I first tried to visit Caltabellotta in 1993. I was staying in Sciacca, and thought I'd have time to drive up and back before dark. Wrong! The murky November light began to fade as my Cinquecento struggled upwards round the hairpins. The ascent was too frightening and I turned back.
The second visit, with Juliet in 2008, was more successful - a fine May morning, in a sturdier car - and by then plenty more experience of narrow mountain roads. Once you've ever had to drive four times in one day along the ledge which passes for a road between Castle Bruce and Petite Soufrière on the Atlantic coast of Dominica, you don't scare so easily! We drove between verges rioting with the varied colours of spring wild flowers, with rapidly expanding view back to Sciacca and the African Sea. We explored the village on foot, before driving on towards Bisacquino, through the rock tunnel at the top of the mountain behind the village. We picknicked just beyond, until our feast was rudely disturbed by a herd of cattle crashing through the bushes.
Somewhere in the vicinity must have been Kamikos (Camicus), the capital of king Kokalos (Cocalus), where, according to the myths, king Minos of Cnossos met his deserved though highly unpleasant end - at the hands of Kokalus's daughters. ("They boiled him?" asks the canine narrator in Jim Henson's delightful short film about the Daedalus myth. See it on YouTube. ) Minos was pursuing Daedalus, who'd escaped from the Cretan Labyrinth on improvised wings, and reprtedly landed nearby. Minos cunningly offered a reward to anyone who could thread a legth of yarn through a spiral shell (a whelk?). The plan was that olny Daedalus would be capable of such a feat - and then Minos would nab him. Daedalus, who was indeed staying with Kokalos, showed his daughters how to attach the yarn to an ant, make a hole in one end of the shell, and induce the ant to navigate the spirals encouraged by a blob of honey at the other end! Kokalos claimed the reward - and Minos demanded that Daedalus be handed over. The daughters were loyal to Daedalus, though - and with their friend's help, created a pipe wich introduced the boiling water (oil?) into Minos' bath.
Various strands of the tale are mentioned by different ancient authors (Herodotus, Diodorus, Hyginus, Ovid), but all claims to have identified the site of "Kamikos" are guesses - encouraged by the tourist industry no doubt. But if a search for Kokalus' palace takes you to Caltabellotta - or St Angelo Muxaro - the journey is well worthwhile for its own sake - and for the staggering views available.
A wander round will show you the eponymous castle (calta from the Arabic for castle), and stone staircase may lead you to the tiny Chiesa di Sta Maria della Pietà, apparently hewn from the rock.
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