In the streets of Cefalù

Santo Stefano Protomartire or chiesa del Purgatorio.

The Corso Ruggero is one of the most important streets in the charming town of Cefalù. The street is named after Roger II, the Norman king of Sicily between 1130 and 1154. Roger II left his mark on Cefalù like no other. From his palace in the town – presumably the building that is now known as the Osterio Magno – he supervised the construction of a beautiful new cathedral. The story of King Roger and the cathedral of Cefalù has already been told elsewhere. In this post I will focus on several other attractions in the town.

Also on the Corso Ruggero is the church of Santo Stefano Protomartire, which is locally known as the chiesa del Purgatorio (church of Purgatory). The church dates from 1488 and at the beginning of the seventeenth century it passed into the hands of a fraternity dedicated to the souls in Purgatory. This explains the alternative name of the church.

The Santo Stefano has a simple façade with various round windows (oculi), a nice portal in the style of the Baroque and a double staircase. I do not know whether the interior of the church is also interesting, as I did not find the church open when I was in Cefalù. This may have been related to the fact that my visit took place in January, but if you search for pictures of the church interior on Wikimedia Commons, you will not find a single image. I had a brief conversation with a local and concluded from his words that the church is simply almost never open. This is a pity, as it meant that I was not able to admire the marble sarcophagus of Enrico Piraino, Baron of Mandralisca (1809-1864). Piraino was briefly a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and owned a nice collection of artworks. These can now be admired in a museum in Cefalù that was named after him and that is housed in the former Piraino family palazzo.

Medieval wash house (Lavatoio Medievale).

From the church we walk to the medieval wash house of the town (Lavatoio Medievale), that is very special. This is where, until just a few decades ago, the citizens of Cefalù washed their clothes. The wash house is located several metres below street level and can be reached by a staircase. The water comes from the river Cefalino, which originally flowed openly by the wash house, but was covered in the seventeenth century. The medieval wash house is a beautiful location, but unfortunately my visit was slightly spoiled by a dead cat floating in one of the basins.

Medieval wash house (Lavatoio Medievale).

Behind the wash house is a small beach with a very nice pier. From the end of this pier one has a splendid view of the town and of the rock that rises above it. The Ancient Greeks believed that this rock looked a lot like a human head (κεφαλή) and they therefore called the town Kephaloidion. Hence the name Cefalù. The two towers of King Roger’s cathedral extend just above the other buildings of the town. The view from the Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina, the road running along the sea, is even more beautiful, because it allows visitors to see much more of the royal cathedral.

The rock of Cefalù.

Cefalù seen from above. On the left the pier, on the right the cathedral.

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