A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Hellenic Sicily

sunny 23 °C

Some folks love Sicily for the warm seas, the sandy beaches and the cheap wine, and if that’s your idea of heaven then you might want to switch off for awhile because we are going in search of the past. Many of history’s notorious tyrants, conquerors and empire builders had a hand in shaping this land and, despite nearly three thousand years of wars, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Sicily is scattered with monumental reminders of their supremacy. Our historical expedition begins with this Greek temple in Selinunte
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The Greeks weren’t here first by any means, but the locals must have been awestruck back in 628 BC, when the Hellenic invaders set up shop and built one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world. This temple complex in Selinunte on the west coast of Sicily predates the Parthenon in Athens by two hundred years…
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Selinunte was a vast and complex city for two centuries before it was attacked and virtually destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. Most of the city’s fine stone buildings were reduced to rubble – but it is very impressive rubble…
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Our next stop is a short step up the chronological ladder to the city of Agrigento also on Sicily’s west coast. The year is 488 BC and, under the tyrant Terone, the Greeks are still putting up enormous temples to deify their gods and to make sacrifices to protect their fishermen and seafarers. This is the Temple of Juno …
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Agrigento was better defended than Selinunte and its army not only resisted the Carthaginian attacks but actually defeated the invaders. However, the city changed hands many times over the next thousand years until the fall of the Roman Empire in 480AD. This is the Temple of Concord built in 450 BC minus the terracotta roof that the Romans put on it when they were in charge…
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The Byzantines from Constantinople (Istanbul) ruled here after the Romans until the Normans finally took the city by siege in 1086. The French then spent centuries defending it against the Arabian Muslims - the Saracens. Here’s another view of one of the magnificent temples…
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We are now temple’d out, and our heads are spinning with almost inconceivable spans of time. so we are leaving the coast to head into the mountains in search of one of the best preserved Roman villas in the world. We hope we haven’t metaphorically lost you in the mists of time and that you will join us at the Villa Romana Della Casale – a two thousand year old archaeological youngster in this ancient land.

Posted by Hawkson 08:07 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

Under the Sicilian Sun

sunny 23 °C

The west coast of Sicily is noted for its year round sunshine and for the warm winds that blow directly from North Africa, so it’s not surprising solar and wind farms are springing up across the land…
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However, solar and wind power have been harnessed to produce salt here since the time of the Phoenicians in 800 BC. Numerous invaders have conquered Sicily from time immemorial. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans and even Moors and Normans have been drawn to this sunny isle because of its defensive location at the southern tip of Europe. They have also come for the salt...
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This six hundred year old windmill on the salinas near Marsala was used for draining the salt pans of fresh water after the winter rains so that sea water could flood in and evaporate under the hot summer sun. But Marsala is best known for the sweet dessert wine of the same name. and we were expecting to find a rural city full of tractors and wineries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marsala is a smart sophisticated city with posh shops and wide pedestrian streets paved with marble,…
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The nearby medieval city of Erice is a different kettle of fish. It is a rugged place perched atop a mountain at the northwest tip of Sicily. The narrow streets paved with rough cobbles snake around the mountain and lead up to a crumbling Norman castle…
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The roads are so narrow that it is impossible to believe that traffic is allowed – but it is…
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Although this alleyway in the medieval city of Cefalu was a tight squeeze even for us…
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The Normans conquered this island a thousand years ago and stamped their culture on the place with numerous cathedrals and churches. This is the cathedral, (Chiesa Madre) in Erice, together with its lofty bell tower that was used as a lookout to spot potential marauders in the middle ages…
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It is said that you can see Tunisia from here on a clear day and although the sun was shining we were out of luck. We did however have fabulous views of the coast and the cities beneath us…
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Now we are going back in time – to the amazing ruined cities of Selinunte and Agrigento – built more than two thousand five hundred years ago. Here’s a glimpse into the distant past…
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Hope you can join us under the Sicilian sun in a day or so.

Posted by Hawkson 09:40 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

A Sicilian Miscellany

sunny 22 °C

We stay in many excellent hotels and guest houses each year so we only mention the truly memorable – like those where we are greeted and treated as long lost family members. So we want to say: mille grazie to Maria and Patrizia at Villa Raineri in Giardini Naxos for welcoming us to their beautiful beachside villa. Vi auguriamo molto successo …
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However, time moves on and so must we. From Giardini we drove the 300 kilometres to the outskirts of Palermo and spent most of the time in the dark…
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The Sicilians certainly know a thing or two about tunnelling and when it comes to mountains they just burrow straight through. We lost count after a couple of dozen but figured that we probably travelled at least 40 kilometres underground.The autostradas (toll highways) are excellent and the drivers not quite as crazy as you might imagine. The same cannot be said of city drivers who play chicken at every intersection and squeeze through impossibly narrow medieval streets jammed with badly parked cars – apparently a car is deemed parked once the nose hits the kerb irrespective of where this might leave the back end.

Our home now is an apartment in the slightly seedy fishing village of Aspra not far from Palermo…
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Each morning the numerous fishermen haul up their wooden boats and sell their catch off the beach …
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While each evening they hang out on the promenade to decry the lack of fish, the poor prices and the state of the humanity in general. But this is real Italy – none of the polish of Positano or the Ritz of Rome; no Fendi handbags here. Life goes on here much as it has done for centuries and we are merely observers as we stroll the beach at sunset…
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However, we are not here for the beach – even though it is warm enough for a swim. We are here to discover Sicily’s past and our first stop is the ancient Elimi city of Segesta. This enormous acropolis was built 2,450 years ago by Hellenic people who had fled from the city of Troy in, what is now, Turkey…
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It is difficult to believe that this building was already two thousand years old when the Incas built Machu Picchu in Peru. This mountaintop theatre is another of the incredible constructions of the Elimi in Segesta…
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Who needs scenery with a backdrop like this…
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Sicily has a wealth of historic monuments and we will be visiting the most important ones in the coming week. We will also be trying the local dishes like the antipasta where everything was produced on the farm where we dined…
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An authentic hundred metre diet!

Posted by Hawkson 01:30 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Surprising Sicily

sunny 24 °C

We’ve only been in Sicily a few days and we already love the place. Where to begin? The architecture, the history, the people, the food, the wine and the weather have all been absolutely amazing. For example - the city of Catania is just stuffed with architectural gems. The main streets are lined with elegant baroque palaces…
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The central piazza has an elephant carved from volcanic lava supporting a 3,500 year old Egyptian obelisk and the university is housed in many magnificent buildings including a splendid Benedictine monastery dating from the 17th century …
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But these relatively modern buildings pale to insignificance compared to this enormous Roman theatre that seated 7,000 people in its heyday in the 1st century AD…
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(Can you spot Sheila standing against the back wall?)
However, this two thousand year old theatre was actually built from the original Greek theatre which existed here in 415 BC. It seems that the Romans just knocked down the old one and used many of the stones to build the new one. After the fall of the Roman Empire the locals built houses on top of the theatre and these were only demolished in the 20th century to reveal this ancient monument.

The Sicilians are intensely proud of their produce and the daily market that sprawls around the narrow streets and squares in the centre of Catania is a visual and olfactory delight for those of us who can enjoy food as an art form. Who could not love the abundance of fresh fish…
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…or these vegetables presented in their prime?...
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...or this selection of local wines for just 4 euros a bottle...
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If only we had the time and the facilities to cook. But we must move quickly on. The longer we are in Sicily the more we realise that it has an amazing amount to offer. We are now in Giardini Naxos, a delightful seaside town at the foot of towering cliffs surmounted by ancient castles and precariously perched villas. This is Castelmola…
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It is a nosebleed ride up in a bus, but the views of a smouldering snow-capped Mount Etna are simply stunning...
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...as are the views of the coast far below...
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Posted by Hawkson 12:53 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

The Italian Way

From the Amalfi coast to Sicily

sunny 24 °C

As we hop from one interesting place to another we do so without acknowledging that the path we take can be as spectacular as the places themselves. For instance: our journey to Sicily. We begin in Positano – once a sleepy fishing village squeezed into a narrow rocky ravine just south of Naples. But today’s Positano has climbed high into the surrounding mountainsides and high on the bucket list of deep-pocketed tourists…
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Positano is beautiful but is best visited at this time of the year when the glitterati have packed their bags and most of the pricier hotels and restaurants have shut up shop for the winter. The same can be said of our next stop – Amalfi – a few kilometres along the coast…
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The white-knuckle road that winds along the cliff face is no more than a narrow ledge with heart-stopping hairpin bends and tunnels barely wide enough for a car let alone the numerous tour busses that blare a path with their horns. But, for those with the nerve to look, the coastal views are spectacular…
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With Amalfi in the rear view mirror we climb a thousand tortuous feet to the mountain top town of Ravello where we stop for lunch in the Medieval square…
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From here we drop back to the coast road (which most guidebooks warn drivers to avoid).
Our little Renault loves the circuitous climbs and the serpentine curves and in no time we are in Salerno where we board the southbound train for a distant Sicily...
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The olive, lemon and bergamot groves of Calabria zip past as we skim along the Mediterranean coast and we marvel at the enormity of the lemons from which the delicious limoncello is made….
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Sandy beaches, rocky shores and quaint fishing villages quickly come and go as we zip in and out of the numerous tunnels that take us through this mountainous land. And then we arrive in Reggio Calabria where our train is shunted aboard a ferry to cross the treacherous Strait of Messina…
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Now in Sicily we follow the eastern coast until we reach today’s destination, the ancient city of Catania – nestled under the still smouldering volcano of Mount Etna…
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Two hours driving and seven hours by train and ship leave us savouring a kaleidoscope of images and colours and we love every minute.
This is a beautiful land.

Posted by Hawkson 07:46 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

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