Planning our 2017 vacation, my wife and I decided to tour Sicily for a week and to add a day to discover part of my heritage in my namesake town of Randazzo and the smaller village of Ucria where my grandfather was born and raised until the age of 16.
Randazzo with a population of 11,500 is one of the largest towns surrounding Mt. Etna. At 2500 feet above sea level, the “City of Wine” is the closest town to the mountain’s craters, yet lava flows have never encroached upon the town. Most of Randazzo has been constructed of black lava stone from the imposing volcano.
We walked some of the narrow streets in the oldest section of town where one could turn a corner and suddenly be overwhelmed by a majestic old church. The Basilica of Santa Maria is the largest of approximately 11 Catholic churches and is considered the symbol of Randazzo. The town displays many metal signs that act as community bulletin boards where residents can post memorials for deceased loved ones.
One of the town’s oldest streets, Via degli Archi looks more like an alley with pointed arches and black lava cobblestone paving. It leads to the Piazza San Nicola and creates through its arches a grand view of the bell tower of San Nicola Church.
After “snacking” on Sicilian cheeses, lunch meats, bruschetta and wine at a local deli, we headed away from Etna toward my Grandfather’s hometown of Ucria in the Nebrodi mountains.
Heavy emigration (especially after WWII) has eroded the population of this primarily farming village from 4800 residents in 1900 to about 1100 today. My grandpop and his younger sister and parents immigrated to America in 1907.
We walked on Via Caffuti, the street where he was born, and our guide conversed with a couple of the residents in an attempt to find someone who might know a past or present neighbor named Randazzo. \The way that several neighbors popped their heads out of doors and windows as our guide questioned a husband and wife on their balcony could have been right out of a Fellini film.
We failed to find any living relatives, so we next visited the municipal building where we obtained a copy of my grandfather’s birth certificate from the 1891 record book. Before leaving we visited Ucria’s Mother Church, St. Peter the Apostle. Rather plain on the outside, the church boasted an unexpectedly ornate interior. We lit a candle, said a prayer, took some photos and departed the church and Ucria.
We were thrilled just to have walked around and to have experienced a little of my ancestors’ hometown. I was the first of my grandpop’s children and grandchildren to do so. I feel very proud to have shared my photos and stories with my sisters, cousins and especially my dad.