Best of Sicily
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The Nebrodi Mountains, whose name traces
its origin to that of a particular species of Sicilian deer (now extinct), range from the ruggedly scenic Peloritan
Mountains (which extend from the area north of Etna to Messina) across northeastern Sicily toward the valleys leading to
the foothills of the Madonie Mountains to the west.
Mount Soro, the highest Nebrodi peak, at 1847 meters above sea level, is the highest mountain of Sicily apart from Mount
Etna (about 3323 meters) and the highest peaks of the majestic Madonie Mountains, where Carbonara Peak rises to 1979
meters. (Higher summits in the high peaks range of the Madonie, near Carbonara Peak, include San Salvatore Mountain at
1912 meters, Mount Ferro at 1906 meters, Mount Mùfara at 1865 meters, and Corcò Peak, at 1857 meters.)
The extensive Nebrodi region (a protected reserve) is larger than the Madonie, making up in expanse and forests what it
lacks in height. Like the Peloritans, the Nebrodi constitute part of a "continental divide," actually a
continuation of the Apennines, which extends from the Alps along the Italian Peninsula across the Mediterranean into
Tunisia, bordering the volcanic foothills of towering Mount Etna - itself a geological afterthought. In effect, the
Apennines divide the Meditarranean in half along a north-to-south axis. The presence of the Nebrodi makes most streams
in central Sicily flow southward and (generally) eastward. Historically, the Nebrodi constituted a Greek, Roman and
Norman gateway to western Sicily. They may have arrived by sea, but the land itself had to be conquered, and this was
rarely an easy task. In 1943, American and German troops contended bloodily for control of points in the Nebrodi as the
latter retreated toward the Strait of Messina.
The older towns of the Nebrodi are of Byzantine Greek foundation, sometimes built on or near Roman-era settlements,
and the Eastern (Orthodox) Church was strong here into the thirteenth century. A number of Byzantine monasteries dot the Nebrodi. It may be observed that, in a very
general sense, the populations of the Peloritan and Nebrodi regions remained largely Siculo-Byzantine in the Middle
Ages, while the nearby Madonie and Erei regions were more influenced by Arab settlement and culture. In the
1060s, when Norman incursions were contested in the Nebrodi region, it was by Sicilians of Greek orientation, sometimes
in league with Saracens (Arabs). Troina, Nicosia and Mistretta are the more prominent towns.
Etna and the Madonie have their woods, of course, but Sicily's most extensive forests are to be found in the Nebrodi
(sometimes called the Caronie). Wild cats, porcupines, hares, foxes, weasels, snakes, lizards and birds of prey still
thrive in certain parts of the Nebrodi. Following heavy rains, giant toads come out of their niches. The San Fratello horse and the Nebrodian black swine are typical domestic livestock of the region, which has its own
particular Nebrodian cuisine.
The so-called "Sicilian Fir" (Abies Nebrodensis) once carpeted the highest parts of the Nebrodi, but
surviving specimens exist only in the neighboring Madonie. The flowering Manna Ash (Fraxinus Ornus) and other trees,
such as oaks and mountain ash, will still be found. The Catafurco Falls and Ancipa (Sartori), Maulazzo and Trearie lakes
(the last is naturally formed) are just a few of the interesting natural attractions. The Crasto Rocks, a series of
mini-canyons near the Byzantine-Norman towns of San Marco d'Alunzio and Alcara Li Fusi, are also worth a visit. People
who visit Sicily believing there are no forests on our island haven't been to the Nebrodi. To paraphrase Goethe,
"To have seen Sicily without having seen the Nebrodi is not to have experienced Sicily at all."
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino has written about wildlife and nature for Best of
Sicily and hard-copy publications.