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Forza d’Agrò - mountain village on Sicily

Near the touristic places like Taormina and Letojanni, a street trails up to the mountain village Forza d’Agrò on 420 meters altitude. The small village gives you a glimpse of how life has been on Sicily in earlier times. The car is parked on the parking place at the entrance of the village, because the streets are very narrow and nested. It looks like the close attached houses are interwoven to a cap the mountain has pulled over his head and on the top of his pate stands the old fortress: the castle, a bit decayed – but still imposing.

Some old men are sitting on the village square and enjoy the warm sunbeams. Generally, this little place is in the hands of the old, because most of the young people left to find a job somewhere else. Although the village is small, there are three churches (all of them catholic). There is not much here, just what you need in your daily life: a bar, a restaurant, a pharmacy, a bakery and a grocery store. Here on Sicily you find the same street names in every town and village. Following the motto “many ways lead to Rome” you find a narrow alley (which barely a “Cinquecento” can pass) with the telling name “Via Roma” even in this remote place.

There is a stairway leading up from the main alley. You do not meet many people and you think about how exhausting it has to be to carry all your bought stuff up these stairways. On December 26th and on January 6th a nativity play is performed in Forza d’Agrò. The entire population of the village takes part and barns, garages and houses are transformed into the past. You drink a glass of wine in the old tavern, you watch the blacksmith putting new iron on the wheels, you meet the shepherds with their sheep und you smile at the view of the toothless old people, who chew on a piece of bread in the bakery. After Evensong, everyone is waiting in front of the church for the arrival of Joseph leading the donkey with his pregnant wife Maria on its back. Only candles and torches light the way. The crowd follows the couple as it knocks at the doors of the “hotels” and moves on to the barn and the whole story all of a sudden becomes so realistic.

The stairs to the castle are steep, a bit crumbled and overgrown with grass. The iron gate is not open every day. This place has something fascinating and exciting. From above you get a wonderful view over the sea and you can even see Calabria. The cyan water glitters in the midday sun. The old fortress served as a cemetery until 35 years ago. There are old and partly broken stone tombs everywhere, not in a row or in a clear order, no; they just stand where it seemed to be a convenient place. There is absolute silence. The only noise you hear is the humming of the bees and the black and white pictures on the tombs seem to nod to you hospitably. This place is their empire. And someone who did not believe in ghosts until that moment could get the wildest and strangest thoughts here all of a sudden. When the little grass is scorched by the sun in summer and the arid halms lean slightly in the warm wind of the evening, when the ants channel their streets through the wilderness and the cicadas chirr; in this moment you get the feeling as if the tomb inhabitants tell you stories of aridity, war and village festivities and the somewhat crumbled walls of the castle tell of custody, defence and decay. Here the far remote past met with the near one and combined itself with the present.

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