Monday, November 16, 2015

Sicily


Our flight to Sicily had a snag. The leg from Rome to Palermo was cancelled so we had to wait a few more hours in the Rome airport for the next flight. This brought us into Palermo later than expected. We took a cab to our apartment which was spacious, in an older building, but very well located.
We cleaned up and decided to go out and get our bearings. We found the "four quarters" which had statues that included a season, a King of Sicily, and a Patron of the city on each corner.
We found pizza for dinner, the Sicilian pizza was no different than the Italian and fortunately the gelato was the same also.


We headed back to the room to be in bed by 9:30 for jet lag night.
In the morning we caught the bus to go to Monreale, a small hill town about 5 miles from Palermo. The attraction there is the Norman Cathedral which is renowned for its Christian Medieval mosaic work that was considered Sicilian-Norman, no doubt created by Greek-Byzantine artists.
Nearby are the cloisters of Saint Benedict.














We took the bus back into Palermo.
When we arrived back we visited the Cappella Palatina Palazzo dei Normanni, which had its own impressive mosaics.


















 





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This site was not far from various churches including Saint Augustine, Saint Lorenzo, Saint Francis of Assisi and the cathedral. We took quite a walk to the Teatro Massimo.








Once back in the city we visited what is touted to be the largest Banyan tree in the world.




 We visited city hall before heading to a few more churches.




We visited Piazza Pretoria before calling it a day. One of the statues could have served as a model for Jar-Jar Banks.





In the morning we picked up our car and headed to Segesta. It is a now abandoned ancient city. There remains a rather intact temple although work ceased on its creation in 416 B.C. as a result of border wars. This is a temple we were allowed to walk through.



A 20 minute walk from the temple is the theater. The theater was erected on a hill so it gave views of the countryside.







We then headed west. Because it was hot, we decided to try a beach along the way. This involved a rather long walk, which made the water more refreshing when we went swimming.





We next went to Trapani on the west coast. We visited its famous church before taking an excursion up to Erice, a walled mountain town, which gives nice views of the coast. We then headed back to our room at Trapani.







In the morning the first thing we did was go to the famous fish market to check out the morning's catch.


We then headed out to Selinunte. This city was not far from Segesta and they were bitter enemies. Segesta had an alliance with Carthage and the Carthaginians sacked Selinunte which basically ended its existence leaving partially completed structures. There are eight temples in various states of ruin and an additional five in the acropolis area. We also visited Cave di Cusa which included the quarries used for the building of Selinunte. Column drums and stumps were plentiful, as well as unfinished statues, which were abandoned upon the Carthage invasion and  their devastating almost complete destruction of the city.










We also visited Eraclea Minoa, another ancient site with fragmentary ruins. From there we drove down to the beach to see the view.


Next it was off to Agrigento and the valley of the temples. Not only was Sicily a war prize but it was a battleground as it was variously invaded by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Normans, and Arabs. The valley below Agrigento is a series of temples, as placating the gods was considered to be a necessity before going to war. They had a separate area for making sacrifices where on one day 10,000 head of cattle were sacrificed and burnt as an offering to the gods before a major battle.















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From there we went to Enna. Enna is one of the more ancient towns of Sicily as its height provided natural defenses. The town now is considered medieval and includes the castle of Lombardia.
We had some trouble with the traffic and had a rather difficult ordeal trying to park. We stayed overnight there and had fun wandering through the streets.






 



 
During our wanderings we encountered some friendly people including four youngsters who had learned English in school but had never met Americans. They joined us in our excursion and we enjoyed talking to them.


In the morning we headed to Caltagirone. On the road to Caltagirone we stopped at Piazza Armerina.
In the countryside that surrounds this city is the Villa Romana del Casale, which is supposedly a lodge of a Roman Emperor. It was covered by a mudslide in the 12th century and excavation was begun in the 1950s. It was a huge building but what makes it distinctive is that almost every square inch of floor was covered by beautiful mosaics.













The town was known for ceramics and of course we purchased some there. This is one case where it was not over-hyped. The ceramics there were the most beautiful and unique we had ever seen. The town is known for La Scala which consists of over 142 steps up the hills to the Santa Maria del Monte church. The risers in between each step are covered in hand-painted ceramic patterns with no two being the same.


We then traveled to Regusa where we spent the night. This was another medieval town that was fun to explore.







Throughout history Syracuse has been the most predominant city of Sicily. It was a coastal city with bountiful springs and proximity to fertile land. Its port was also centrally located among important trade routes. Colonists from Corinth arrived in Syracuse at about 733 B.C.. The city repelled the Athenian fleet as part of an attack by the Athenians in 413 B.C.
Syracuse sided with Carthage in the second Punic war. It held out against the Romans for some time in part to defensive construction devised by one of its most famous citizens, Archimedes. Archimedes himself fell at the hands of Romans after the Roman's general's instruction that he not be killed.




Again parking was a problem in Syracuse.
Syracuse was also a very fun city to explore. We visited the Duomo. We also went to the Arethusa fountain, which is very close to the coast. The spring, besides being a source of water, is also a source of myths and legends and reportedly was mentioned in the original directions from the Delphic oracle that brought the Greek Corinthians to Syracuse. Admiral Nelson also took water supplied from this spring on his way to the battle of the Nile. Papyrus has been planted in the spring and the spring has been stocked with bream and ducks.








The next morning we took the car out to the outskirts of Syracuse to Eurialo Castle designed in part by Archimedes. Many of his ideas for castle-building lasted throughout the medieval period.




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Next it was off to Taormina. It was a little tricky driving to get up to the town. The town is very pretty and a resort. It boasts a Greek theater, which functions now to show movies.






We happened to be there for the Taormina film festival. The festival was honoring Malcolm McDowell, star of Clockwork Orange, Caligula, etc. They presented him with an award and he gave an entertaining speech,  including recanting  dealing with Peter O'Toole who apparently showed up on set inebriated as a habit.
Taormina also has a couple of beaches and is a jumping off point to visit Mount Etna.
The morning after our arrival we headed to Mount Etna, which entailed driving up part way up the mountain and then taking a tracked vehicle as far up as we were allowed. We were up high enough that there was snow in late June, but if you dug down about five or six inches in the lava rocks they would be quite hot.








 



We came back, and after hiking above and  through town, took the furnicular down to the beach, which we first decided it was the wrong one and walked a rather long walk to the beach by Isolo Bella, which was very pleasant and we spent the afternoon reading and swimming.








We then went to Milazzo which we picked so we could visit the Aeolian Islands. The town itself had quite a history. Settled by the Greeks in 716 B.C. it was fought over by the Carthaginians, Romans, Venetians and Arabs. The British used it as a base in the Napoleonic Wars. It has a pretty well preserved castle high on a promontory which we toured.



In the morning we left early for our islands excursions.  We were on a good sized boat and met some very friendly people on it. The first island was Vulcano where we were able to climb to the rim and smell the sulphur.
 

 
 
 As we would get to each island we would generally go to a beach or cove area to swim.











The last island we visited was Stromboli. By then it was quite late in the day and the Italian young man we befriended made a joke about it being announced it would be the last swim of the day.

 
 On the way back to Palermo we toured various coastal cities, which included their fortifications, their churches and their beaches.















We scheduled two overnights in Rome (Teresa's favorite city) on the way back home. We took our normal tour from Trevi Fountain to the restaurant area on to Piazzo Navona. On the way back we stopped at the Pantheon (my favorite building) to take my favorite picture of it. After that we made our way back to the Spanish steps where we relaxed for a while.





In the morning we took a bus out to the outskirts of Rome to Hadrian's Villa, which we had never seen before.
We toured the site with the aid of an audio guide.It was quite extensive and the bus connections to get there and back made it a long excursion.


The rest of the day was spent leisurely walking around Rome.


The next morning we left early for our trip back.










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