“I assure you that it doesn’t need to be windy, because you would be in great danger. Even without wind, it is very horrible to see the valley from all sides and in particular to the right hand; because it is so horrible for the precipice and height that it is hard to believe (…) because if by misfortune your foot is missing, there is no other strength except that of God that could save it. ” (Antoine de la Sale, Queen Sybil’s Paradise)
The wind is undoubtedly one of the predominant features of the Sibillini Mountains, with that insistent and overpowering breath that seems to carry in the air an arcane voice, with its sometimes sinister flavor, up there, in that massive that rises impressive between Umbria and the Marche, in a zone heavily affected by the recent earthquake, but that guards, unchanged, beauty and wonder.
Sibilla Appenninica by Adolfo de Carolis
The unintelligible oracle
Right up there, between the Mount of the Sibyl, the gorges of the Infernaccio and Lake Pilato, are lurking ancient stories and legends, which are handed down, intertwined and transformed from generation to generation and still retain a magical and enchanting charm. In ancient times, Mount Sibilla attracted European people because it was thought that near its top there was a cave, oracle Sybil’s home.
We know that the cult of Sybil was very old, dating back to the classical era, during which the Sibyls were prophets who made ambiguous predictions, found in the leaves scattered by the wind.
Among the ten classic Sybils, however, does not appear the one of the Apennines, the one that gave the name to our mountains. Did the myth originate, as some scholars claim, from the Phoenician deity Cibele, the Great Mother, the goddess of nature and of the fertility that owned the gift of prophecy?
Or is it more recent, dating back to the Middle Ages, when pagan gods become Christian prophets? Was she “our” Sybil that, according to the legend, foretold the birth of Christ, and then, offended because God chose Mary as Mother of the Redeemer, rebelled against him and was confined for punishment in that lost cave?
The Queen's Double Face
The first person who talked about the Apennine Sibyl, in 1430, was Andrea da Barberino, with his novel Guerrin Meschino, a knight who asked Sybil’s advise trying to reveal the identity of his never-known parents. From this moment on, Sybil began to assume the semblance of a cruel and enchanting queen, a seducer capable of bringing a man to ruin, turning away from God and his precepts. And if Guerrin Meschino succeeded in contrasting her flatteries and, after a year, to escape the insidious kingdom and to obtain Pope’s forgiveness; the same thing did not happen to the German knight narrated a few years later by Antoine de La Sale in his opera Queen Sybil’s Paradise. The knight came to the Sibyl’s cave searching for adventures, but he was caught by her fascination so that only with great effort he managed to escape. He also went to the Pope asking for forgiveness, but the Pontiff hesitate in giving him his indulgence. So, upset, he returned to the realm of the Sibyl and didn’t come back ever again.
The popular legend, anyway, painted Sybil as a fairy surrounded by its maids, the Sibilline Fairies, who leave the cave mainly at night to go to Foce, Montemonaco, Montegallo, between Pian Grande, Pian Piccolo and Pian Perduto di Castelluccio di Norcia and Pretare, but they had to return before sunrise. It is told that during a dance they have lost their sense of time and, too late on the way back, they ran desperately with their goats’ feet, they formed the Road of Fairies, a fault at 2000 meters above Mount Vettore.
Drawing by Antoine de La Sale
A place devoted to the Devil
These are myths and legends, probably born for the necessity of understanding and, in some ways, justifying the impervious and imposing conformation of a territory that over the centuries has fascinated and at the same time frightened the inhabitants and the strangers who have faced their complexity.
So the Pilate’s lake, beautiful and impetuous, as the road to reach it, became the terrible place where Pontius Pilate was led, and, tied to a carriage of oxen by the will of the Emperor Vespasian, was dragged by the crazy animals at the very bottom of the little lake with “eyewear” where he drowned. Many writers and poets talk about Pilate’s lake as a place devoted to the devil, a destination elected by wizards and necromancers.
Fortunately, the pretty alpine pond, the only one in the Apennines, is still there, and contrary to what appeared to be after the 2016 earthquake, though with some backlash, the world’s most spectacular glasses keep watching us from the top of Mount Vettore.
Who loves hiking and nature’s majesty and, why not, with a little magical and fairy-tale flavor, does not miss the opportunity to go into these unique places, perhaps starting from Castelluccio di Norcia, who, in terms of legend, seems to be the favorite destination of the Sibyl’s Fairies during their night-time moves.
Andrea da Barberino, Guerrin Meschino
Antoine de la Sale, Il Paradiso della Regina Sibilla)
Monti Sibillini, le più belle escursioni – Alberico Alesi e Maurizio Calibani (Società Editrice Ricerche)
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