“I’m searching for the Great Mother … Inside the ground is the seed of men”
Being the curious person that I am, and being so passionate about travelling, it always puzzles me how many beauties are there in Sicily, either natural or manmade. That’s mainly because my personal knowledge of its treasures is very poor, despite the fact that I’m a native. However, you can always improve your lack of knowledge on something. Now, I can’t exactly spend my time travelling from one corner to the next of Sicily, but what I can do is travelling with my imagination. All I need is the right amount of curiosity (and believe me, I’m not short of it). Even Sicily has its wonders and my intent is that of exploring them, without ever losing the ability to let myself be surprised by them, to be amazed and be left thirsty for more.
For our first “virtual” trip, we will add a bit of fairytale and madness to the mix of Sicilian beauties, two fascinating and unpredictable ingredients. Here we go then, I present you The Enchanted Castle of Filippo Bentivegna.
First things first, this place located not far from Sciacca, isn’t a castle at all. And yet, like every castle worthy of its name, it has its own court, a large population of stone heads. The author behind this unusual court is Filippo Bentivegna, a sailor without any kind of artistic education (without any education at all actually, he was illiterate), who lived in the XX century and was considered a madman by everybody.
There we are. Fairytale and madness.
But then, why is it called a castle if there’s no such a thing? And why on earth “enchanted”?
The answer lies with the author himself, Filippo Bentivegna, artist by chance, more out of instinct than will. That he was mad - though harmless - there is absolutely no doubt. Some think that it was an old blow to the head that made him that way. Others believe that madness was always a part of him.
Be as it is, this madness soon came to the surface. While living in his piece of land at the foot of Mount Kronio, Bentivegna started to carve thousands of heads in the rocks, like he was in a frenzy. They were all different from one another. When there weren’t any more rocks, he started to carve the wood and when that run out as well, he began to dig small caves to get new rocks. In time, he became convinced that he was a sovereign of sort, and that his subjects were all the heads. He would reign on them with a short wooden stick, his scepter, that he called “enchantment key”.
The heads were a representation of all the humanity he’d seen (either in his life or just in his head). He had almost no public recognition during his life. The only exhibition ever held with his heads turned into a flop. However, after his death, he attracted the attention of the artistic movement called Art Brut. Some of his heads are in fact displayed in the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne.
The “Castle” then was only such in Bentivegna’s mind, in his belief that he was a monarch reigning over a population made of stone. We still have the “enchanted” bit left to understand though. This particular mystery is revealed by the heads themselves, with their stone faces that seem to hide so many secrets. Today there are only 3000 thousands left, in the face of a much greater number, which was destroyed or lost over the years.
The ones that have survived up to this day form an open air museum, an intricate labirynth made of stone eyes that seem to stare at the curious traveler who walks among them. All the heads have the same sad expressions because, as Bentivegna said, “That’s how men are”. During an interview, a journalist asked him why he carved so many and he replied that the heads represented men and humanity and that, through them, he searched for the “Great Mother”, a primitive and ancestral bond with the earth.
Here is a short video (in Italian) titled “An amateur sculptor”, from the Luce Historical Archive. It dates 1953 and shows Bentivegna and his heads.
“I dig these caves and I penetrate the earth … I possess it … I take strength from it and energy and that’s the reason why they’re all alive here … I made them be reborn … “
Perhaps Bentivegna thought of himself as some sort of god, creator of his own personal world, or it was the earth who gave him the chance to make the heads live. In any case, the question is what is left today of all of this? The bond with the Great Mother was only visible to him, or even us profane observers can capture its essence?
It’s very difficult even beginning to know the intricate worlds that madness can generate. In a way then, we will never be able to fully understand Bentivegna’s madness. Or maybe not? If there is even the smallest inch of madness in every person, maybe it’s there that we can find our personal “enchantment key”. Perhaps it won’t allow us to reign over his heads, but to feel what they have to tell us. There is something in their sad expressions, unknown and yet familiar, that attracts the viewer, that pushes him to keep a vigilant eye, waiting for some sort of revelation. Then maybe, the bond with the Earth is still there and just awaits to be brought back to life, a secret that wants to be revealed, an enchantment that wants to charm the viewer.
If we let ourselves be charmed then, our mission is accomplished, and we are left waiting for the next “wonder”.
Fb Page (in Italian) “Castello Incantato di Sciacca“
The Castle on the map