Sicily, 7-22 December 2004

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the month of December with Juergen’s mother in Munich. From there we flew to Palermo and rented a car. Our GPS track is in yellow. We drove a total of 1242 mi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Palermo’s 12th century cathedral (with later modifications) and a traditionally painted horse cart in the foreground.

 

 

There are several markets in Palermo, this one is called Mercato Vucciria. Shoppers are supposedly attracted by the display below, swordfish aren’t.

 

 

 

 

Sicily has two very famous opera houses, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo below and the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania. We managed to see operas in both. In Palermo we got tickets for (very fittingly) Verdi’s” I Vespri Siciliani.” (Sicilian Vespers) Since we were alone in one of the boxes at the first level and could support the camera on the balcony railing, we even managed to take some stage pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of Palermo lies Monreale with a cathedral and cloisters of a Benedictine monastery dating from the 12th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cloisters of Monreale have wonderfully ornate columns with mosaic intarsia and carved arabesques.

 

 

 

 

Some of most impressive, best preserved, and oldest temples of ancient Greece are found on Sicily. Sicily was actually “Greek” in classical times as was western Turkey. Virgil wrote that Segesta was founded by the Trojan hero Aeneas. The pure Doric temple of Segesta has stood there for 2400 years solemn and imposing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The theater of Segesta dates back to the 3rd century BCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selinunte was settled by the Greeks in the 7th century BCE. This pure style Doric temple dating from the 5th century BCE was dedicated to Hera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone else asked us to take their picture so we did the same. The Hera temple is in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were some isolated rain clouds in the area providing us with a rainbow.

 

 

 

 

Agrigento on Sicily’s central south coast has a number of beautiful temples like the Concordia temple. It’s among the best preserved temples from antiquity (it was turned into a church in the 4th century CE).

 

 

 

 

The Concordia temple dates from the 5th century BCE and is, again, pure Doric in style. It is not known to which Greek deity it was dedicated.

 

It is rare to see the cella, inner holy part, of a Greek temple. They are usually missing. Here it exists because later Christians carved openings in the cella  to make a three aisled church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This temple is dedicated to Hera and was built in the 5th century BCE.

 

 

 

East of Agrigento in the mountains is the famous 4th century CE Roman Villa of Casale. It comprises over 40 rooms, all of which are artistically paved with mosaics. In Homer’s Odyssey, a number of adventures take place in Sicily like Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemos on the right, the one-eyed giant (even though the mosaic gives him three).   

 

 

 

The tales of one-eyed giants like Polyphemos are probably based on the dwarf elephant skeletons that are found in Sicily.  On the left is such a skeleton shown in the museum in Agrigento. In evolution, larger mammals confined to smaller islands evolve toward smaller sizes. The same happened on Indonesian islands like Komodo where similar dwarf elephants used to be a major prey for Komodo dragons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a quite famous mosaic called appropriately the bikini girls. The room was apparently used as a women’s gym.

 

 

 

 

 

Another (tacky) mosaic from the Villa Casale.

 

 

 

 

There are few tourists in December. In Agrigento, we were the only customers in this little restaurant. Everything was made especially for us and we got to sample the home-made olive oil and wines and received a lot of attention.

 

 

 

 

Siracusa on the east coast has a long history. A famous citizen was Archimedes. The picture on the right is taken on the island of Ortigia that is connected to Siracusa by short bridges. We stayed in a charming old house on Ortigia.

The owner of the place is an architect who lives mostly in Rome. He is a prominent figure in Siracusa. When we told him we wanted to see an opera in Catania, he called the director (a friend of his) and free tickets were waiting when we got there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siracusa has one of the most impressive theaters that survive from antiquity and dates back to the 5th century BCE. Major performances of Aeschylus’ tragedies were performed here and are still today! In 472 BCE, Aeschylus’ tragedy “The Persians” was premiered here.

 

 

The Aretusa spring has a wonderful story: on mainland Greece, the nymph Aretusa transformed herself into a spring to escape from the unwanted advances of Alpheus, a river god. She was fleeing underground and emerged on Ortigia across the Ionian sea. Alpheus followed her and joined her in the same pool of water. The plants in the water are papyrus.

 

 

We arrived in Siracusa the day before St. Lucia did. We knew that we would be there for the annual Santa Lucia celebration. What we didn’t know was how special it was this year. St. Lucia was martyred in Siracusa in 303 CE. Her remains were stolen and taken to Venice 700 years ago and are permanently displayed there in the church S. Geremia. This year, for the first time, she got to participate in her annual celebration and her casket was transported by an Italian Navy frigate from Venice to Siracusa and carried in a procession to the St. Lucia church in Siracusa. Below left are the flyers announcing the event and on the right the procession with the Navy ship that brought her here in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Lucia’s homecoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Lucia displayed in the St. Lucia church. She was martyred by being beheaded – hence the silver head.

 

 

The second opera performance was in the famous Teatro Massimo Bellini where some of Bellini’s operas were first performed. We saw a seldom performed work by Donizetti, “Hugo, Count of the Parisians.”  Everything was in Italian and we had no idea of the plot. However, the music was very pleasant and melodic and the stage set elaborate. Since we had a box for ourselves, we managed to take some stage pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

We moved on to Taormina which is a favorite place for the rich and famous (mostly German and British). This picture was taken from the slopes of Mt. Etna where we stayed. Far to the right, just before the last down slope, the large grayish area is the old Greek theater.

 

 

The ancient theater in Taormina with Mt. Etna in the background. It’s still used today.

 

 

 

 

 

As part of the “agriturismo” initiative in Italy, the Murgo winery offers suites that are spacious and very nice in the building shown on the right and below.

 

 

 

 

 

Located on the slopes of Mt. Etna, the winery produces excellent wines including champagne and offers incredibly elaborate meals.

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, they set up breakfast in our room as it was the girl’s day off. We had the choice of 12 homemade jams (they are also for sale), local sausage and cheese, fresh juice and a variety of breads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In their restaurant, they also offer wine tastings. We joined the locals and had a lot of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guy on the left, a baron’s son, runs the winery which is equipped with the most modern stainless steel vats and fermentation controls. The champagnes continue to be hand-riddled.

 

 

 

From our terrace at night we could see the lava flow on Mt. Etna 7 miles away. We took this picture with 12x optical zoom and enlarged it digitally several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We drove 100 miles around Mt. Etna. It’s a magnificent sight from almost every angle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The clouds on the top are from volcanic vents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re now in Cefalu on the north coast. The cathedral dates from around 1200. There are some splendid 12th century mosaics inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Villa Palagonia in Bagheria is famous for its grotesque decoration which made it known as “Villa of Monsters.”