Acate (formerly Biscari) (RG):A commune (area: 101.42 km². alt: 199 m) of Sicily, in the province of Ragusa. Population: 8,328 (2004). The commune is devoted largely to wine-growing. Other agricultural products include citrus fruits, grapes, olives, fruit, cereals, and vegetables. Sheep breeding also plays an important economic role.
Frazioni & Localities: Macconi, Marina di Acate.
Tel. Prefix: 0932
Name of Inhabitants: Acatesi
Patron Saint(s): San Biagio (Feast Day: 2nd Sunday of October); S. Vincenzo.
History: Archaeology has revealed that the area around Acate has been inhabited by the prehistoric Sikels. During historical times the Romans and Byzantine also settled in the region. In medieval times, the Saracens settled in a hamlet known as Odogrillo (from the Arabic Wayd-Ikrilu = “the river of Acrilla” + Dirillo), which survived well into Angevin times. During the 13th century Odogrillo was finally abandoned due to the deteriorating environment.
It is uncertain whether the nearby village of Biscari was contemporary with Odogrillo, or whether it was founded as its replacement. Its first historical mention occurs in a document from 1299, granting it as fief by Charles II of Anjou to Gualtiero Pantaleone), corresponding to the same generally to the time when Odogrillo was abandoned. Biscari’s name appears to be of Greek origin, suggesting it was of Byzantine foundation.
After the Aragonese conquest of Sicily, Biscari became a fief of Antonio Beneventano. Soon afterwards it came into the possession of the Lamia family who retained it until 1392 when Roger Lamia revolted against King Martin II. After this it was given to Giacomo Serra of Siracusa. When he died childless in 1396 Biscari was assigned to Nicolo Castagna. After passing through several other hands, the town eventually returned to the control of the Lamia family when Antonio De Castellis, a Lamia relation, was awarded the title of Biscari (Apr. 13, 1416). In 1580, the center became a principality of the Paternò family of Catania. Agostino Paternò Castello, the first Prince of Biscari, had the entire settlement moved to its present site. In 1693, the center was devastated by the great earthquake which struck NE Sicily. In the aftermath, the town was almost completely rebuilt.
In 1938, the name of the town was changed from Biscari to Acate, a name derived from Acate, the ancient name for the nearby river Dirillo. According to tradition this ancient name was in someway connected with that of Achates, the heroic and loyal friend of Aeneas. More likely, however, it was inspired by the many semiprecious agate stones that are to be found the riverbed.
In modern times, the commune is best-known for a pair of tragic incidents from World War II. In the summer of 1943, during the Allied invasion of Sicily, fighting around Acate was intense. On July 14, 1943, US Army units captured the local airfield, taking several German and Italian prisoners. A few days after this, Americans of the 45th Division’s 180th Regiment turned on these prisoners, shooting down 34 Italian and 2 German prisoners. In August, another 40 Italian POWs were killed. These incidents have come to be known collectively as the “Biscari Massacres”.
The town has experienced a number of damaging earthquakes, the most damaging occurring in 1693, 1908, and 1990.
Historical Population Figures:
Points of Interest:The communal territory contains several archaeological sites of Sikel, Roman, Byzantine, and Saracen origins. Bronze Age sites have been discovered in the Poggio-Bidine district. Of medieval Odogrillo, only parts of the fortification survive.
The Castello dei Principi di Biscari was founded in 1493/4 by Baron Guglielmo Raimondo. Significant modifications were made during the 18th century. Today, the portal at the castle’s entrance is the only part of the original building to still exist.
The Mother Church of S. Nicolo dates from 1660. Extensive restorations were carried out following earthquakes in 1693 and 1846. In 1859, the building was almost completely reconstructed. Of the original building only the vault of the choir, a portion of the apse, and the transept survive.
The 3-aisled church of S. Vincenzo dates to 1643. The structure was originally dedicated to S. Giuseppe but was changed when S. Vincenzo was buried there. Its greatest treasure is an 18th century crystal reliquary containing the relics of that church’s patron saint. The church interior is decorated with some fine stuccowork.
An annual feast and Palio (horserace) di San Vincenzo Martire, held on the 3rd Sunday after Easter, have been celebrated since 1722.