Hundred Horse Chestnut

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The sweet chestnut tree today
The tree in a gouache by Jean-Pierre Houël, around 1777
Pencil sketch from Popular Science monthly, circa 1872

Coordinates: 37°45′00.7″N 15°7′49.4″E / 37.750194°N 15.130389°E / 37.750194; 15.130389

The Hundred-Horse Chestnut (Italian: Castagno dei Cento Cavalli; Sicilian: Castagnu dî Centu Cavaddi) is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world.[1][2] Located on Linguaglossa road in Sant'Alfio, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily[3] — only 8 km (5.0 mi) from the volcano's crater — it is generally believed to be 2,000 to 4,000 years old (4,000 according to botanist Bruno Peyronel from Turin).[4] It is a sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa, family Fagaceae). Guinness World Records has listed it for the record of "Greatest Tree Girth Ever", noting that it had a circumference of 57.9 m (190 ft) when it was measured in 1780. Above ground, the tree has since split into multiple large trunks, but below ground, these trunks still share the same roots.

The tree's name originated from a legend in which a queen of Aragon and her company of 100 knights, during a trip to Mount Etna, were caught in a severe thunderstorm. The entire company is said to have taken shelter under the tree.[3][5]

Literary allusions[edit]

The tree and its legend have become the subject of various songs and poems, including the following Sicilian-language description by Catanese poet Giuseppe Borrello (1820–1894):

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.[6]

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.

Another poet from Catania in Sicily, Giuseppe Villaroel (1889–1965), described the tree in the following sonnet (written in Italian):

Dal tronco, enorme torre millenaria,
i verdi rami in folli ondeggiamenti,
sotto l'amplesso quèrulo dei venti,
svettano ne l'ampiezza alta de l'aria.
Urge la linfa, ne la statuaria
perplessità de le radici ergenti,
sotto i lacoontei contorcimenti,
dal suolo che s'intesse d'orticaria.
E l'albero - Briareo lignificato -
ne lo spasimo atroce che lo stringe
con catene invisibili alla terra,
tende le braccia multiple di sfinge
scagliando contro il cielo e contro il fato
una muta minaccia ebbra di guerra.[6]

From the trunk, huge millenary tower,
the green branches in mad waves,
under the chattery embrace of the winds,
lance into the air's tall expanse.
The sap rises in the statuesque
astonishment of erect roots,
under Laocoön-like contortions,
from a nettle-woven soil.
And the tree – wooden Briareus –
in the throes of the invisible
fetters that bind it to the earth,
strains its many limbs as a Sphinx
hurling against the sky and against fate
a voiceless threat sodden with war.

The novel The Overstory by American writer Richard Powers includes the line that: "Seven hundred years before, a chestnut in Sicily two hundred feet around sheltered a Spanish queen and her hundred mounted knights from a raging storm."


  1. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chestnut". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 112–113.
  2. ^ "Chestnut Dinner in the Mountains of Italy". Barilla online. 2005. Archived from the original on 2006-10-18. Retrieved 2006-12-22. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Senna, Luciana (2005). Authentic Sicily. Touring Editore. p. 112. ISBN 88-365-3403-1..
  4. ^ Lewington, Anna; Edward Parker (2002). Ancient Trees: Trees That Live for 1,000 Years. Sterling Publishing Co. p. 92. ISBN 1-85585-974-2.
  5. ^ The Chestnut tree of Mount Etna, detailed account of the tree, its state and its surroundings, written by Wm. Rushton on June 29, 1871.
  6. ^ a b "Poesie sul Castagno dei Cento Cavalli". (Sicilian) Catania Natura. Dipartimento di Botanica, University of Catania. Archived from the original on 2007-09-18. Retrieved 2006-12-22. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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