|History of Sicily:
Steeped in history, Sicily possesses
an extraordinary range of art, archaeology, culture and folklore.
Its mountains, volcanoes, islands, health spas, beaches, climate,
cuisine, wine and hospitality combine to make Sicily the ideal
tourist destination. Lying in a strategic position between Europe
and Arica, Sicily, melting pot of the ancient world, was touched
by every Mediterranean culture, first the Greeks and the Romans,
then the Arabs and Normans, and finally, the French, Spanish
and Italians. Traces of this long history are evident today in
the broad range of art and architecture including two of the
best-preserved Greek temples in the world, as well as in the
variety among Sicilians themselves, who range from blonde and
blue-eyed descendants of the Normans to dark-eyed olive-skin
Palermo, the capital of Sicily,
is a crossroad of civilization, reflecting the diverse cultures
that have passed by here over the past 2,000 years. Among the
many architectural treasures is the Palatine Chapel, built by
Roger II in 1132. It reflects all of the artistic elements that
came together under the Norman, French, Sicilian, Arabic and
About 50 miles southwest of Palermo
is Segesta, site of one of the finest examples of Doric architecture
left standing. Approximately 118 miles west of Segesta and up
2,450 feet is Erice, a medieval mountaintop town of castles,
palaces and cobblestone streets, which offers striking views
of Trapani, the Egadi Islands, and even the Tunisian coast on
a clear day.
Trapani is the departure point
for the ferries to the Egadi Islands and the island of Patelleria,
near the African coast. South of Trapani is Marsala, a small
seaside town, famous for its sweet wine. Continuing southwest
is Selinunte, the site of Greek temples high on a plateau overlooking
the Mediterranean. Originally, there were seven temples, of which
only one still stands.
About another 60 miles farther
east are the temples of Agrigento. Settled by the Greeks in 580
BC, the city survived attacks from the Carthaginians at the end
of the 5th century BC, the Roman era, the Middle Ages under Arab
and Norman rule and into the modern age. Its most astounding
feature, though, is the Valley of the Temples, five temples built
beginning in the 5th century BC.
Along the way to Siracusa, Ragusa
reveals fine Baroque architecture and lends itself to beautiful
walks in the old city. Siracusa, at the southwest end of the
island was founded in 734 BC by Greek colonists from Corinth,
and the city became a rival of Athens and the largest, wealthiest
city-state in Magna Grecia. Today, the Archaeological Park contains
the ruins of a Roman amphitheater and the most complete Greek
theater existing from antiquity.
To the east lies Sicily's second
city, Catania, with its superb views of Mt. Etna. On the other
side of Mt. Etna is the medieval mountaintop town of Taormina
with its spectacular views and Greek theater, first built during
the 3rd century BC and today the site of summer arts festivals.
Messina, a modern city, was rebuilt after being destroyed by
an earthquake in 1908 and heavy damage during World War II.
Off the northeast coast lies
seven beautiful volcanic islands the largest of which is Lipari.
The Aeolian Islands, reached by hydrofoil from Messina, Palermo
and Milazzo, are ideal for snorkeling or scuba diving.
For a trip inland from Palermo,
pass through Caltanessetta to Enna, a fortress city of narrow
winding streets with an impressive castle built by Frederick
Carnivals and Fiestas in Sicily
Sicily is not only a land of
history, it is a land of spectacle. Almost every day of the year,
a village somewhere will be celebrating a religious of traditional
festival. Many of these festivals have been enacted for hundreds
of years, often in elaborate style complete with costumes, life-sized
puppets, waving flags and music. The whole town turns into one
huge festivity as everyone participates.