Gela is located east of the river Gela and close to its outlet on the south-west coast of Sicily, island off the south-western part of Italy. The old town of Gela is rich in monuments to remind visitors of its long and ancient history.
Have you ever visited a new place and felt ‘wow’ about it? For many visitors, it happens at Gela.
Gela may not be as popular as other cities in Italy, but don’t let that fool you. Gela is a smaller but beautiful upcoming tourist destination that is worth a visit. You will be surprised by some of the unique things to do and places you can explore at this hidden destination.
Gela offers a fascinating and well-run archaeology museum and the well-preserved remains of the city’s ancient fortifications. Apart from those significant attractions – and a distinguished past as one of Sicily’s great ancient cities – however, Gela is now a chaotic industrial centre with a reputation as a mafia hot spot. Little remains of its heyday as the economic engine room of the great Greek colony that eventually founded Akragas, Eraclea Minoa and Selinunte.
It is part of the Caltanissetta province, being the only comune in Italy with a population and area that exceeds those of the province’s capital. Founded by Greek colonists from Rhodes and Crete in 689 BC, Gela was an influential polis in Sicily between the 7th and 6th centuries and the place where Aeschylus lived and died in 456 BC. In 1943 Gela was the first Italian beach reached by allies during the Invasion of Sicily from the allies.
- The Greek Acropolis.
- The Regional Archeological Museum.
- The archeological site of Capo Soprano (with the Greek fortification and Hellenistic quarters). It was probably an anciemt necropolis. Its many fine Attic vases are now in various museums.
- Zona sacra including the basements of three Greek temples; of one, the most ancient one, an 8-meters Doric column is also visible. Remains of an archaic (7th-6th centuries BC) emporium have also been excavated.
- The Cathedral, dedicated to the Holy Virgin Assunta, was rebuilt in 1766-1794 over a pre-existing small church of Madonna della Platea. It has two orders façade with Doric and Ionic semi-columns. The interior, with a nave and two aisles, houses a wood with the Transit of the Virgin by Deodato Guidaccia and other 18th centuries canvasses.
- The Castelluccio (“Small Castle”), built in the early 13th century. It is located 10 km (6 mi) from the city.
- Natural Reserve of Biviere di Gela, including a coastal lake surrounded by dunes.
- Manfria, with a typical beach with Mediterranean dune landscape, and the Torre di Manfria (“Manfria Tower”).
Gela Archaeology Park
To better appreciate the town and its history we suggest you start a visit In “Capo Soprano” at the Gela Archaeological Park. Here you can see the greatest example of Greek military architecture, namely the Greek fortifications of Timoleon, dating from the 4th century BC.
Perfectly preserved for over 2000 years the peculiarity of the building is the construction technique, the top of the wall is brick clay baked in the sun, commonly known as “crudi” [trans: raw, like crudites].
A few meters from the park you can see the remains of the Baths dating from Hellenistic times (4th century BC), a complex with 36 tanks with heating and underground drainage.
Gela old town
Along the main street of the old city are the Byzantine style Church of San Biagio (dating back to the 11th century, and the oldest local church) now home to the Town Library and the Church of Our Lady of Grace, with a Gothic façade and containing a precious wooden altarpiece.
Next stop in gela is the ‘walled city’ where we find the Church del Carmine – 18th century with a font from the second half of the 16th century and a 15th century crucifix).
Also here visit the Church of the Rosary (late 18th century) with a late Baroque interior and a tall bell tower with a majolica spire. Inside this church there is a picture of the “Via Crucis” painted by the local painter Salvatore Solito (1906-1983), some frescoes and a small organ of the second half of the eighteenth century.
A little further on you reach Piazza Umberto I, with the neoclassical Gela Cathedral, built between the 18th and 19th centuries. Built in sandstone the cathedral has two rows of Ionic and Doric columns, a dome and bell tower. Inside, the three aisles with a basilica plan hold some paintings (the “Madonna dell’Alemanna”, “Assumption of Mary” and the “Assumption of Our Lady” by Giuseppe Tresca (1710-1795)), marble gravestones, and a precious altar in polychrome marble and glass.
The main façade of the cathedral was built in 1844 in Neo-Classical style by Giuseppe Di Bartolo Morselli – it is divided into two superimposed parts strongly pointing to the center with projecting columns, and above it an oval stone plaque with a bas-relief with the arms of Mary.
Inside there are several 18th-19th century paintings, plus many by Giuseppe Tresca and Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670, a disciple of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Jusepe de Ribera, and a great panel painting dating back to 1563, attributed to Deodato Guinaccia (Italian painter of the Renaissance).
Until the 1950s Gela’s core economic activities were agriculture and sea-related. In 1960 the Italian oil company Eni chose Gela as the site of a large oil-based industrial plant that began operation in 1963 and closed down in 2014.