Sciacca looks out over the sea towards Africa, between the Belice and Platani river mouths and halfway between the archaeological sites of Agrigento and Selinunte. It is an amphitheatre open to the sea, overlooked by Mount Kronio: rising up to 395 meters over the sea level, from this hill springs its famous thermal waters spring, the main reason why Sciacca attracts several visitors today.
Legend says that Daedalus, fleeing from King Minos of Crete, discovered the beneficial properties of these thermal waters springs one thousand years BC; history instead, says that these were the thermal baths of the Greek city of Terme Selinuntine. In fact, the site falls within this city’s zone of influence and it underwent the same historical events of this powerful Greek colony taking in refugees following its defeat by the Carthaginian victory army in 409 BC.
The Romans were great lovers of hot water baths and called the place Aquae Labodes while the name Sciacca was given by the Arabs who arrived here in 840 AD.
Throughout the middle ages and up to the 17th century, city life was fairly hectic both in good and bad ways. Good were the riches deriving from agriculture, fishing and handicrafts - among which the still flourishing pottery production - as well as its many fine churches and mansions, most of which survive to this day; bad was the feuding between two powerful families - one of Norman, the other of Aragones origin - who from the 14th to the 16th century were in continual dispute causing a permanent state of civil war, so much so that the Sicilian proverbial expression “cause a Sciacca case” has remained to this day meaning to stir up a ferocious and unsolvable dispute.
A proof of that dispute remaining today is the Luna Castle: a majestic medieval castle built on the commission of the count of Caltabellotta, then passed under the Aragon noble house of Luna. The castle is located in a dominant position over the city and within its ancient wall.
The Enchanted Castle
Another curious event involved the local Filippo Bentivegna and his "Castello Incantato". Coming back from the United States in 1919 after receiving a blow on his head from a lover rival, Filippo suffered from amnesia and was declared insane and unable to work. So he seeks refuge in a property bought in the outskirts of Sciacca and then he started to build a garden and carve there a series of strange heads from the rocks.
Then the Enchanted Castle was born: a surreal and magical village made of thousands of heads and faces that let the visitors come into the strange world of the sculptor. Even though his work was not appreciated during his existence, today the "village" is one of the most-visited sights in Southern Sicily all year round.
Things to do
Today, Sciacca has a historical seafront and a lovely Belvedere over the large fishing harbour below. Its districts, surrounded by walls and gateways with additions dating from the 14th to the 18th century, are rich in churches and mansions. The streets and alleyways are dotted with little gems like the elegant doorways, pot-bellied balcony railings, mullioned windows and colourful tiles decorating even less titled abodes.
Piazza Angelo Scandaliato is a suggestive square from which admire the impressive seaside from the above. And if you stay there during the Mardi Gras, you can attend the famous local Carnival, one of the most popular in Italy, with plenty of masks and floats crafted by local artisans and artists.
It surely has to say Sciacca is an original destination. Families can spend an hour of fun at the Museo del Giocattolo, a museum realized by the passion of the owners collecting various toy kids in the last 100 years. While if you are curious about the history of soap and how it is made, there's the Casa Museo del Sapone.
Old and new pottery shops will certainly draw your attention when out shopping. Numerous small restaurants offer a sea-food menu (those in the harbour area are particularly recommended) and some also offer refined local dishes with a new twist.
Sea bathing off long golden beaches or more secluded, sandy bays can be enjoyed nearby as in Cape San Marco Nature Reserve. The sand of that beach has a very rare golden yellow colour, a scenic spot that shows most of its beauty during the sunset. Not to miss are also San Giorgio beach, Sovareto beach and Spiaggia Tonnara.
If you want to try out the virtues of the sulphurous waters appreciated by the Greeks and Romans there are several possibilities, among which a recently restored 19th-century establishment and a Mediterranean art nouveau-styled bathing establishment.