Pentedattilo: exploring a ghost town

Pentedattilo: exploring a ghost town

Pentedattilo is a film location scout’s idea of heaven.  Clinging to the mountainside, a short drive from Melito di Porto Salvo, you can’t help but be drawn in by the eerie beauty of this abandoned ghost town.  It takes it name from the Greek penta and daktylos meaning five fingers, due to the hand-shaped mountain that the houses and church are tucked away in.  But it’s not just the beauty that makes it appear straight from a film, it’s also the incredible back story…

To reach Pentedattilo you need a car, and the rugged road adds to the feeling of abandonment, it’s as though someone really doesn’t want you to find it.  As I turned the corner and was presented with the sight of the town it took my breath away.  I felt like I’d walked in to a movie, a  cross between a western and a thriller!  As you manoeuvre your way around the steep paths between the crumbling houses you can feel the history that seeps out of the buildings.  I’ve often been accused of having an over-active imagination but walking around this village made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, as though someone was watching me…

You might think I sound crazy (it’s highly possible) but a look at the history that surrounds the town and I could be forgiven for my feelings of paranoia.  Dating back to 640BC it was founded by Greek colonists and since then until it’s abandonment in 1783 has adopted a number of guises which has led to its nickname of “five fingers of the devil”.  During Roman times it was the fort for St. Elias, due to it’s impressive vantage point, through the years it was bandied around different rulers and leaders, until it was finally acquired by the Marquis Alberti.  This is where the history really turns gruesome.

The Alberti family had a long-running rivalry with the neighbouring Abevanoli family, they had bickered and fought over land boundaries and the usual gripes of 17th century landowners.  Their fraught and frosty relationship finally appeared to be thawing with the head of the Abevanoli family Baron Bernardino even planning to marry the youngest daughter of the Marquis, Antoinette.  But then things went terribly wrong.  The Viceroy Cortez of Naples, a rich and powerful man, met and fell in love with Antoinette (she must have been quite a looker) and asked for her hand in marriage, which the family (blinded by money and elevated social standing) readily accepted.  Upon hearing of this the Baron flew into a jealous rage and under the cover of darkness on the eve of April 16 1686 gathered a small army who invaded pentedattilo and massacred everyone, kidnapping Antoinette.  On hearing this news the Viceroy Cortez sent his army to retaliate, killing all the members of the Abevanoli family and hanging their heads from the castle in Pentedattilo.

Cue a series of ghastly ghost stories, sightings and tales of mysterious screaming.  No wonder there is an eerie feeling here!  After all these terrible goings-on the town suffered its final blow in 1783 when it was devastated by an almighty earthquake, forcing inhabitants to abandon the town and leave it to crumble.  Walking around you can begin to imagine the lives of the people who once lived here, it’s beautifully tranquil and the church of Saint Peter and Paul (containing the tomb of the Alberti family) which stands at the top of the town is beautifully preserved.

In recent years there have been attempts to restore and repopulate the town, including an annual international short film festival which is hosted there and a number of art projects.  The best thing to do though if you are in the area is pay the place a visit, admire the panoramic views, take some beautiful photographs and see if you too have that weird feeling of being watched!


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