The Well of Gammazita: the History
Catania, in Italy, is home to a unique destination known as the Well of Gammazita.
The place we are talking about is located in an area near the city walls called precisely the gammazita curtain near the courtyard of the same name.
This ancient place has a long and fascinating history that dates back centuries and is located right in the historic center of Catania, a few steps from the Ursino castle adjacent to the city walls.
It is an important part of the city’s cultural heritage and an enduring symbol of its past. Visitors to Catania have the wonderful opportunity to explore this site and learn what makes it so special.
The Well of Gammazita in Catania, Sicily, is one of the city’s most beautiful and legendary monuments. The majestic well is about 15 meters high and has been part of the evolution of the city for centuries. The origin of the well is intertwined with the history of the city.
Originally Gammazita was a source of water, probably coming from the Amenano (a river that flows under the city of Catania).
We know that in the Middle Ages this source was the nucleus of life (rich in commercial activities) of that neighborhood which in the period was known as Judecca, the Jewish quarter of the city.
The water source in those days was called: Judicello precisely because of the importance that this water resource had in the flow of life in the neighborhood.
Around the year 1621, Francesco Lanario, who was the general superintendent of the city, decided to arrange the water supply by channeling the waters of the Amenano with the rest of the water sources to form a substantial water network that supplied the city with several fountains. The waters of Gammazita were thus harnessed.
Unfortunately, all this did not last long because a few years later (1669) there was a natural catastrophe that changed the fate of the city and its inhabitants.
At the height of Nicolosi a fracture was formed due to the eruption of Etna (the volcano that dominates Eastern Sicily) which arrived in the city destroying most of it.
A large part of the city was buried under a layer of 14 meters of lava.
Despite these changes, the Well of Gammazita remains a symbol of resilience for the city’s inhabitants and continues to attract tourists from all over the world eager to admire its beauty and learn more about its rich past.
The Well of Gammazita in Catania is a fascinating and historically significant landmark.
The legend of Gammazita
A legend has existed around this place for centuries.
This legend tells of a beautiful girl from Catania with a great sense of honor, symbol of the honesty of the women of Catania.
This story is set in one of the 4 candlesticks in Piazza Università made by the artist Mimì Maria Lazzaro. This is accompanied by other legends that explain other ancient myths of Catania.
It is said that, during the French domination of the Sicilian island (1278), a girl called Gammazita lived in Catania.
The girl was very beautiful and full of virtues. She fell in love with a French soldier who tried to court the young Gammazita, but the girl refused her attentions because she was already engaged and close to marriage.
Just on her wedding day, the girl from Catania named Gammazita went as always to get water from the well. At that juncture her soldier attacked her and the girl, to avoid her dishonor, preferred to throw herself into the nearby well.
This is by and large the original story even though there were later versions. Over time, the story has been more and more colorful with the addition of other characters.
Among the characters included in the original story, Donna Macalda Scaletta has an important position. This noble woman was the widow of the lord of Ficara and it is said she was among the most courted women in the city.
Donna Macalda was in love with her young page, Giordano. One day Giordano saw Gammazita embroidering in front of the house and fell madly in love with her.
Giordano’s interest in the girl created the envy and anger of Donna Macalda.
Donna Macalda, blind to her jealousy, prepared a plan to get the attention of the much loved Giordano. She agreed with the French Saint Victor to set a trap and try to ruin the love story between the two young people.
The Frenchman tried several times to ambush Gammazita to make her lose “honor” until the day he managed to block the girl while she went to the well, the young woman preferred to throw herself into the well rather than surrender her dignity.
Giordano, learning of the horrific end of the girl, grabbed the Frenchman and stabbed him in front of the corpse of his beloved.
The name Gammazita
Another issue that arouses disagreement is the origins of the name of the well.
There are those who think that it derives from the work “La Gemma zita” by Don Giacomo Gravina, which tells the story of the wedding between the nymph Gemma and the shepherd Amaseno. Pluto fell in love with the nymph, Proserpina his wife, jealous of Pluto’s attentions to Gemma, transformed her into a source.
The other gods, touched by the situation, decided to transform Amasenus into a source as well.
The well was the place where the waters of the two streams join. Since then “Gammazita” was simply the union of two words: “gemma” and “zita”.
The first (Gemma) name of the nymph and the second dialectal term to indicate “girlfriend” (zita).
Another hypothesis wants the name to be the union of two Greek letters: “gamma” and “zeta”. These letters would be engraved on the wall next to the font.
There are other legends that explain the origin of the name differently. Another story speaks of a man with a blocked leg who lived in a cave near the source.
The name Gammazita would therefore arise from the name of the physical defect of man, that is Iamma zzita (stiff leg).
We’re not done yet; a hypothesis that should not be overlooked is that the name derives from Arabic.
The Arabs have dominated the island for a long time and their influence is always around the corner.
In Arabic, the term “gawsit” indicates fresh (drinking) water and could be the origin of the name.
This legend remains in the heart of all the people of Catania. It is a clear reference to the heavy Angevin domination in Sicily and to the subsequent Sicilian Vespers.
The story of this young girl and her virtue, that she preferred to die by throwing herself into the well of over 14 meters, reflects the Sicilian pride in resisting the ruler.
The Sicilians, tired of the abuses of the Angevin domination, rebelled en masse. They forced many of the French present on the island to flee by jumping into the sea, in an attempt to reach the boats along the coast. All this to escape the anger of a population tired of being treated disrespectfully.
This whole situation of tension, anger and desire not to give in is enclosed and “coloured” in the legend of Gammazita.