Rock of Cefalù

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The Rocca di Cefalù, together with the Cathedral and the medieval wash-house, is one of the symbols of this splendid seaside town. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the promontory, from the Hellenistic age on, acquired an increasingly important role in the defense against attacks from the sea. According to some historians, the name of the ancient Greek town of Kephaloidion comes from the word kefalis, which means head in Greek and refers to both the shape of the cliff and its location.

The Rocca di Cefalù: origin, flora and fauna

The Rocca di Cefalù is a limestone cliff that dominates the town, reaching 270 meters at its highest point. Its limestone composition, with a widespread presence of organogenic fossils, reveals its origins dating back to the Upper Cretaceous period (100-65 million years ago). It is probable that this promontory was formed as a marginal outcrop of the Madonie mountain system, as suggested by the very similar nature of the limestone rocks and the extensive groundwater circulation. The rock of Cefalù is also a small and complete habitat, where both endemic flora and fauna can be found. The former includes the typical plants of the Mediterranean maquis, while the fauna is composed of birds that nest there permanently, small mammals, reptiles and insects. The most characteristic species of the promontory is the Helix mazzulli cephaloeditana, a species of snail found only in this area.

The rock and the myth of Daphnis and Naide

In ancient times, the origin of the rock of Cefalù was explained by the Greek myth of Daphnis and Naide. According to one of the many versions of this legend, Daphnis was a handsome young man, son of the god Hermes. One day he fell in love with the nymph Naide, daughter of Hera, queen of the Olympian gods, and decided to marry her. Daphnis was so good at the arts of music and poetry that his fame reached the court of King Zeno. The king decided to invite him to a party to perform for his guests. On this occasion, however, Climene, Zeno’s wife, fell in love with the boy and, after getting him drunk, urged him to betray his Naide. When Hera learned of this, she decided to punish Daphnis by making him blind. The poor boy fled in despair through the Sicilian countryside, singing his grief until he killed himself by throwing himself from a rock. But at that moment, Ermes, Daphnis’ father, moved and transformed him into the rock of Cefalù.

Interesting fact: In another version of the myth, Naide, upon discovering the betrayal, punished Daphnis with death. He soon regretted it, however, and his tears formed the river Cefalino, which feeds the ancient medieval wash house.

The presence of man in the rock of Cefalù

The presence of man in the rock of Cefalù has been documented since prehistoric times. In the so-called “Grotta delle Giumente” (Cave of the Mares), engravings on the walls and fragments of pottery dating back to the 16th-15th centuries B.C. have been found. The rock was also frequented in the Greek and Roman periods. The construction of the large cistern inside the Temple of Diana dates back to the 4th century BC, and around the same time the “Megalithic Walls” were built, later modified during the Norman period. In the 12th century, the inhabitants of Cefalù, taking advantage of the strategic position of the fortress, built a castle on its summit. It is probable that the settlement gradually moved from the sea to the surroundings of the castle. The castle was used extensively throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, and then underwent extensive reconstruction between the 16th and 17th centuries, before being completely abandoned two centuries later. The area was visited again in the 20th century, when stone quarries and lime kilns continued to operate on the promontory and its slopes.

Visiting the Rocca di Cefalù: times, prices and itineraries

The visit to the Rocca di Cefalù is paid and the entrance to the Temple of Diana and to the Castle of Cefalù is included in the ticket price. The route starts from Salita Saraceni street and the ticket costs 5 euros. However, there are discounts for children aged 6 to 14, the over 65s and teachers, the cost is 2.50 euros. The route can be visited every day of the year. From April to October, visits are allowed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with last access at 7 p.m. From November to March, visits are allowed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with last access at 3 p.m. The ascent to the top of the rock takes place almost exclusively in the sunshine. It is therefore recommended to avoid the summer months and in any case the hottest times of the day.

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