Cefalù: a people-friendly town

Cefalù, a delightful seaside town famous for its long beach of golden sand, the deep blue of the sea and its typical Mediterranean atmosphere with a hint of Arabian mystery, is the most exciting and charming resort in Sicily. Cefalù enchants its visitors with its warm bright colours and the magnificent setting: beautiful small coves, creeks and beaches, sheer rocky cliffs which descend to the sea, olive groves, lemon and orange plantations which diffuse the intense fragrance of their blossoms, the mountainous woodlands. Nature’s wonders are counterbalanced by man’s creations : the impressive Arabo-Norman cathedral, the dazzling gilded mosaics of the Christ Pantokrator, the Ruler of All, the medieval wash-house, the enigmatic smile of Antonello da Messina’s Unknown Man. It is this perfect and harmonious synthesis between nature and art which makes Cefalù a truly unique spot.

Authentic Lifestyle

Strolling along the alleys of the medieval town centre, or sitting in an open air café slowly savouring a delicious ice cream, you can watch Sicilians going about their everyday life: women hanging out their clothes in the alleys, people holding lively discussions, gesticulating expressively, costermongers loudly touting their wares. You can become inebriated by the strong fragrance of the flowers and plants which give splashes of colour to the streets: bougainvillea, the seductive scent of jasmine and geraniums and the strong aroma of basil and mint.


Deep in Sicily’s mountainous interior is the lush Madonie National Park, which offers endless opportunities for walking and excursions and where you can enjoy breathtaking views from the summit of Mount Etna to the Aeolian Islands, Here you will discover small villages nestling on the mountain slopes or crowning the summits, dominating the landscape, where you will meet people who still live as in times gone by: shepherds pasturing their flocks, farmers at work in the fields or on muleback on their way home, old women sitting at the door of their houses. Cefalù is a member of the association I borghi più belli d’Italia whose aim is to promote small Italian towns which stand out for their artistic, cultural and historical heritage, and the quality of life and services offered to their citizens. Cefalù offers this and much more to the visitor, but it is for you to find it out!

Eat with Gusto

In the fish restaurants along the promenade or in the small trattorie hidden away in the alleys and courtyards of Cefalù you will discover Sicilian cuisine, which mirrors the history of the island of Sicily and the creative joie de vivre of its people.

The Rocca

A Greek myth tells of the love and despair of the handsome shepherd Daphnis, Sicily’s Orpheus. He was blinded by the goddess Hera whose daughter he had betrayed, and was then transformed by the god Hermes into the huge crag that dominates Cefalu and that gave the place its name. The ancient Greek inhabitants saw it as a gigantic head, and “head” is in fact the meaning of the town’s name. The Rocca, known by the Phoenicians as Hercules promontory, is a massive spectacular calcareous crag with an altitude of 270m. The mythological and legendary origins tell of the importance of the area.

Temple of Diana

The so-called Temple of Diana, is the only pre-classical monument and one of the oldest structures still standing in Sicily. The megalithic building, which has a dolmen-type structure covering it, dates back to the 5th century B.C. and was erected over a protohistoric cystern dating from the 9th century B.C. The temple has a polygonal plan and walls made out of huge calcareous stone blocks. It consists of two rooms on each side of a central corrridor at the end of which is the entrance to the temple surmounted by a monolitic carved architrave. The temple, originally a sacred building associated with the worship of the moon and the water, was presumably used later, by virtue of its strategic position, as a lookout and signalling place. The small temple is evidence of a human settlement on the Rocca even before the town was established on the coast.


On the top of the Rock there are ruins of a castle that can be dated back to the 12th century. The castle was almost unapproachable, nestled on the summit and protected by two sets of massive walls which encompass it. Today only a few stones have remained as witness of its past power. The building has a rectangular layout with 12 rooms and two towers. A walk along the still existing walls, is one of the most enchanting experiences you can have in Cefalù, offering a wonderful view of the town, the turquoise sea and the surrounding mountains. The position of the castle, which dominates the whole region around Cefalù, is a clue to the strategic importance of the Rocca. The Castle was owned by the Bishop of Cefalù and was still in use up until the end of the 1700s when it was abandoned and unfortunately left to decay.

Old port and Porta Pescara

From the little old harbour one can enjoy one of Cefalu’s most enchanting views of the long sandy beach, the golden rocks framing it, the green hills in the background, the silouhette of the Norman Cathedral and the imposing Rocca towering over the houses of the old town. But the most dramatic view is certainly that of the sun plunging into the sea during the early summer evenings, which diffuses intense red and orange hues to colour the sky, the sea and the town. Here is also located the Gothic-styled Porta Pescara, the only surviving one of four medieval town gateways overlooking a small sandy beach where the local fishermen use to keep their little colourful boats.

Medieval wash-house

The Medieval wash-house is located at the mouth of the Cefalino, a little river which originates in the mountains surrounding Cefalù. After running for some kilometers underground and beneath some of the houses in town, the river flows here into the sea. An elegant lava staircase leads to the basins carved in the rocks where the water flows through 22 gisa vents, 15 of which have the form of lion heads. The Lavatoio was used by women until recent times, who knelt to wash their clothes by hand on the stone scrubbers. One characteristic of the wash house is the low temperature of the water, that makes it a fresh and pleasant place to cool off during the hottest summer days.

Norman Cathedral

The Cathedral of Cefalù is one of the most impressive monuments of the Norman age in Italy. The construction, begun in 1131, was ordered by King Roger following a vow he made during a violent sea storm while travelling from mainland Italy to Sicily. Built by Arabic architects and craftsmen according to the byzantine liturgy, the church is a perfect fusion of Arabic, Byzantine and Norman elements which gives it its unique charm and magic. Two massive twin towers, similar but not identical, flank the simple but unusual façade enhancing the magisterial beauty of the cathedral. The Apse is decorated with some of the most impressive Byzantine mosaics in Sicily representing the sublime figure of the Christ Pantokrator, the Ruler of All, His Mother and 53 other figures of saints. Next to the Cathedral is the charming Cloister which has four galleries of slender twin columns surmounted by carved capitals decorated with Biblical figures and mythological scenes.

Mandralisca Museum

The palace which houses the museum was the residence of Enrico Piraino, Baron of Mandralisca. The Baron was an exceptional humanist and scientist and had a special interest in art. During the 1800s he collected valuable works of art, which he left, after his death, along with his palace to the town as a museum. The museum possesses several archaeological finds of inestimable value, including the splendid fourth-century B.C. Greek bowl “Cratere del venditore di tonno“; a collection of 16th and 17th century paintings including some still life paintings, byzantine paintings, and beautiful scenes of Venice; an important library which contains some 6000 volumes, some of which are very rare, a numismatic collection dating from the Greek period up to the last century, and a remarkable collection of shells from all over the world. At the Mandralisca Museum can be found one of the most beautiful and mysterious portraits by the 15th-century Sicilian master Antonello da Messina, the Portrait of the Unknown Man (about 1470), whose enigmatic smile seems to have inspired Leonardo Da Vinci when painting his Mona Lisa.

Osterio Magno

The Osterio Magno is thought to be King Roger II‘s palace at Cefalù. Later it became the winter residence of the powerful Ventimiglia Counts, a feudal family who ruled the whole Madonie area. The palace is a complex made of two buildings constructed at different times. The older, two-coloured side, built of lava and golden sandstone and graced by two elegant mullioned windows, dates from the late 1200s. The adjoining square tower was built in the 1300s and has a fine three-mullioned window which shows the perfect fusion between Gothic and Arabic architecture. The Osterio, now completely restored, is used for art exhibitions and lectures.

Corso Ruggero

The Corso, the old town’s main street, marked the border of the town during the Middle Ages. The street, which the beautiful Cathedral square overlooks, cuts the old town in two parts from south to north: at the feet of the Rocca the medieval town outstretches: a picturesque labyrinth of tiny streets, alleys, narrow passages, courtyards, staircases and arches; near the sea the town has a more regular grid plan, with straight streets intersecting to form regular blocks. The corso begins at Piazza Garibaldi, where the Porta Terra, the main entrance to the old town, was located. On the site of the Porta it is still possible to see a few large blocks from the old megalithic walls. Today the street is lined with baroque churches and noble palaces. The most elegant shops of the town can be found here.


The theatre of Cefalù, a little jewel in the shape of a horse shoe, was built in 1814. It has had a troubled history: it has closed and reopened several times, and has even been used as a hospital for infectious diseases, and it was definitely closed in 1975 after being used as a cinema during the 1950’s. It remained closed for 35 years and following 3 years of work it has been finally restored to its former splendour and reopened to the public. It can hold 204 spectators in its stalls and 3 tiers of balconies and its ceiling is embroidered with frescoes and stucco decorations. The theatre was used in 1980 by the director Giuseppe Tornatore as the set of the Oscar winner film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. This is in fact the movie theatre where Philippe Noiret showed the films that instigated the passion for the cinema of the young protagonist.

Culturforum has been offering Italian Language and Culture Courses since the year 2000 in Cefalù, picturesque fishing town on the northern coast of Sicily

Corso Ruggero, 55
90015 Cefalù (Palermo), Sicilia, Italia

Social Links

©2019 Culturforum. Tutti i diritti riservati. Designed By Webvox | P.Iva: IT05120740823