As regards the origins of the town, the oldest sources date back to the fourth century B.C., precisely to Diodorus Siculus, who in his works speaks of Kephaloidion or Kephaloidios; a Greek name which transformed to "CifalÚ" in the local dialect.
The Romans called it Coephaledium and considered it a decuman town. For the Arabs, it was Gafludi: the geographer Idris described it his works The Book of Roger as a fortified town rich in waters.
The Normans restored it to the splendour of the Greek age. With Roger II. history gave way to legend. It is narrated that, caught in a terrific sea storm, sailing from Salerno to Reggio, Roger made a vow to build a cathedral for the Saviour if he were saved. He was saved indeed and erected the Dome which now is one of Cefalý's main tourist attractions.
It was the same deep religious sentiment that inspired the Cefalý community to choose three fish with a loaf in the centre as its coat of arms, the whole surmounted by the Pantocrator holding the world in his left hand and blessing it with the right: the fish (ixtos) was an acrostic of Christ for the first Christians, while the loaf symbolizes the presence of Christ.
The Normans created a golden age and every monument in the town tells us something about the various role that Cefalý has played over the centuries.
According to tradition, the residence of King Roger, the Osterio Magno (recently restored and reopened as an exhibition centre) is a monument showing very interesting architectural structures. Knowledge of this place was further enriched by the discovery of an exceptionally precious sixteenth-century drawing, probably by Giovanni Ventimiglia, to whose family the Osterio Magno belonged from the fourteenth century on. It is signed with the the caption "Domus Magna".
The inhabitants called the celebrated washing place "'u ciumi" (river). This impressive location which was used by the town inhabitants because of its cool spring water until a few decades ago, is mentioned by Boccaccio in his work "Il libro dei monti e dei fiumi del mondo".
At the entrance, on the right side at the foot of the stairs, there is a tercet by Vincenzo Auria (1655): "Here flows Cefalino, more salubrious / than any other river, purer / than silver, colder than snow".
The castle situated on the rock has become famous for the fact that Charles II of Anjou, known as "the Cripple", was kept prisoner there after being defeated by the Aragonese at the naval battle of Anzio.
Cefalý continued to be at the centre of political attention in Sicily during the eighteenth century: the Parliament of Sicily had its seat here in 1774.
In 1812, it became the seat of a Superintendence and the capital of twenty-three districts into which Sicily was divided.
In 1856, the revolt for the liberation of Sicily against the Bourbons began. The town made its contribution of blood with the death of Salvatore Spinuzza, a local hero who was executed in the square which is now called Piazza Garibaldi in 1857. This piazza is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi who chose Cefalý both as the seat of the Government and seat of the District Committee (whose president was Enrico Piraino di Mandralisca) in 1860.