We are located in the hinterland of Sicily, near the small town of Alia, in the extreme province of Palermo. Here there are the Caves of Gurfa, an example of rock architecture, the testimony of a millenary culture that few know. There is no precise date of when this place saw civilization for the first time, from the surveys carried out, but it would be very ancient and dates back to the Bronze Age (2500 -1600 BC).
Here is his story.
Between history and legend
For many centuries it was considered an ancient agricultural deposit (“gurfa” derives from the Arabic “ghorfa” which means “room”, “warehouse)”. In Tunisia, there are grain deposits called “ghorfas”, some of which have become tourist destinations today. The name “gurfi” occurs in Sicily with the meaning of “deposit”, and “warehouse”, but the monumental dimensions of its huge rock dome suggest the hand of man and architecture of more sophisticated design. According to some hypotheses it could have been the tomb of King Minos, a character from Greek mythology.
The cavities in the rock
One thing is certain: the caves dug into the cliff, however, would not be natural. The rock complex includes six cavities on two levels. their dimensions would have been planned almost arbitrarily.
At first, there is a very large room with a rectangular plan with a 5-meter high gabled ceiling, once named “a saracina” (“Saracen style”), then there is another circular room with a dome, high more than 16 meters, culminating in a central hole. Both of these rooms communicate independently with the outside and are connected to each other via a corridor.
A staircase carved into the rocky ridge led to the second level. Today very little remains of the stone staircase (once it was a real maze) and to get to the upper level it is necessary to climb a metal staircase located outside. Four other rooms have been excavated here, one on the left and three on the right in succession, almost square in shape but of different sizes.
Each room has a large window overlooking the valley. A long corridor follows that ends at about half the height of the room in the shape of a bell. A few years ago, this latter environment was given the name of “thòlos” due to the resemblance to the Mycenaean thòlos called “Treasure of Atreus” which is found in the Peloponnese, Greece. And, precisely the comparison with this place has led a scholar to suppose that the entire architectural complex was excavated to house the remains of the Cretan king Minos.
The tomb of King Minos?
According to Greek mythology, Minos died during an attack on the occasion of his journey to chase Daedalus, in the city of Camico (a center of the Platani Valley, still unidentified today), while he was a guest of the king of the Sicans, Kokalos. Historians speak of impressive funeral ceremonies in honor of him and of a large burial built by Daedalus himself. Not surprisingly, the thòlos of Gurfa is the largest of all those known in the Mediterranean.
But that is not all. Some scholars have noticed that, on the occasion of the vernal equinox, at precisely noon the Sun enters the small hole at the top of the dome in the largest room and hits the center of the room. Of course, it is not a pure coincidence, but the enigma has not yet been revealed.
In any case, it must be remembered that, until the end of the twentieth century, these cavities were still used by peasants as warehouses and, perhaps, also as homes or stables, which is why not enough finds have been found for a certain dating or explanation. The only remains found are those of a necropolis that dates back to the Copper Age.
How to reach the Gurfa caves
The rock site can be reached by taking the State Road 121 which goes from Palermo to Agrigento, exiting at the Manganaro crossroads for Alia. At kilometer 189, you cross the town and take the Provincial Road 53 up to the hill, where on the side of the rock you can see the openings of this ancient settlement and, even from a distance, this reddish and perforated ridge gives off a certain charm.