to oppose the excessive power of the landowners, the fascists, and on the other, fueled the first phenomena of emigration to overseas.
Among the families who left Bisacquino in the early 1900s, there was that of the famous Italian-American director Frank Capra, winner of an Oscar.
A second wave of emigration occurred after the Second World War with a destination mainly to Northern Italy and Northern Europe.
Among the typical products we must mention the famous red onion called “bussachinara” celebrated with a festival in mid-August together with the patroness, the Madonna del Balzo.
Noteworthy is the particular Clock Museum housed in the ancient workshop of the Scibetta family, renowned watchmakers throughout Sicily.