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History Caltanissetta

Origin of the name
Nissa was perhaps the name of the Anatolian city from which the Byzantine stratioti who built the castle of Pietrarossa and the nearby village where today stands the neighborhood of the Angels must have come. When the village was conquered by the Arabs, they added the prefix Qal’at (“castle”) to the original name, as testified by the Moroccan Idrisi, who in 1154 indicated it as Qal at al-nisà. The term nisà, however, in Arabic means “women”, and it is probable that, as has often happened, the original name was deformed and assimilated to something easily understandable.

The confirmation of the translation from Arabic as a castle of women will come from Goffredo Malaterra, who will point out that Calatenixet, quod, nostra lingua interpretatum, resolvitur Castrum foeminarum (“Caltanixet, which has been translated into our language Castle of women”), as already, on the other hand, Idrisi had written. Subsequently, during the first Norman period (XI century), the city began to assume the name of Calatanesat, as can be found in a bull of Pope Eugene II; while already at the end of the XII century, the historian Ugo Falcando, in his Liber De Regno Sicilie, names it Caltanixettum, which turns out to be the official translation of today’s name in Latin.

The dawn of Caltanissetta must be sought in very ancient times: finds from the Bronze Age found near the city indicate that the area has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC.


The strategic position was certainly the reason why groups of men, starting from the last Neolithic period, decided to settle in this particular area of central Sicily, on the heights from which it was possible to dominate the surrounding landscape, very close to the northern coast and connected to the southern coast by the southern Imera, a river that was navigable at the time.

The first urban nucleus, certainly of Sican origin, was formed in the area of Mount Gabal al Habib (“the panoramic mountain”), attested by an epigraph of 397 BC, later revealed to be false, in which the name Nissa which, with the arrival of the Greeks around the seventh century BC, would have been placed under the garrison of Syracuse. After the Second Punic War, Sicily came under Roman rule, but as with the rest of the island, their influence in Nissa remained superficial. Until a few years ago it was thought that in 123 B.C. Nissa had been invaded by the Romans led by the consul Lucio Petilio, who installed a colony called “Petiliana” in honor of him. Today, after recent studies, there is a tendency to think that the Petilian colony corresponds to the nearby Delia. Nevertheless it was desired that the passage of the consul remain an indelible mark in the toponymy of the area (for example Borgo Petilia) actually a name attributed by Fascism in the 20th century. An important indication of the Latin presence lies in the remains of a villa north-west of Sabucina, where various archaeological finds come from, including a bust of the emperor Geta.

The first to live in the current place of the city were the Byzantines who in the second half of the eighth century probably built the castle of Pietrarossa calling it Nissa from the possible name of the city of origin of the founding stratiots located in Cappadocia.

In 1087, the city was occupied by the Normans, and became a possession of the Great Count Roger, who transformed it into a fiefdom for various members of his family and founded the Romanesque-style abbey of Santo Spirito, where there was a rock village and a convent basiliano built on the remains of a farm of Roman origin.

During the Aragonese dominion in 1296 Frederick III appointed Corrado Lancia count. In 1361 the barons Francesco Ventimiglia and Federico Chiaramonte besieged Federico IV in the Castello di Pietrarossa, where he had found refuge, and was saved by the Nisseni, who could not bear the arrogance of the two barons.
In 1365 Guglielmo Peralta, who already controlled Sciacca and Caltabellotta became the lord of Caltanissetta. In 1358 he had gathered in the Castello di Pietrarossa the four most powerful men in Sicily at the time (including him), Artale Alagona, Manfredi Chiaramonte, Francesco Ventimiglia, who divided up the whole of Sicily in the so-called Government of the Four Vicars, which however lasted until to 1392, when Martin I of Sicily intervened militarily. King Martin I reigned until 1409, when he was succeeded by his father Martin I of Aragon, who however died a year later, in 1410.
In 1407 Caltanissetta passed to the Moncada di Paternò (with the appointment of Matteo Moncada count by Martino I), to whom it will remain for 405 years, until the abolition of feudalism in Sicily, in 1812.
In 1553 the Capodarso bridge was built over the Salso river to facilitate communications. In reality the building, with a single arch, almost 20 meters high, then transformed in 1844 with the addition of two side arches, was scarcely used until then. Routed today by the SS 122 it is still existing and passable.
In February 1567 a strong earthquake struck the city, and the castle of Pietrarossa was seriously damaged. At that point the ruins of the castle were used as a quarry for the reconstruction of the rest of the city, and only the remains of three towers remained standing, two of which are still visible today.

In 1718 an anti-Savoy revolt broke out in Caltanissetta, as in many other Sicilian towns. On 11 July of that year the Savoy troops of Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, led by the viceroy Annibale Maffei crossed the city. During the battle there were 53 victims among the Nisseni and 17 among the Piedmontese soldiers
The city was struck by cholera in 1837 and subsequently twice more (1854 and 1866).
He joined the revolutionary and independence uprisings of 1848-1849, led by Ruggero Settimo, which ended right in Caltanissetta, where the capitulation of the revolutionaries was signed.
Garibaldi and his Thousand arrived in Caltanissetta on 2 July 1860 and returned there on 10 August. Like the whole of Sicily it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy the same year.

After the unification of Italy it was affected by a great economic boom due above all to an intense mining activity, which however was often accompanied by various disasters: on 27 April 1867 47 people died due to a firedamp explosion in the mine of Trabonella, 65 miners lost their lives in Gesso Lungo on 12 November 1881 again due to an explosion, and another 51 in 1911 in Deliella and Trabonella.
The rolling roads connected it to Piazza Armerina, Barrafranca and Canicattì since 1838, but the railway arrived only in 1878. In 1867 gas lighting arrived, in 1914 the arrival of electricity allowed the opening of the first cinema. During the Second World War, as part of the Allied landings in Sicily, it underwent several bombings, which lasted from 7 to 17 July 1943 during which 351 civilians lost their lives. On July 18, American troops landed in Gela a week earlier entered and occupied the city.

Slowly Caltanissetta began to heal most of the wounds inherited after the war: in the 1950s the restoration of the Cathedral began, destroyed by the bombing of the American air force in 1943 and the streets had been freed from the rubble in the previous years. In the early 1970s the sulfur extraction sector failed: the irreversible crisis in the sector, which began in the 1920s thanks to the new Frasch process developed in the USA, reached the point of no return in those years and were the last Nissene solfataras were also closed.