One of the many astounding sights on Sicily is the Alcantara Gorge. This is a massive tree-lined chasm falling 65 metres to the river below, with water tumbling down the cliff side. The gorge is popular with tourists in search of walking, nature or geological interest as well as those who just want to goggle at the dramatic scenery. And there are some ancient legends connected with its creation…
Legends And Origins Of The Alcantara Gorge
There are various legends associated with the gorge. One tells the story of two brothers, one of whom was blind. The healthy brother tried to cheat the other of his share of the harvest. This angered the gods, who turned the dishonest farmer’s wheat into a river of red lava, thus creating the gorge. (In local folklore volcanoes were often created as a result of divine anger or disputes!)
Another story tries to account for the freezing water in the gorge. It is said that the god Vulcan wanted to show his love for Venus by warming the water in which she bathed. However, when she spurned his advances, he took his revenge by making the water icy cold!
The reality of the gorge’s origins is more prosaic but no less interesting. The gorge was formed from volcanic rocks caused by the eruption of nearby Mount Etna around 4,500 years ago. The cold water of the Alcantara river, one of Sicily’s few year round rivers, caused the hot lava to crystallise, creating the strange shapes in the rock that can still be seen today. Incidentally, the name Alcantara comes from the Arabic word for “bridge”, and it is likely that Arabic settlers named it after a bridge that had been built across the gorge in Roman times.
Exploring The Alcantara Gorge
There are a number of hiking trails at the top of the gorge, passing through citrus trails and a botanical garden area, with viewpoints along the way. However, many visitors like to make straight for the river at the bottom. There is a path that you can walk down, or you can do it the easy way by taking the lift.
The most intrepid visitors can don giant waders and walk into the water. Guided walks are available alongside (and occasionally into) the river. But most people are happy just to stand on the small beach area, dip their toes in the water and admire the view. An ideal way to cool off during the hot Sicilian summer!
How To Get To The Alcantara Gorge
If you don’t want to drive, it is possible to get to the Alcantara Gorge by bus from Taormina. Alternatively, you can take an organised tour from Catania.