At the slopes of Kronio Mount and a few kilometers from Sciacca, there is the “Enchanted Castle”, a charming open-air museum , full of mystery and fascination.
A wonderful place invented by the creativity of man and nature where, besides olives and almond trees, you can find heads engraved in stone by the local artist Filippo Bentivegna, called “Philip of the heads” (Filippu di li testi).
The place has got a great tourist importance for its uniqueness.
The life of Filippo Bentivegna was unusual and eccentric and it is essential to understand his artistic work and closely linked to his imaginary and enchanted world, populated by human heads engraved in stone.
He was born in Sciacca on 3May 1888 into a fishermen family, because of poor economic conditions he was illiterate.
At the age of twenty, in 1908, he enlisted in the Navy and he stayed there till 1912.
Poor and unemployed, he emigrated to the United States, first to New York and then to Chicago, where he was hired by a railway company.
There, life was too hard for him and he didn’t succeed in living with people who had racist ideas. So he was immediately marginalized because of his non-conformist ideas. It is said that his artistic inspiration was linked to a woman’s love. Fallen in love with a young American woman, he was violently beaten up by his love rival. He was very shocked by this episode and his nature deeply changed.
When Filippo Bentivegna returned to Sciacca, he was a completely different man.
He bought a little estate in the current “Contrada of S. Antonio” beginning his new life as an impulsive artist.
Illiterate and never been interested in any forms of art, he started painting and chiselling trees and stones extracted from rock walls, developing an “unaware” form of expression that allowed him to live his memories subliming them.
The single subjects of his art are human heads of every seize and shape.
His sculptures are various and they represent known and unknown characters. He gave them invented names and they symbolized the subjects of the reign where he was the “King”. In fact, Filippo loved to be called by people “His Excellency”.
In the middle of the estate there is Bentivegna’s house, whose walls are decorated with sketches reminding his American experience, in particular, you can admire a big fish containing a smaller fish in his belly which perhaps represents the ship that lead him to New York. Filippo was very fond of one of his work he called “The Enchantment Key”.
People say he used to wander around city streets with a short stick in his hand that he held like a scepter proclaiming himself “Lord of the Caves”, because of the numerous tunnels he used to dig looking for energy.
Filippo Bentivegna spent most of his life in his own estate and he remained there, in solitude, until his death on 1 March 1967.
The following year of Bentivegna’s death, while his work was abandoned and sometimes object of theft and looting, a coworker of Jean Debuffet (an expert of Art Brut) went to Sciacca and recognized the work’s artistic importance of the “Fool of Sciacca”.
A few sculptures of F. Bentivegna are exhibited in the “Art Brut Museum” of Losanna, made in memory of Debuffet.