The city of Naro may not be the most well-known stop on the tourist trail through Sicily. Naro is settled in the province of Agrigento overlooking, La Valle del Paradiso, which in English means Paradise Valley, about an hour’s drive from the coast. The city is surrounded by cultivated fields of grain, vegetables, grape vines, olive, nut, and citrus trees. Naro was not directly affected by the earthquake in 1693 that shattered the southeastern side of the island. The damage was so severe that several cities in the Province of Siracusa actually moved rather than rebuild. The quake knocked over walls in Agrigento and was even felt in Palermo. The rebuilding took place during the late Baroque Period (1600 – 1750) and created the distinctive look to the region. The Baroque Style is ornate and layered, extravagant and vain. Naro is referred to as, La Citta del Barocco which means The Baroque City. The town planners embraced the style and added a layer of embellishment on to many public buildings and churches. The structures in Naro are built using the local stone giving it a unique look. To visit Naro is to come directly into understanding of the crossroads of cultures that have been in Sicily. Some of the churches have been built over a temple, or a mosque. The Castello di Chiaramonte and Chiesa Caterina d ‘Alessandria are medieval structures. Both have been altered or added on to several times. The city of Naro retains the complexities of Greek, Arabic, and Norman occupation within its name as well as its people.
The Province of Agrigento contains well preserved Greek ruins. The ancient site of Selinunte is closer to the sea but also an easy drive from Naro. Akragas, the ancient name for Agrigento, was a major city of Magna Graecia and very close by. The famed Valle dei Templi is a short drive away. A casual way to determine if an area had been inhabited by Greeks is to look to the hillsides for akanthus. This flower grows in abundance at all Greek sites. The progeny date back to 500 BC. Sicily has housed and fed external civilizations for ages. But, every town and city that flourishes today began as a humble settlement near a reliable source of water. Il Lago San Giovanni, an artificial lake completed in 1981, is fed by the river Naro. This area is dominated by agriculture and would need a plentiful, predictable supply of water. The translation of Naron in the Greek language is river. Perhaps the origin of the name is this word.
The city may also have been named by the Arabs. The Castello di Chiaramonte is situated on the highest point in Naro and was built on top of an Arab stronghold. Some writings indicate this was formerly a Roman watchtower. The translation of the Arab word Nar is flame, luster or glow. It’s possible the town radiates a soft glow like a flame from a distance when directly in the sun or moon light. The color tone of the stones is light honey to soft butter cream. The architects of this city may have followed the path of the sun when laying out this city. The shape of the city from above is irregular crescent facing toward the coast and not unlike an oyster shell.
“Fulgentissima” is used by the Narese to describe the city and what it means to be from Naro. One of the guidebooks I returned with states the Norman emperor Frederik II (1194 – 1250) gave Naro the title Fulgentissima During its long occupation of this site, Naro has been an import center for commerce, agriculture, and Christianity since medieval times. Naro is compared to a pearl inside the oyster. One never knows what the pearl will look like until it is uncovered. It’s “wealth” is hidden inside. The pearl has a lustrous glow. But, it takes a native to appreciate the complexity of its history, art, and architecture that is not quite so obvious to the visitor. Fulgore in Italian means brightness. The suffix, –issima in Italian creates an adjective that gives the word a meaning to the highest degree it could possibly reach. Fulgentissima means literally brilliantly radiant.
I became fixed on this word fulgentissima and struggle to give it a translation. My stay was too short to absorb its true meaning. However, during my visit to Sicily, I came away with the distinct awareness that many Sicilians are artists by nature. Scratch the surface of a working person, and find an artist quickly underneath. The day job sustains them, but it is in the artistic expression that they too radiate a special something. They may sing well, or play a piano with passion, dance with puppets or whip up gelato fit for a goddess. The Sicilians tend to reflect the sumptuous baroque art in being at once beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. I had no preconceptions about how I would find the day to day people to be. I didn’t even know what Baroque was until I arrived. I like to think my conclusions were reached by observation of what was around me. I would tell anyone considering traveling to Sicily, to put aside any general or anecdotal notions of what the people will be like. Until you are here, you have no idea.
I sought out Signor Salvatore Nocera for help as I researched the words to the song, “Canta Fulgentissima”. I had written an earlier article about some of my motivations for visiting Sicily and specifically Naro. It was music that brought me here. This song was sung by the dramatic tenor, Piero Barone of Naro, on the occasion of his inauguration, as Ambassador of Naro to the World, in December 2014. A title he earned by continuous promotion of this city to the people he entertains on stage as a member of the musical group, IL Volo of Italy. I listened and thought about what he was saying to the fans. I followed his suggestion and stopped for a while in the city of his birth to find out what he was so proud of. His contribution to the musical arts is still evolving but he is a true son of Naro and shows potential for an outstanding career in music. Even his name reflects his home, piero means stone in English. The song was especially arrange and played by Signor Nocera on guitar for the performance. Signor Nocera was able to provide the lyrics which are published in this article.
Signor Nocera is a modest and highly accomplished man. He was born in northern Italy but moved to Naro with his family from age 6 to 17. He traveled to Pavia to study medicine and music. He performed for several years in Germany at folk music festivals and in the theater. He completed an MD in 1986. He has a keen interest in poetry and musical composition. He moved back to Naro permanently in 2004.
The song is written by Gero Rindone of Naro (1897-1958). Signor Rindone had a full and complicated life. He was a veteran of WWI. He completed a law degree at the University of Palermo. He was a gifted singer, composer, and poet. He studied music for several years in Milan and performed successfully as a lyric tenor. He made his operatic debut in Torino 1925 at the age of 28. He appeared in: The Barber of Seville, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, IL Travatore and La Giocanda. According to Nocera, Rindone was for 20 to 30 years, listed as one of the 900 great professional tenors in Italy. He wrote the words to this song in a letter to a friend. He was honored by the citizens of Naro with a street named after him, Via Gero Rindone, in town.
The Lyrics to Naru Fulgentissima from Signor Nocera in Italian and English
Terra di fiori e cantici Terra di poesia
Sei sempre dilettissima
Chi ti conosce ti ama
Chi ti conosce spasima
E non ti dimentica più
Quando il sole su Mongibello
Apre quel gran ventaglio alla mattina
La conca tutta attorno al Catello
È un Paradiso, una cosa divina
Quando la sera calda di calore
Scende raggiante sopra Punta Bianca
Il sole tra vampe di colore
Metta la pace in un’anima stanca
È naro fulgentissima
La bella patria mia
Si apre il mi cuore e cantano
Tutti i miei sensi
Land of flowers and songs of Earth poetry
You are always beloved
Who you know loves you
Who knows you agonizes
And do not you forget it
When the sun on Mount Etna
Opens on the large range in the morning
The basin around the whole Catello
It is a paradise, a divine thing
When the hot evening heat is
Beaming down over Punta Bianca
The sun blazes among colors and
Puts peace in a soul tired
In Naro brilliantly radiant
My beautiful country
It opens the heart and I sing
All my senses
The recorded history is complex. The fertile valley and river brought people to the region and gave them reason to stay. They were well nourished by the farms and vineyards just outside the gates of the city. The powerful and greedy came and went. Each left a bit of something in the structures and antiquities of Naro. The people of this place know it is a bit of paradise on earth. As a lover would sweeten his chances to catch her attention, this song was written and is sung to woe and win her affections. She may be a little old and worn, but she was once a beautiful young maiden too. She is water. She is gold. She is sun. She is the shepherd. She is the sway of grain. She is love. She is home.
As written by Frances Ann Wychorski