We see almost none these days. But when they do come, the emotion we feel is immense. They can still be admired at rest, exhibited in farms whether or not tourist farms, in restaurants and in museums or at special dedicated festivals. The Sicilian wagon has different characteristics depending on where it has been built and finished.
The Palermitan wagon is the most widespread. It can be distinguished by its axis of wheels encased in a sculpted, painted wooden chevron, its curls of cast iron and colourful decorations in blue, red and green on a yellow background.
The Trapani wagon shows substantial differences to other sorts: its sides are higher, the two wheels have a greater diameter, the box is wider, and a yellow that seems almost orange prevails in the decorations. In short, it is a more solid and larger structure than other wagons.
The Catania wagon, very widespread in Western Sicily and thus on Etna, is the smallest compared to the Palermitan or the Trapani wagons, probably to make it easier to circulate on mountain pathsways. The lateral doors are rectangular and the whole wagon is decorated, most often in a relatively sober fashion, with a mainly red background. In Bronte, there is a museum in which it is possible to admire about 300 pieces among the different parts of the wagon, horse ornaments and plumage.
Rare are the masters (mastri in Sicilian) who manages a living Sicilian wagon. Etna still preserves its traditions. This requires several craftsmen, each with their own craft. The first phase is that of the wheelwright, responsible for the construction even of the wagon, and who cuts the designs. Another important task for the wheelwright is the iron of the wheels, a particularly picturesque practice. In the province of Catania, at Belpasso, craftmaster Alfio Mead carries on the tradition. He perpetuates the idea of the “last wagon”, applying still today the art of woodwork transmitted by his ancestors.
The second phase is entrusted to the blacksmith, who forges the metal parts and precious arabesque cascia di fusu.
Once the wagon is finished, the painter must enliven it with colour and vivacity. He makes paintings representing acts of chivalry, mythology, history or fiction, characterising the Sicilian wagon. On the slopes of Etna, at Giarre and above d’Aci Sant’Antonio, there is a strong tradition of wagon painting, with several famous names showcasing the Ionian-Etnian artistic dimension.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to pass one in the roads of the Etna villages, it is worth coming to admire them in the museums or festivals dedicated to them.0