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Grotta Mangiapane (or Mangiapane Cave) is the largest of nine Scurati Caves in Custonaci – in the province of Trapani, Sicily – where prehistoric men settled.
Guido Dalla Rosa first explored the area in 1870, surfacing ancient clues of a human presence – some of which 20,000 years old: flits, obsidian tools and cave paintings. The caves, however, were not a regular archeological site: in the early 1800s, man had returned. Indeed, Grotta Mangiapane is named after the family who had settled in these primordial quarters and lived there until the 1950s.
“I was mesmerized by marvel when I first saw it,” Dalla Rosa recounts in his book “Ricerche paleontologiche nel litorale di Trapani” (Parma 1870). “Its size and elevation are such that under its ceiling five small, two-story houses, two warehouses and two stables had been built. The bottom of the cave is closed off by a wall, and two rooms had been carved out from that space. Five families, all related to each other, lived there, happy and untroubled, far from the noise of our cities. All of them helped us in our research, and later sat around us for a light meal.”
“An old man, who was born there, knew all the other inhabitants since they were born,” Dalla Rosa continues. “He asked us about our surveys, and listened to our words with deference. We asked him to eat and drink with us, and he happily accepted, tasting the salami we offered him and saying he had never tried any before. […] We were quick friends, and so some of them wanted to walk us to the loading area, carrying bags full of the objects we had found.”
After a period of abandonment, the village and its houses have been restored by local enthusiasts with the help of one of the last surviving member of the Mangiapane family, who ensures everything remains just as it was a century ago. Today it’s a tiny open air living museum, that allows visitors to step back in time and walk through the daily lives of the villagers, looking inside their bedrooms, touching the furniture and learning to use historical farm tools to bring lost trades briefly back to life.
Photos via: ©claudiopink80, ©Jim Waddington