Sunday, June 03, 2012

Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana del Casale

Villa Romana del Casale
This fine villa, built either by Maxentius, Roman emperor 306-312 CE, or perhaps his son, is featured in an Ancient Life article in Archeology Odyssey magazine from some time ago, Premier Issue 1998 at page 72, see  The pity is the restriction to access archives -- how many of us are not about to join something else just for a look, and instead trust to the serendipitous finding of an issue or two.  Another article is in March/April 2003 at pp.28 ff -- beautiful illustrations of these mosaics, "the most extensive collection of mosaics to have survived the destruction of the empire."  Featured in the article, entitled Ferocious Elegance:  The Cyclops, floor of the Vestibule of polyphemus, the "bikini girls" as shown here, a photograph of the villa itself, and the Room of the Small Hunt, and Corridor of the Great Hunt. These are realistic action depictions, not merely fluff to entertain. Need access to archives, magazine people.

The information includes:  area of mosaics?  38,000 square feet.  Since the stones come from North Africa, it looks like skilled North African craftsmen were involved.  Names of the rooms include the frigidaria, the cold baths.  It is there that the bikini girls mosaic is found, in two rows.  There is a handball game or exercise going on, and also the giving of prizes.

Since the other mosaics show daily life, such as the more familiar hunting scenes, dining, massages after the meal ("post-prandial" -- before the meal would be preprandial -- either way, nice idea), the women being athletic shows their regular fitness and competitions.

The kind of Roman latrine shown at Romana del Casale is common for Romans, see Archeology Odyssey May-June 2004 at p.53, article, Roman Latrines, How the Ancients Did Their Business, by Ann Olda Koloski-Ostro, illustrating facing lines of boards with holes and openways, a water channel at the sitter's feet for dunking the sponge on the stick used for cleanliness. And windows for good ventilation. A stone bowl, deep, holds all the sticked sponges, handles up, for repeated use.  This arrangement is also apparently at Ephesus, more multi-seating facilities.  Yet writings of the time reflect a coarser approach, dumping the equivalent of chamber pots out on the street, so more is to be learned.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Foodie inspiration, Sicily Spaghetti - No Can Do

No-can pasta sauce in Italy and Sicily -- legendary.  But in the absence of a trip, do your own this lazy way, producing two sauces for the same meal.
Sauce 1. Small roasting pan:  3 onions chopped roughly, 5 tomatoes, oregano, basil sprigs, thyme, garlic or scapes. Add 1/4 cup olive oil.  Roast at 350 for 45 min. Add 1/4 cup broth of some sort, O'Doul's beer, wine, coke, whatever.  Mash and cook and add liquid until texture you like.
Sauce 2. Meanwhile, peel and slice in 1/4 or so slices, eggplant. Sprinkle with salt, let sweat 15 min. and drain on paper towel if supserstitious. Otherwise skip. Put 1/4 cup olive oil in tagine, put in slices, cover, cook stove top 15 min. Add 1/4 cup broth, O'Doul's, wine, beer anything. Cook away. Add garlic any time.

Keep a can or organic crushed tomatoes handy.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trapani - Roman Naval Victory over Carthage. Battle of the Egadi Islands

Battle of the Egadi Islands, Off Trapani
Victory Made Possible
By Tapping the Resources of Rome's 200 Richest. Rome's 1 percent?
The need for pressuring the wealthy for more. In 242 BC, after some 20 years of warfare, Hannibal's father (one Hamilcar Barca) was the General from Carthage who finally was pinned down by Roman forces on a road above Drepana, near Trapani. Send for help. But in the meantime, Rome mustered a fleet to cut them off.  The place of confrontation was the Egadi Islands, a few miles off the coast there.  There were hundreds of ships and thousands of men, say accounts of the Greek hstorian Polybius. That could be exaggerated, but makes the point:  this was important.

Rome's ships, under the commander Lutatius, included the "quinquiremines" -- fast ramming ships, with oarsmen, trained troops, and fast because they carried no extra stores. Carthage had heavy-laden ships and inexperienced -- there for an emergency only, hastily mustered.  The weather was bad, but Lutatius gambled that his best chance lay in attacking while Carthage was disadvantaged. Perhaps Lutatius struck by ambush at sea.

 And the Roman ships were fitted with rams: triple-stacked blades, shaped like an arrow head rather than a blunt ram,  two feet wide, that rode just under the waterline, to splinter planks on enemy vessels and cripple them, while preserving the integrity of the Roman ship.

The town of Trapani launches ferries today to the islands, and undersea explorers continue to bring up barnacled rams, helmets, pottery storage amphorae for carrying oils and wine. Without the rams, this could be seen as just another site of many ship sinkings;  the rams mean war.  The damage from impact seen on them shows the violence of that impact.

How to pay for them? One practice: the Romans "pressed Rome's 200 richest families to sponsor warships."  See Archeology Magazine, January-February 2012, The Weapon that Changed History, Evidence of Rome's Decisive Victory over Carthage is Discovered in the Waters off Sicily, by Andrew Curry, at

Triremes, quadriremes, quinqueremes, penteconters, the Roman victory over Carthage was not only a victory of design and training, unencumbered by vast stores on board; but also the tactic re-emerging today.  Is this Rome's  percent?  Who can research that?  The 200 richest tapped for funds. Galleys needed rams. Where else to go.

 When you need to tap the richest to accomplish important societal goals, do it.  Rome found the money in the coffers of Rome's richest to pay for it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ionian Riviera - Sicily's northern coast

This is a scenic resort-oriented drive when you find there is no room on the car-ferry from Catania back to Naples; so you amble back to Palermo.We do not make reservations for sites in advance because we have no idea how much time we will want to spend somewhere.  We would have stayed longer in Sicily, to see Taormina and more of Catania, but had the flight home to be concerned about, from Rome.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Naples: Ferry to Sicily. Auto, and Sleeper Cabin.

Ferry, Naples to Palermo, auto and cabin

Take the Naples overnight ferry to Palermo. Take the car with you. There are sleeper cabins. On at 6 or 7 in the evening, there by 8 in the morning or so.

Make reservations because of increased interest in ferrying cars, but you may find that internet reservations may not get processed. Get there in advance, just in case. We tried to reserve a place on the internet, but there was no record at the dock. We got on line and did get on, but it was dicey.

Naples, cafe at the docks, waiting for the ferry to Sicily
Here we are waiting, with refreshments, in a cafe near the docks.

Return trip: We had wanted to leave from Messina, but that ferry was full, so we went back the beautiful resort-coast road to Palermo again. That completed a rough circle around Sicily, omitting the lovely Syracusa area for lack of time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Palermo: A Resource for a Quick Tour. New York Times.

Palermo - "36 Hours" - The New York Times feature. For clipping and taking:

July 27, 2008, page 9, New York Times. Do check the "36 Hours" series, this one on Palermo, for any major city - with luck, there will be a feature. You will find a handy map of the city, with the usual numbered bullets showing where the places are, and a fine series of paragraphs according to time and location. Start at 9, for example, after breakfast, at this place, and follow through the entire 36 hours - restaurants, culture, sights, night spots.  Tourist resource.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Palermo: Cathedral, Gate, Baroque, Swabians, Santa Rosalia

Palermo, Sicily. Cathedral

Palermo. Its Cathedral shows Norman and Byzantine influences. See

Palermo, Sicily. Gate to City
The the old gate to the city.

US troops entered Palermo with tanks in 1943. See "images" search for Palermo in WWII. Also see the spectacular photos of Palermo and other cities at this website:

Baroque architecture, Sicily

The mix of buildings, showing the crossroads of cultures through the centuries. Plain, fancy, religious, folk. There are also ruins remaining from World War II.

Migrating and invading groups. We found out later that Normans ruled here, this was a stopping point for Crusades; and then Swabians (Germany) took over.

Swabians:  They came to an ignominious turn in the road in literature. The Brothers Grimm made fun of Swabians in their fairy tale, The Seven Swabians.

The hapless doltish seven had a great spear made and all seven were to carry it forward, with the predictable consequence that a misperception by one in the front, or the back, caused a wide swing of the spear, and disaster -- a single frog ending up conquering them all see :// - see Schwabisch Hall at Germany Road Ways. A fine town, very large buildings, and why should they be so scoffed.

Market area, Palermo - news 5/20/07. New York Times "Journeys" article, on Sicily. Fine write-up on the vibrant life of Palermo's fading market area, the Vucciria. Fishermen at Piaza Caracciolo, other vendors in other locations for fruit, vegetables, every day but Sunday.

The article notes the view that development is squeezing out the older areas and their buildings, mostly bombed, and that there had been an anti-Mafia mayor, Leoluca Orlando, who kept the money-making razers in check. Now he is gone.

More from the article: There is also artichoke wine there - good for digestion, apparently. We missed that. We did hear the vendors calling out their products, another disappearing custom. We also missed an indoor "farm" in an old theater - feed the piglets. Look for it. Teatro Vittorio, in the middle of the Vucciria. We will next time. Now that we know.

Santuario Santa Rosalia.  We saw the Santuario Santa Rosalia, the church in the cave, at Monte Pellegrino,  see  She is said to have saved Palermo from the Black Plague. She started living an ascetic life here in 1159; but it was in 1624 that she appeared to a lost hunter above the Bay of Palermo, and in a vision said to him to tell the city officials about the cave.  They came, and found her remains, and they are still at the cave church, and the city miraculously was spared from the Black Plague of the time. See ://

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Fair use thumbnail of the cave entrance from wikimedia/commons. This is an active place of worship, relics of the saints to whom a place is dedicated are always of interest, and saints' bodies that do not rot; but we are uncomfortable intruding on their customs and taking flash pictures there.

We opted out of the Capuchin Catacombs at Palermo, with the skeletons. We do see skeletons and parts of in many churches, as relics, or in ossuaries for the dead from the Plague or the Thirty Years' War, as in Kudowa in Poland, see Poland Road Ways; or near Hradec Kralove in a church ossuary, Czech Road Ways.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monreale - Cathedral, Normans, Crusades

Monreale Cathedral, Sicily

Monreale. Royal mountain.

This lovely town in high hills is west of Palermo, with beautiful Norman cathedral, see ://  Duomo di Palermo.

Monreale, some 10 km away, has a resemblance to this.

The Normans were in Sicily for hundreds of years, largely as a result of the Crusades and the need for stopping points. This Cathedral was built in the 12th Century. See the history of Monreale at; and the lovely photo at www.,s636.

The mosaics here cover the entire interior with Biblical stories - our favorite was the Noah sequence. See more on the Monreale mosaics at

Lunch at cafe overlooking valley. Here is a scene from the general area.

Monreale, Sicily, view

Photogenic quiet family nearby, getting A-1 service from everyone, beautiful daughter about 14, elegant wife,. Movie-looking rough-faced husband. Imagine Corleones.

Then they got up, and the father had on below-the-knee pants. Clamdiggers.

Never trust first impressions, but a first impression can be more fun.

If this Cathedral is the Cathedral in Palermo instead, let us know. Our Palermo picture looks so much different that we believe this is Monreale.

Other people mix Cathedrals up also. Go to Images, search for Monreale Cathedral Sicily, and you will find identical photos on the second page up (#22-44 or so), one labeled Catania, the other Palermo. Both Cathedrals, but can't be both. I say it is Palermo, from our photo. See post in this blog. Examine the silhouettes, the towers.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Trapani and Erice, Sicily. Coastal promontories

Erice and Trapani. Two different towns, different functions, but closely tied.  Erice is the hilltop defense area.  Trapani is the exposed port.

Sicily has Odyssean connections: Homer's Odyssey, Books X, see; and XI.  Here lived the giant cannibals, known as the Laistrygonians.  When Odysseus landed during his voyage from Troy, they attacked him and his crew, and destroyed 11 of Odysseus' ships by hurling stones at them.  Only Odysseus and his crew escaped. See Archeology Odyssey September-October 2000 at p.70, article, "The Long Voyage Home".  

1.  Promontories and Identification by Shapes and Trees.

 Trapani.  As seen from Erice, the refuge town up the mountainside. Or is it?

We must be wrong here, because Images shows Trapani with its beaches going the other way - ours is an opening parenthesis; theirs is a closing parenthesis. And the promontories are a little different.  Is ours Mondello Beach near Palermo instead?  See a similar view that is Mondello Beach, near Palermo,
from www://

Trapani and its beaches, from Erice up the mountain. Fair use thumbnail from
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It is difficult to tell one from the other when the main difference is the view upwind or downwind.  Images on websites conflict, as though other tourists had the same problem.

The thumbnails with the closed parenthesis shape must be Trapani, however, seen from Erice, because this thumbnail shows the promontory actually from Erice, up the mountain.  This thumbnail fair use from ://  Or is this promontory too pointy at the top?
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This fair use thumbnail from
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2.  Erice. 

Erice is a cliff-top town on a mountaintop at the western coast. See Erice was the son of Venus and Neptune, and he is said to have founded the city 3000 years ago.  See ://   Trojans after their disastrous war landed in Sicily and founded both Erice and Segesta, says the site.  There is also a fine little map of the area, so you can find it easily. It looks like views from Erice go either up this way of the parenthesis or down that way, so maybe we are right at the top after all.

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Thumbnail of Erice - from ://

That looks like ours, but then we had second thoughts because ours looks so much larger.  Is this Enna? We put it there as well, and just are not sure

.  Choices on trips:  making exact notes and disrupting everything as you go, or sit in the evening and reconstruct where we were, and what pictures we took.  Or, as happens, do catch-up because it is just too much fun going around and snapping.

Erice is a must-see. Steep road snakes up, but buses do navigate it. Once there, see the vistas down to the coast and saltpan areas below. Tiny, cobblestone streets, patterns in the stone. See this biker on one at

Cars possible, but just barely. We should not have gone so far in to the old town.  We had no accidents, but the streets are too narrow for comfort. Be careful of the strict parking rules - check at your hotel where exactly you can park, and note the time when your car has to be moved. On a return, we would leave the car in main tourist area - drive around a little at first, then retreat and park.  Always a concern for break-ins, but so far we have been lucky.

Trapani's saltpans produce elegant salts that sell fancy for holidays here. See opportunities to buy holiday salt - example,

2.  Trapani's Religious procession. Icons.

We Found a lovely old church in the old town, with the life-size painted wooden statues and figures carried aloft in religious processions.

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Fair use thumbnail from :// The figures in the processions date from the 17th and 18th centuries. See If you tried to find this particular little church, to see its fine old wooden figures, you would get lost. We were lost, and just stopped the car to get a walk, and there it was.

See Youtube videos of  the Easter procession, I Misteri, at ://

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This is the lovesicily site, fair use thumbnail.

The second video at the site has clearer sound, and is more moving with the color, dirge-like swaying of the porters with the heavy poles on their shoulders, and statues aloft, and vistas. Here is one from 2007, not nearly so dramatic, and too short. At ://

Friday, May 25, 2007

Agrigento - Selinunte - Segesta - Greek Temples


Greek temple sites in Sicily. They are in better shape than those in Greece, because the Greek areas were subject to more battles through the centuries, with the famous Parthenon in Athens even being used as an ammunition storage facility, thus a target in itself.  These in Sicily were off the later-tracks.  Greeks colonized the island starting in 800B.C. See

The temples are well preserved, despite battles that were waged in Hannibal's time (200-300 B.C., plus or minus).

Greek Temple, Agrigento, Sicily.

Sicily was the original ruler of Carthage, as its province;  but Sicily was forced to give it to Rome after Hannibal's defeat in the Punic Wars.

Agrigento, Sicily, Greek Temple,set up for light and sound show


Hannibal was a young boy at the time that Sicily went to Rome. See Hannibal's biography at; and

Try to time your visit to one of the Light and Sound shows. We missed this one because we were there in the very early afternoon, and were not ready to stop.

Agrigento, Sicily, view of sea through Greek temple columns
Especially beautiful are the ruins on the coast, with the Mediterranean Sea beyond. The hilltop temple served also as a beacon to the seafarers, and a direction finder for those on the land.

Selinunte, Sicily. Greek Temple

Selinunte - like the temples at Agrigento - the Selinunte temple is in better condition than many in Greece, including the Parthenon, now undergoing so much renovation. See Greece Road Ways.  Segesta also has temple ruins.

Our hotel room looked out on a temple lit up at night. See, and temples at Agrigento at

Sicily has many Greek sites. Go to the home page first, and use the later address indications if needed.