It has been way too long since I sent this, the second installment of our recent trip to Sicily, but the Fall dinner party and a potential business venture sucked away all my time and brainpower. So apologies all around for the delay. And away we go…
As promised, this installment won’t be entirely about food, like the last one was. We started doing “Sicily” things on Sunday, two days after I arrived. Our goal for Sunday was The Valley of Temples, which is located on the southern coast of Sicily near the large city of Agrigento.
On the way down to Agrigento, we discovered that there really IS a castle on virtually every hilltop in Sicily. You can’t drive 5 minutes without seeing a new one pop up. Most of them aren’t even marked on maps and they’re falling into ruin.
After a couple of hours we go to the Valle de Templi. This ancient Greek city, constructed in the 5th century BC, was lauded by many ancient historians as “the most beautiful city of mortals.” Today, the remains consist of a string of temples on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but on the last Sunday of the month, all archaeological sites in Sicily are free to the public. This was nice for us because we avoided the $8 per person entry fee at this and other sites we visited that day. But the downside was that the site was swarming with Sicilians!
The site was impressive, with the temples made of red sandstone instead of the white marble from which most ancient Greek temples are constructed. There were olive trees all around, including some very ancient ones, and I discovered that olives are inedible when they’re picked straight from the trees. Yuk. There were also almond trees everywhere, and I managed to crack open a few.
Despite the crowds, I still managed to snap a butt and scarf photo, but it wasn’t very good. Ma and Angela wanted nothing to do with my nudity, fearful of being arrested or worse, so they took shelter under a giant olive tree.
Under the tree they found some lovely miniature temples which were probably constructed by Greek ants around 500 BC.
We moved on westward along the coast in search of lunch. We stopped in the town of Siculiana, which is a beautiful medieval city perched around a castle atop a hill. It was a Sunday afternoon, and everyone in the city seemed to be asleep. We didn’t pass a soul in the abandoned streets. As we drove in front of a centuries-old church, a flock of white doves took wing through the deserted courtyard in front.
Eventually we drove down to the beach below Siculiana and found a fantastic restaurant for lunch, outdoors right on the beach. I had fresh steamed mussles! There was a large Sicilian family having dinner at the table next to us, and the server was bringing out course after course of pasta and fresh fish. I can’t imagine what the bill was at the end!
It was hot and stuffy, and the Mediterranean was beckoning me, so I stripped down to my underwear and jumped into the sea. It was cold! But clear. And so refreshing. The beach here was lovely.
Our final stop for the evening was Seliunte, which was the most remote of the Greek colonies. It’s near the far southwestern corner of Sicily. It was built in the 5th century BC and was attacked by the Carthaginians and then destroyed by earthquakes in the 4th century. It wasn’t rediscovered until the 1500s and has been restored into one of the most magnificent Greek temples on Earth.
We watched an incredible sunset from here, and I also got to snap some spectacular butt and scarf pics.
The next day Angela had to work, and Christian and I had planned to rent a car to drive to Mt. Etna, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. But we woke up to rainy, cold skies, so we went into Palermo instead and explored the city.
Palermo is a fantastic city, with all the charming cobblestone alleys, crumbling churches, massive cathedrals, street vendors, and small cafes that you imagine when you think of Europe.
We strolled the length of several major streets and ended up at the Cattedrale, one of the largest and most bizarre cathedrals in Europe. The original structure was an Islamic church, built during the Norman era, and was expanded on by each conquering civilization and during each architectural era. So in one glimpse you can see Islamic domes, Gothic spires, Baroque arches…it’s very bizarre.
More mixed architecture can be found in churches across Palermo, but our favorite were the adjoining churches of San Cataldo, a 12th century church converted from a mosque, and La Martorana, a Baroque chapel full of spectacular mosaics.
You can see the Arabic-looking architecture on the church on the right, and the traditional Gothic architecture on the church on the left. Martorana is a popular place for weddings, and both days we visited there were people getting married there. It was amazing to watch these traditional wedding ceremonies in the mosaic-filled church.
We stopped in at an internet cafe before heading home to check the status of our flights. Everything looked okay, and as I was assembling my things to leave, I forgot to pick up my camera. I didn’t realize until we were back at Angela’s, a good half-hour train ride and walk from the city. By that time the trains had stopped running, it was pouring again, and I resigned myself to the fact that I had lost all my Sicily photos and would have to get another camera when I got back.
Our final two days in Sicily were even more exciting (we explored secret castles!), but you’ll have to wait another few days to hear about them!
…. Addendum added years later…
Here are a few more pics from our remaining days in Sicily: