Discovering the “Hundred Horse” chestnut

I’ve never seen such a big tree in my life. When I was in front of it and I looked at its dimensions, I felt very small and this is why I decided to tell you something about this wonderful tree.

The Hundred Horse chestnut is in the wood of Capineto (Sant’Alfio) on the eastern side of Etna natural park.

It is considered one of the oldest and largest tree in the world. Thanks to its age, from 2000 to 4000 years, and the dimensions of its trunk (58m in diameter and 22m tall), it is the oldest tree in Europe and the largest tree in Italy.

Its name derives from a legend in which the Queen Giovanna I D’Angiò and her 100 knights took shelter from a sudden storm under the big fronds of the tree.

This natural monument is described by Alexandre Dumas in his novel “Pascal Bruno” in which the bandit of Val Demona, in order to take the ransom, meets the Prince of Butera inside the empty trunk. In this novel the tree is described as a colossal and isolated tree, a gigantic plant of 168 feet in diameter, formed by 5 trunks sharing the same root. The tree had a small house inside and its branches and leaves formed alone a forest.

Historical news on the chestnut tree come back to the 16th century. In 1611, Antonio Filoteo spoke of it and in 1936, the poet Pietro Carrera in his “Mongibello” described as “majestic” the trunk and referred to the tree “as capable of hosting 30 horses inside”.

In 1777 the French painter Jean Pierre Houel painted it in one of his famous paintings which is exhibited at the Louvre museum in Paris.

in 1965 it became a national monument and in 2006 UNESCO declared the tree a Messenger of Peace.

Over time, several Sicilian writers and poets have taken inspiration from the chestnut in their works: Giuseppe Villaroel, Carlo Parisi and Giuseppe Borrello. The latter described the tree using the Sicilian language

Un pedi di castagna
tantu grossu
ca ccu li rami so’ forma un paracqua
sutta di cui si riparò di l’acqua,
di fùrmini, e saitti
la riggina Giuvanna
ccu centu cavaleri,
quannu ppi visitari Mungibeddu
vinni surprisa di lu timpurali.
D’allura si chiamò
st’àrvulu situatu ‘ntra ‘na valli
lu gran castagnu d’i centu cavalli

A chestnut tree
was so large
that its branches formed an umbrella
under which refuge was sought from the rain
from thunder bolts and flashes of lightning
by Queen Giuvanna
with a hundred knights,
when on her way to Mt Etna
was taken by surprise by a fierce storm.
From then on so was it named
this tree nestled in a valley and its courses
the great chestnut tree of one hundred horses.

Between truth and legend, the Hundred Horse chestnut tree represents the resistance and the strength of nature and even if it has changed over time in its appearance (today it has 3 trunks sharing the same root), it retains the same charm and magnificence of the past: often the wonders of nature are real masterpieces

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Elena Attennante


II B – Furci Siculo


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