Gli Archi di Pasqua or the Arches of Easter in San Biagio Platani
The Arches of Easter represent the triumph of nature–the Earth’s return to life after winter and the abundance of wheat to the region’s fields. But after all is said and done, it’s about a heartwarming community effort.
Join Allison Scola, owner of Experience Sicily, and Pierfilippo Spoto, owner of Val di Kam, for a conversation about one of Sicily’s most artistic feasts produced by the citizens of San Biagio Platani in Agrigento Province.
Pierfilippo Spoto, Experiential Tour Guide/Local Insider, Owner of Val di Kam
Established three centuries ago in the village of San Biagio Platani in Agrigento province, the Arches of Easter or gli Archi di Pasqua, is celebrated annually at Easter. What began with a simple reenactment of the joyous meeting of Our Lady welcoming a Risen Jesus to the kingdom of heaven in the center of town, which was marked by two triumphal arches decorated with edible foodstuffs given to families in need, has become one of Sicily’s most iconic exhibitions.
The main industry of San Biagio Platani is agriculture. Citizens cultivate pistachios, ancient grains such as tumminia, perciasacchi, senatore capelli, and russello, and sheep’s milk ricotta and other cheeses. The arrival of spring, marked by the Easter holiday, is cause for celebration–the surrounding countryside is alive with green pastures, wildflowers, and budding trees. Sheep graze on the rich landscape, and the promise of a bountiful growing season is present.
Meanwhile, during the cold, darker weeks leading up to Holy Week, every evening, two brotherhoods, the Madunnara (Madonna) and the Signurara (Jesus) meet at different warehouse/workshop locations throughout town. Working in teams that are supervised by two artists, multiple generations of citizens work together to painstakingly create works of art made from natural elements. For example, the architectural structures, or archways, are constructed out of river reeds, cane, and branches from weeping willow trees. Bread is baked and prepared in different shapes symbolizing fertility and other iconic images from nature and Christianity. (NB the circular votive bread is called “Cuddura.”) And panels of art and ninphe, or chandeliers, are created with cereals, beans, pasta, dates, corn, lentils, and more.
Today, over the six weeks following its debut on Easter Sunday, about 80,000 visitors walk along the main street of the village of approximately 3,700 inhabitants to be inspired by approximately 400 meters of artwork.
A visionary in the Italian tourism industry, Pierfilippo Spoto understands that true travelers seek not only Sicily, but Sicilians. As a result, nearly 20 years ago, he founded Val di Kam, an experiential tour operator. A native of Sant’Angelo Muxaro, a village of 1200 residents in the Sicani mountain region north of Agrigento, after graduating from University of Messina with a degree in banking and insurance sciences, Pierfilippo moved to London to study English. During his three years in England, he realized that travel agency brochures, when offering tours of Sicily, promoted visits to monuments, temples, and historic sites, but nothing of the Sicily he knew and loved—a slow Sicily featuring a profound human heritage that stems from Sicilians themselves.
When he returned to home, he worked in finance, yet dreamed of working in tourism to share his Sicily—one where travelers are presented with encounters, experiences, and emotions that go beyond the ordinary. In 2002, along with some local partners, he founded Val di Kam, which today along with a team of local insiders, offers countless experiential excursions throughout the Sicanian mountain region.
Pierfilippo is a member of AIGAE (Italian Association of Environmental Excursion Guides), LAG Sicani, an association of business leaders who promote the Sicanian region, and CNA, the National Confederation of Craftsmen and Small and Medium Enterprises. In addition to working with American and northern European tour operators, Pierfilippo continues to seek new niches for experiential tourism. Furthermore, he mentors emerging professionals regarding his vision for the industry and how they can recreate the success of Val di Kam in their corners of Italy.
Listen to and Watch Our Conversation About the Arches of Easter (gli Archi di Pasqua) in San Biagio Platani
Tips from Experience Sicily for Viewing the Arches of Easter in San Biagio Platani
- Easter Sunday — The meeting of Our Lady, Mary, and Risen Jesus (holding wheat) in the town center happens at mid-day. Townspeople from far and wide return to the village dressed in their Sunday best to witness the embrace of mother and son, an ancient ritual that represents the Earth’s return to life and fertility after the darkness and dormancy of winter.
- Evening Stroll — Seeing the ninphe lit at night offers a stunning visual experience of the exhibition.
- Get Up Close — During mid-afternoon on a weekday is a great time to visit the Bread Arches or Archi di Pane (and alternative name to the Arches of Easter/Archi di Pasqua). Such hours afford you to get up close and personal to the artwork, uninterrupted.
- Preparation Weeks — If you are visiting Sicily prior to Easter, when you have an insider like Pierfilippo hosting you, you may be able to visit some of the workshops in the evening to meet the community members while they create the elements of the arches.
Further Information and References
Photos from Experience Sicily
Photos by Allison Scola/Experience Sicily