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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Marsala. Wine; Grape Harvests

Marsala, Sicily. Wine. Sculpture, Donkey and Women

Marsala. See history at Marsala has been made here since 1881, thanks to Giuseppe Lombardi and his family who continues the tradition.


And the wine. Excellent.

Grapevines, Sicily

The grape vines are so old that they are much taller than an ordinary-height person.

Here is a recipe for chicken marsala - among many -

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Enna, Randazzo. Interior Mountain Towns

Mountain towns. Enna. The interior of Sicily is rugged but greener than we expected. We stopped at this view of Enna on the looping-back road, and there was the call to prayer from a city mosque.

Enna, Sicily, view.

The cities are large.

See Enna's history at Here are people of different religions ultimately accommodating and living together for centuries.

Enna, Sicily, approach

Randazzo, view of valley

The Greeks were there at least by 700 B.C., and it was an already populated area.

Randazzo: There is a good interactive website for Sicily cities, including Randazzo, at It was the last Nazi stronghold in WWII. There are still the bullet holes in the buildings in the old town, no repairs. Do an "images" search for Randazzo, and see the battle scars.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Piazza Armerina, Roman Villa, Villa Romana del Casale

Bikini girls mosaic, Roman Villa, Sicily - Villa Romana del Casale

Villa Romana del Casale. This is a Roman villa, so far off the usual track, that it is well preserved. The mosaic wall here depicts athletic girls (informally known as the "bikini girls" there).

The Villa is about 3 miles southwest of Piazza Armerina, in the interior. See
See a videeo at
This area is thought to be the large estate - public and private halls and facilities - that belonged to Diocletian's co-emperor, Maximianus Herculeus in late 3d and early 4th centuries AD.  For overview, see the mosaic and site photos at; and at  Fine floor and wall mosaics survive.  The sanitary conditions were unexpectedly functional. A water course had been diverted to serve the W.C.   There is a rather large communal seating area in 3 sides of a square with a rectangular slot (unisex) so gravity would work, with running water below and out. Excellent. Servant-slaves were nearby with sticks on which cotton or other batting material did the job, we were told.

Rome:  a remarkably intact Roman villa of similar wealth and size has been found at the Domus Valeriorum, a grand home in Rome. It was uncovered during excavation for construction at the Addolorata Hospital, with ancient frescoes, mosaics , niches, and designs very lavish, and looking very much like this Romana del Casale.  See
The mosaic room in our photo is known as the Bikini Girls. 
Rome's architecture is widespread of course outside Rome, but always comes as a magnificent surprise. For the retirement palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian himself, see Croatia Roadways, Split post. Diocletian was from the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mount Etna, Two Weeks After Eruption. Summit, Hotel

Mount Etna, Sicily; summit two weeks after eruption

Mount Etna. Drive all the way up, even a few weeks after a major eruption. The roads had been cleared, with freshly dark lava piles along the side.  Thread your way through.  The side poles mark the road so the lava plows know where to go.

There were only 20 of us or so in the entire hotel.  It is a comfortable, but not glitzy, facility. Fitting for the place where focus is on the volcano and not tourism.

Mount Etna, Sicily, police evacuation van at summit

Wherever we have gone, we find reasonable safety provisions for the unexpected.  Here, if we wanted to stay at the newly opened hotel, see, we had to agree that in case of seismic activity setting off alarms, we would leave our car and go down with only what we could carry, in the police van.

The police and their van stayed overnight at the hotel at the top. In case of disturbance, we would leave the car and go down with them, so we did not unpack.

Mount Etna, Sicily, seismology center, summit

Mt. Etna, Sicily, lava fields 

There is an extensive seismological center there, keeping tabs, and the views are panoramic. We enjoyed ourselves and enjoyed fine food.

All was dried lava and there were substantially smoking crevices and craters. The lava had stopped just before it reached the hotel. Before leaving for Italy, we had been watching the eruptions from the US on TV. See an overview of Etna (Aetna) and Man at "//

Mt. Etna, Sicily, lava piles at roadside

Getting back to normal:  There are high walls of lava clumps after the roads are cleared. They settle with time. Very porous.  We have one as a paperweight. Not very weighty.

Dust also wears them down, and all seems to fertilize the hillsides once the heat-lava damage is over.

Learn how to manufacture a building material from lava magma here:

What is lava like? Think pumice. Lava rock has been a building material for centuries. See

There is a digital object identifier link at that site. This would be an excellent geo-tourism site because of the geological sites and attractions. See book "Geotourism" by Ross Dowling at this site:

Cefalu, Fishing Village, Resort, Sicily

Cefalu, Sicily, waterfront


Taking the coast road back to Palermo, from the Mt. Etna region. Fishing village, beautiful cathedral, resort.


Cefalu, coastal view, Sicily


Cefalu, Sicily, rock cliff

See; and Pre-Greek settlements, Greek and Phoenician and Roman populations. Then Muslim, then in 11th Century, the Normans took it. See

Here is the Cathedral-

Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sicily, Mr. Aetna, agriculture, roadside views

The lava results in enriched farm areas even away from the immediate mountainside.

Sicily, agricultural flatlands

Prickly pear, cactus. A single touch leaves a finger that gets increasingly sore. Tiny bits of shard.
Sicily, old olive trees. Mt. Aetna in background

Even the prickly pear - do not touch - they jump right in and stick. Just steer clear.


Zis, Phoenician Ruins, near Palermo

Zis, Sicily, Phoenician town ruins

Phoenicians. Founded Palermo, say 800 B.C. See One early name was Zis. Ruins remain on a high, dry hill above a nearby harbor at another now-inlet, around the bend from where Palermo has its harbor. See Phoenicians at

Sicily, Phoenician town ruins near Palermo

At least the road sign identified this as an ancient Phoenician site, but other websites only a settlement at Motya, more toward Marsala. Others mention a necropolis near Syracusa. We enjoyed this one, near Palermo. Sometimes stop just for a long walk, exercise, thinking. Not necessarily because of striking beauty. Go solitary.

Winding back to Palermo on the coast road, just past the ancient ruins ground, said to be Phoenician. Off to the Palermo ferry.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mondello Beach, near Palermo

Mondello Beach, near Palermo, Sicily

Mondello Beach, near Palermo. With a few hours before the ferry leaves back for Naples, see this vacation-weekend resort town.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Itinerary after the Fact. Road map.


Sicily was 5 days of an overall two-week drive and ferry trip in Italy. We took the ferry from Naples to Palermo, with the car, drove around the north, western and southwestern and central areas and back to Palermo.

Palermo, Monreale, Erice, Trapani, Marsala, Selinunte, Eraceq, Valley of the Temples, Gele, Piazza Armerina and the Villa Romana del Casale, Enna, to the top of Mount Etna for the night (hotel there just opened after latest eruption), Randazzo, Bagheria, and Palermo.