History of Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a distinctive castle-like building dating back to the 17th century. Framed by two towers and built around a courtyard, it is known as a ‘baglio” or fortified farmhouse, typical of the Sicilian countryside.

Why the towers and fortifications? Because four hundred years ago, under the Bourbons, Sicily was a wild and dangerous place, full of highwaymen and brigands.  Farm produce from the surrounding estate had to be carefully guarded within fortifications. There is even a watch tower dated 1584 in the grounds that enabled the occupants of Santa Maria to see as far as the coast and spot any pirate shops bound for the shore.

The origins of the building itself are cloaked in mystery. With the surrounding area and an 11th century local church taking the same name of Santa Maria, it is assumed that the original building belonged to the Church and may even have been a Commanderie for the Knights of Malta following their expulsion from Rhodes. What is certain is that by the 19th century it was in private hands. A wealthy landowner sold the villa and 300 hectares of land to Marcello’s grandfather, Luigi Vaccara, in 1910. Since then, it has remained in the Vaccara/ Manzo family.

Luigi Vaccara was a one time sharecropper who made a fortune in vineyards and the wine industry and Santa Maria was just one of his many estates. He,  his wife Francesca, and their five children would move from their town residence to Santa Maria every September for the vendemmia (wine harvest).  When Luigi died, he left Santa Maria to Maria, his youngest child and only daughter. By then married to Goffredo Manzo and mother of three small boys, Pilli, Marcello and Silvio, Maria decided to set up her own wine business independent of the Vaccara business now run by her brothers. She and Goffredo converted the vast warehouse of the baglio into a wine factory and marketed the Maria Vaccara label all over Europe.

Unfortunately the business did not flourish and eventually Maria turned the villa into their main residence, having sold most of the estate. When she died in 2001, Marcello and Silvio inherited the villa.

Caroline Manzo has written a book about Villa Santa Maria and the Manzo family: Casa Nostra is available to buy on Amazon