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."