One of its most singular applications of the Alcamo Travertine, nevertheless, dates back to 1992 when Campobello di Licata, in the province of Agrigento, saw the creation of the “Valley of Painted Stones”.
An abandoned quarry saw delivery of 110 blocks measuring 150x250x120 centimetres and weighing about 70 quintals each. Some faces are honed, while others are still rough. And here, these unusual stone canvases disseminated along a deliberate upwards route give rise to a modern illustration of the “Divine Comedy”, which was completed in 1999, more than ten years ago.
The itinerary follows a road which changes condition as you walk. First of all, there is an expanse of crumbly black lava gradually turning into pebbles and then a lawn, with the Sicilian countryside on the horizon replete with prickly pears. At the bottom, there is the Door of Inferno and, on a black background, the famous verse “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”.
There follow some of the most representative figures that the father of the Italian language met during his time in Hades: Charon “with eyes of burning coal”, Paolo and Francesca, Count Ugolino and so forth, through to the last large stone with the closing “And thence we came forth to see again the stars”.
The entire work is hallmarked by strong expressionist realism. At times, the huge effigies almost seem to intimidate visitors with their appearance: faces writhing in anger of fear, bleeding wounds, sadistic demons and horrible monsters. The Virgin Mother of Canto XXXIII of Paradise is rather original, where the idea of God is expressed through a Sun that is at the same time the background to valley.
There are anachronisms, such as the Moon seen from the Shuttle or Dante holding a clock (he was famed as being a maniac for keeping time). Not to mention figures such as Pasolini or Che Guevara, living much later than the 1300s and therefore difficult to insert in Dante’s narration. There is even a pinch of pop art, since Pluto appears as Walt Disney’s dog.
The author of this demanding task was Silvio Benedetto, born in Argentina but Italian by adoption. He ensures the durability of his work by using two-component, pigmented and transparent acrylic paints.
He exploits all the sides of the “stone block” while deliberately leaving certain support area unworked to encourage dialogue with the subject depicted and the multi-colour geometrical patterns.
(Translation by Peter Eustace)