Hundred Horse Chestnut

The Sweet Chestnut tree today
The tree in a gouache by Jean-Pierre Houël, ca. 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 dê 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 the 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 one hundred 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 allusionsEdit

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

Sicilian English
Un pedi di castagna A chestnut tree
tantu grossu was so large
ca ccu li rami so' forma un paracqua   that its branches formed an umbrella
sutta di cui si riparò di l'acqua, under which refuge was sought from the rain
di fùrmini, e saitti from thunder bolts and flashes of lightning
la riggina Giuvanna by Queen Giuvanna
ccu centu cavaleri, with a hundred knights,
quannu ppi visitari Mungibeddu when on her way to Mt Etna
vinni surprisa di lu timpurali. was taken by surprise by a fierce storm.
D'allura si chiamò From then on so was it named
st'àrvulu situatu 'ntra 'na valli this tree nestled in a valley and its courses
lu gran castagnu d'i centu cavalli. the great chestnut tree of one hundred horses.[6]

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

Italian English
Dal tronco, enorme torre millenaria, From the trunk, huge millenary tower,
i verdi rami in folli ondeggiamenti, the green branches in mad waves,
sotto l'amplesso quèrulo dei venti, under the chattery embrace of the winds,
svettano ne l'ampiezza alta de l'aria. lance into the air's tall expanse.
Urge la linfa, ne la statuaria The sap rises in the statuesque
perplessità de le radici ergenti, astonishment of erect roots,
sotto i lacoontei contorcimenti, under Laocoön-like contortions,
dal suolo che s'intesse d'orticaria. from a nettle-woven soil.
E l'albero - Briareo lignificato - And the tree – wooden Briareus
ne lo spasimo atroce che lo stringe in the throes of the invisible
con catene invisibili alla terra, fetters that bind it to the earth,
tende le braccia multiple di sfinge strains its many limbs as a Sphinx
scagliando contro il cielo e contro il fato hurling against the sky and against fate
una muta minaccia ebbra di guerra. a voiceless threat sodden with war.


The novel The Overstory by American writer Richard Powers includes the following in the chapter titled "Nicholas Hoel": "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.
  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.

External linksEdit