For 13 days and nights I wandered through the streets, countryside, and homes of Sicily. I gazed upon mosaics made of gold covering the walls of a church, walked through red and yellow wildflowers blooming in the fields, climbed steps to castles, admired ancient art and architecture, ate homemade ricotta cheese and bread fresh from the oven, drank local wine, climbed up the lava strewn slopes near a volcano, visited fascinating museums, and laughed with new friends. All the while, I tried to take as many photos as possible so that I would never forget this amazing island. My many memories...
Mazara del Vallo was founded in the 9th c by the Phoenicians. Situated in a prime location for Mediterranean trade, it was inhabited by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. Today, it is an important fishing port and home to a 7 foot bronze statue (circa 4 c BCE), retrieved from the sea floor by a local fishing boat in 1998, known as the Dancing Satyr. The historic Arab quarters, the Casbah, is home to about 3,000 largely Tunisian inhabitants, although other refugees and native Sicilians live here as well. We walked through the labyrinth of narrow streets looking at the decorative ceramic murals and tiles adorning the walls and brightly colored pots full of plants. Several locals shared stories about their daily life in the Casbah, including a man shelling peas on his rooftop and a Bosnian refugee. Our local guide, Antonio, took us to the opera house where he serenaded us with Volare and New York, New York. What a surprise! We also had a special visitor show up. One of the fishermen who discovered the Dancing Satyr, shared his very animated tale with us. A wonderful walk in a charming town.
Windmills dot the salt flats of the Marsala area. Salt production in this area has been around for hundreds of years and is still going on today. The Museo del Sale is located in a restored 500 year old windmill that was used to crush the salt crystals that had formed as the sea water evaporated.
About 2,700 years ago, the Phoenicians built a trading post on nearby Mothya Island. There is a small, but impressive museum, the Whitaker Museum, containing well preserved Phoenician and Greek pottery, statues, grave steles, and other artifacts. Foundations of buildings and villas have been uncovered on the island as well. There is a graveyard with cremated remain of children - sacrifice or burial? The most important discovery (1979) was that of a full size marble statue, known as the Charioteer, 480-470 BCE. Very impressive for such a small place.
On the road again to visit the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, eight Greek temples built between 510 and 430 BCE. The most impressive was the massive, well preserved, Tiempo della Concordia.
We had lunch with the family of Raffaela La Scala, a master cart builder in his time. His son, Marcello, is carrying on the tradition of building carts and showed us several hand made and intricately painted carts. They were absolutely beautiful.
The day wouldn't be complete if we didn't stop for a little wine tasting of the region's Marsala wines. A bottle of Marsala sirac to go, please.
The journey continued to our agriturismo, a farm house sanctioned for lodging. The lodge was nestled in the hills and had an amazing view of Piazza Armerina below. It was a wonderful night to enjoy the view with good friends, nibble on some cheese, fill our glasses with prosecco and toast the day...Salute!
After a comfortable, quiet night in the country, we are off to the Villa Romano del Casale, a 4th c hunting lodge filled with Roman baths, mosaic floors and frescoed walls.
In 1693, a devastating earthquake struck the southeastern side of Sicily. Ragusa and Modica were 2 of the towns destroyed. Where to rebuild Ragusa was debated, and the conclusion was a compromise - a new town, Ragusa "Superiore," was built in the hills above the original site, while Ragusa Ibla was rebuilt in its original location. Ragusa Superiore is the larger "modern" city, while Ragusa Ibla is smaller and has more "charm."
Sights of Sicily
Museo del Sale, Mothya Island
Valley of the Temples, Wine Tasting, Hand Painted Carts, Villa Romana Del Casale
Mazara del Vallo
Ragusa, Old Town of Ibla, Modica & the Fiat 500's
Modica is another hill town that was devastated by the 1693 earthquake. The town was rebuilt, but in 1902, the buildings in the lower part were destroyed by raging flood waters and many people were lost.
A Fun Day at the Dairy Farm making ricotta cheese, milking a cow, walking through a field full of wildflowers, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, kneading bread in the traditional way, eating a delicious lunch complete with farm fresh produce, cheese, olives, and homemade wine and ending with an original song for our hosts.
...and on that farm he had a pig, E I E I O
Siracusa and Ortygia
Founded by Corinthian colonists circa 734 BCE, Siracusa became one of the largest cities of the ancient world and was the most powerful city in the Mediterranean. After crossing the short bridge between Syracuse and the island of Ortygia, Valeria guided us through the maze of streets heading toward the Piazza Duomo. Ortygia is home to a number of ancient Greek and Roman ruins as well as the Fountain of Arethusa, Syracuse Cathedral, Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla bada, and the Temple of Apollo. After a delicious lunch of pizza, salads, and pasta, we finished our tour with a boat ride around the tip of Ortygia and a view of the Castello Maniace, 1239 CE.
Catania, Taormina, and Mt Etna
A walking tour of Catania, founded in the 8th c BCE, took us to the Piazza del Duomo. The Norman Cattedrale di Sant'Agata faces the square, while a smiling black lava elephant, known as Liotru, carrying an Egyptian obelisk are opposite. The tomb of Catanian composer, Vincenzo Bellini, is found in the Cathedral while ancient Roman baths lie beneath. Catania is famous for its noisy fish market, La Pescheria. Buckets of mussels, clams, and snails, tables of octopus, eels, heads of swordfish, and other squirmy, smelly but fresh fish are in abundance.
Fuzzy caterpillars and tour groups - always a line somewhere...
Grazie di tutto!
Angelo Musco - our tour leader's famous actor grandfather. The comedic talent was obviously a trait passed down.
Descending the steps from Ragusa Superiore to Ibla below.
Cathedral of San Giorgio on the pedestrian square of Ibla
Maestro Salvatore Appiano plays for us in his home in Ibla, the Museo Casa Appiano. It is filled with centuries old family art and other antiques. Tiny rooms, tiny hallways and stairs going this way and that, all filled with treasures. Thanks, Angelo, for giving us the opportunity to visit him.
Modica is famous for its special dark chocolate. It is made following an ancient Aztec recipe brought back by from the New World by the Spaniards. Today, you can find Cioccolato di Modica flavored with chile, vanilla, orange, pistachio, lime, etc. There are special chocolate liqueurs, biscuits, and probably gelato, although I didn't find one. Of course, we had a chocolate sampling stop and it was DELICIOUS! So are the treats I brought home with me.
What a thrill to be in a vintage open top Fiat 500 as it winds its way down the narrow, steep and winding streets in Modica. Wind blowing through our hair, horns beeping as we take the curves, stopping suddenly as we come upon a truck blocking our way, fingers crossed that no one steps in front of us, children waving from their doorway as we whiz by.
Born to be wi.i.i...ld
Enjoying a boat ride around Ortygia with Pippo
Click on the map/tank above and see images and hear the sirens from this fascinating WWII museum in Catania.
Taormina is a hillside town with a maze of streets, tourist shops, a wonderful view of Mt. Etna, an ancient Greco Roman theater, and delicious, refreshing "granite."
Of course, the most famous site in the area is nearby Mt. Etna, 10,900 ft of active volcano. It continuously emits smoke and last erupted March 16,2017, pelting tourists and a BBC news team with rock as they were running for their lives down the slope. We walked in a an area covered with lava rock and viewed the peak of Mt Etna from a safe distance (although, I must admit it would have been interesting to be close to the crater).