The unlucky story of this girl is considered the symbol of a city that doesn’t bow to a foreign invasion. The rests of the well are visible near the Ursino Castle

“Put your hands down, if you want me as a girlfriend. The time to be together has not yet come: if you touch me again, you will see me buried in the well as Gammazita”. Nowadays it’s unlikely that a girl dedicates a poem like that to her beloved. Times have changed and with them also our sense of shame, which in earlier times set strict rules about the relationship between lovers. However, behind these words is enclosed much more than the imagination of an unknown poet. These verses imbued with love and death refer to a legend very dear to the people from Catania. The protagonist is a girl named Gammazita and the set of this story is a spring, now an artificial well, which is visible near the Ursino Castle, at via St. Calogero, 17.

The story is set during an era of continuous wars, riots and rebellions. We know that since very ancient times Sicily has fallen prey to foreign invasions. That was the situation around 1282 AD, when Sicilians organized a revolt to reject the French domination by Angevins. The event that went down in history as the Vespers War, is the background of the legend set in Catania. According to folk tales, a beautiful girl of great virtue named Gammazita, was noticed by a French soldier. The girl, right on her wedding day, went to get water, as usual, from a spring. And that’s when the soldier followed her and violently assaulted her. Gammazita, realizing that there was no escape, decided to throw herself into the well.

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The unlucky story of Gammazita, considered the symbol of Catania, a city that doesn’t bend before the raging domination, has been repeatedly reworked over the centuries, by making it almost a novel. According to another version of the legend the name Gammazita derives from the union of two words: Gemma and zita (the Sicilian word for girlfriend). This is related to the engagement between the nymph Gemma and the shepherd Amenano, who himself ended in disgrace because of the jealousy felt by the goddess Proserpina towards the nymph, who was transformed into a spring. The gods, moved by Amenano’s despair (called also Amaseno), turned him into a spring too and so the well became the meeting place of the two lovers. Nevertheless, the range of legends about Gammazita doesn’t end here.

The well-known well, that acts like the set of the story, is no longer the outlet of a natural source. Indeed, as a result of the impressive lava flow in 1669, the cavity was submerged and the well was drained. Given the importance of the source in connection with city economy, already around the middle of 18th century the spring was brought back to light. The related plumbing was no longer of natural origin, as it still occurs. Unfortunately, the massive building of public housing in the late 19th century and the negligence of citizens have considerably spoiled the external patterns of the well. Nowadays, it’s necessary to step down a long staircase to get access to it, since the building is located at a level of about 12 meters below the road surface. Here, traces of Gammazita’s blood, represented by spots of rust left by the incessant water flow, are shown to visitors. True or not, the myth continues to fascinates people.

Translated by Daniela Marsala