It is often said that you can’t fully understand Italy until you’ve been to Sicily because it, the Mediterranean’s largest island, is a microcosm of the varying cultures that have created the Italy we know today. So to complete my knowledge of Italy, I decided to go to Sicily.
I traveled in late September and found out it is a very good time. The weather was very pleasant and the crowds minimal. I rented a car and spent 9 days traveling around the island especially looking for archaeological sites. Sicily has experienced the influences of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish, German, French and Papal conquest, leaving a rich cultural pastiche. And in this pastiche is included the influence of the Arabs. A fabulous gift in my opinion.
I started my journey in Catania where I just spent one night. I did not have time to Summit Europe's highest active volcano, Mount Etna! Good reason to go back to Sicily.
The next day I drove to Syracuse, known for the central Archaeological Park Neapolis which includes the Roman Amphitheater, the Teatro Greco and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a limestone cave shaped like a human ear. On the second day I spent time in Ortigia, a small island which is the historical center of the city of Syracuse. The island, also known as Citta Vecchia, contains many historical landmarks.
I then drove to Noto, a lovely small town surrounded by olive trees and almond trees. The Val di Noto region is famed for its magnificent Baroque architecture and striking landmarks. Also in the region is Ragusa. It's historic core is a patchwork of elegant town houses, ornate churches, bench-lined squares, stylish shops and restaurants. Set on a hillside, steep steps link the narrow, winding streets and their extravagant palazzi and tranquil chapels.
The town's most famous landmark is the cathedral with its three-tiered facade facing a handsome sloping square.
My next stay was Agrigento, a hilltop city located on the southwest shore, well known for the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas in the Valley of the Temples, a vast archaeological site with well-preserved Greek temples. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997.
I also visited the sites of Selinunte and Segesta. Segesta’s ancient Doric temple is one of the best preserved in the world. Its rural setting makes it a magical place. What a treat when I reached the amphitheater and discovered a full symphony practicing for their evening concert. I enjoyed a very special moment.
It was then time to enjoy nature. I made my way to Zingaro Nature Reserve, first natural reserve set up in Sicily in 1981. Stretching along the coast for 7 km between the lovely little village of Scopello in the east to near San Vito Lo Capo in the west, this park and its surrounding areas are one of the most beautiful parts of western Sicily. In 5 hours round trip you are able to walk on a lovely path along the sea with a chance to stop for a swim in one of the coves. The water is crystal clear with shades of green and blue. A real treat for peace, beauty and a little meditation.
Next was Monreale outside Palermo, one of the wonders of Sicily. Its cathedral built between 1170 and 1189 is inscribed on Unesco World Heritage List. It is indeed a wonder. It is a prime example of Arabic art. The mosaics were made with 2200 kg of pure gold, experts have estimated. Craftsmen from Constantinople were employed to expedite the work. The Byzantine mosaics are among the most magnificent in the world. A site not to be missed.
As I made my way back to Catania to fly back to the USA, I made one last memorable stop to visit the Villa Romana del Casale. The Villa Romana del Casale is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from the town of Piazza Armerina. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One more site not to be missed.
My blog could not be complete without talking about the food. “When it comes to food, Sicily has traditionally looked to the sea, but agriculture also plays an enormous role in Sicilian life. Olives, artichokes, nuts, citrus, and many other fruits and vegetables are abundant. The best way to sample them is to order a Sicilian Plate. The ingredients vary from place to place but they are always fresh and delicious. Do taste the heavenly gelato. My favorite is the hazelnut gelato. It was my daily treat.
I am really glad I visited Sicily. The Sicilian way of life is fascinating. Being the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has acted as a gateway to travelers for many centuries. The mix of cultures has left behind a medley of architectural styles, a colorful variety of cuisine and an array of unique traditions. To me Sicily is the ‘wild and adventurous” part of Italy.