Entries tagged with “travel notes in Sicily”.

Located on the southeastern shore of Sicily, Syracuse is one of the most famous locations on the island. It offers a variety of objectives, some of them extremely interesting, some other a little bit over-rated, but all together they make of the city a mandatory stop even in a rather short stay. The older and the more interesting part of the city lays on the Ortigia island and the way it is accessed reminded me a little bit the entrance and the access to Venice, although most of the parallels stop here.



The first objective after crossing the long road and one of the two access bridges to the island is the Temple of Apollo. The ruins may not look extremely impressive today compared to other similar objectives that I have seen in Greece, Rome and even Sicily, but one must take into account that this is the oldest Doric temple in Sicily and some say in the whole world, built in the 6th century BC.



Our next stop was in Piazza Archimede which bears the name of the most famous character of the Greek antiquity whose death is located by history and legend on the beaches around. In the center of the square we could see the beautiful Fountain of Diana created in 1906 by Giulio Moschetti. The Greek goddess turned the nymph Arethusa into a spring to save her from a malevolent pursuer. More later.



The Duomo ws for me by far the most impressive monument in the city. The strong impression starts with the baroque facade created in the 18th century by Andrea Palma.



It is only when you enter inside the Duomo that you feel the power and the uniqueness of the place. The current structure remained largely the same since the 7th century, when it recycled a Temple of Athens. Six columns on one side and fourteen columns on the other side from the previous Doric buildings are incorporated in the walls of the current church.



There is more beauty inside this church – for example the spiral-shaped decorated columns.



The patron saint of the city is Santa Lucia, patron of the blinds and many churches and works of art are dedicated to her. Another church in the town hosts a masterpiece of Caravaggio representing her burial, which unfortunately I did not get to see. In the Duomo we can find however several statues of Santa Lucia, some of them are taken out in processions on her day, December 13.



A series of beautiful (and beautifully conseved) stastues belong to the Gagini brothers, contemporary of Michelangelo. The Madonna of the Snow above, dated 1512 is by Antonello Gagini.



We exited the Duomo and wondered through the narrow streets typical to Italian cities that kept something close to the historical design to the Jewish Quarter, in search of memories of Jewish life. There has been a Jewish presence in the city since the fall of the Second Temple in AD 70 until the expulsion of Jews in 1492. Rabbi Akiva, “Rosh la-Chachamim” (Head of all the Sages) visited here. As in Spain after the catastrophe of 1492 some Jews chose to stay, convert, and leave a clandestine Jewish life. It is even said that pizza was invented by Jews, it was probably not a peperoni one though :-)   The most famous objective is the Miqveh dating from the Byzantine period but its state and the way it is exposed and presented (fixed and spare hours, unfriendly personal, unprofessional guide, an amateurish museum and no photos allowed) make me not to recommend the place.



We walked along the shore, it was quite windy, and we could only imagine that one of the beaches around was the one where Archimedes defended his circles. The Maniace Castle built in the 13th during the Byzantine rule is another objective that we did not get to visit, and we did not even get closer to the lighthouse!



A Pascal banner in Romanian and Italian on one of the buildings signalize that some of the estimated one million of Romanian living today in Italy settled and work here. As it was October we could not decide if this was for the previous Easter six months before or for the upcoming Easter six months later :-)



At the end of the visit that day we reached the spring and Fountain of Arthusa, the very place where Diana exercised the goddess power.



That day we did not get to see the archeological park which is located on the main island, as we arrived a few minutes after the ticket office closed although the park staid open for almost another hour. So we returned in the last full day of our stay in Sicily on purpose to see this place three-stared by the Michelin guide. Two of the places in the park are remarkable. The Greek Theater started to be carved in the rock of the hill in the 5th century BC and is the largest in Sicily and one of the largest in the Ancient Greek world.



The Ear of Dyonisios is a fascinating cave part created by stone excavations made in the ancient times. Its shape creates acoustics that are said to have helped the tyrant Denys to spy upon his people. The name of the place was given by no other than Caravaggio.

There are a few more places that we did not get to see. I already mentioned the Santa Lucia church with the painting by Caravaggio and the castle. Add to this the art museum which was closed on the first day we were there (a Monday) and the impressive modern sanctuary of Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of Tears). The Michelin guide was right again recommending two-three days to know and appreciate Syracuse.






The permanent rush and lack of time obliged me to abandon in the middle the writing of the travel notes cycles. I did not have time to continue the notes about my trip as Tourist in Romania made in October 2010, and I also left aside a lot of photos and memories from our trips to Sicily and Taiwan last fall. I will try to pick them one by one, time allowing, and I hope to do it before I forget everything.


source http://www.progettopalermo.com/2010/09/duomo-di-monreale.html


Mount Etna put aside there are two places which make by themselves worth a journey to Sicily. I already wrote about the Valley of the Temples, time has come to write about the Duomo in Monreale. Located on a hill near Palermo, this is one of the most impressive and original monuments of religious art and architecture in the Mediterranean area. Beware about the ten minutes walk from the cars parking to the top of the hill, via a tourist market.



The actual church started to be raised in the second half of the 12th century, during the rule of the Norman king William II. The construction lasted only eleven years, but the internal decoration continued for tens of years and the style of the building and the decoration are witness to the crossword location of Sicily during that period, a place where Western Christianity met and fought the political, military and cultural influences of the Arab and Eastern Christianity (byzantine) civilizations. The result is a wonder of fusion between the Normand, Arab and Byzantine styles of a richness and beauty that equals the most significant monuments from the same period in Spain for example.




The huge mosaic portrait of Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) dominates the apse, and this kind of huge portraits is typical for the Sicilian churches from that period (we were to see it later in the day at the church in Cefalu). Golden yellow is the dominant color, with an amazing brightness, freshness and monumental expressiveness.



The fine lines of the pillars combine the Greek structure which was probably inspired by the artisans of the time by the remains of the Greek temples on the island and the mosaics on the arches which have a visible imprint of the Islamic art.



To me however the most striking impression was the one of the mosaics in the whole church, and especially in the nave, where are depicted scenes from the Old Testament. Above are Adam and Eve for example. The mosaics were created by artists from Venice, and their size is second only to the Hagia Sophia.



Another episode from the Bible above – Sodom and Gomorrah. The composition in registries and the iconography closer to the Eastern Ortodox style remind painted walls of the the monasteries in Bucovina, in Northern Romania.



The combination of arches and mosaics bring together elements of Western church architecture, Eastern church iconography, and Arab style ornamentation.



Here is what looks like Magen David (Star of David) motif on the decoration of the walls, not necessarily a Jewish element, as the geometric form is widely used also as an Arabic decoration pattern.



Here is a photo of the remarkable decoration of the marble floors.


source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monreale_Cloitre1.jpg


Unfortunately the time we spent in the cathedral was quite short, and the guide did not allow for time to visit the cloisters or admire the view from the terraces which is said to be magnificent. This is certainly a place that a few hours for visiting, but we were under the constraints of a guided tour. As the tour also skipped the most important monument in Palermo itself – the Palatine Chapel, we have a good reason to be back there sometime.

There are two historical and cultural objectives in Sicily that are an absolute must, places for which one must travel to Sicily, and if he is already on the island must not leave it without visiting them. I will write and post some pictures now about the first of them which is Valle dei Templi (Temples Valley), an archeological site located near the city of Agrigento in the South part of the island. The name of ‘valley’ is quite misleading, as we are talking actually about a thread of seven Greek temples located most of them on the top of a hill long of about two kilometers. This may be the most outstanding monument of the Greek antiquity after the Acropolis in Athens, and in any case the most fascinating of all I have had the luck to ever visit.



We entered through the Western gate, so the first temple that appeared to us was the Temple of Hera Lacinia (goddess protecting marriage and birth-giving). It was built in the 5th century BC and set to fire by the Carthaginians in 406BC. What is left today is the structure of columns (13 in length, 6 on width) which profiles an elegant silhouette visible from far away.


Tempio di Hera Lacinia


The big prize for anybody who visited Valle dei Templi during most of 2011 was the fact that the archeological site hosted an open air exhibition of the Polish monumental sculptor  Igor Mitoraj. His style and themes combine the classical techniques of sculpture with surrealistic influences, and the abrupt cuts and edges of his works suggest the work of time. They were a perfect complement of the ancient Greek ruins in the valley and as you will see in some of the following photos, the terrain looked in that sunny afternoon as a playground of the gods.




If you are to pick a time of the day for the visit late afternoon is probably the best bet. During summer it will spare you of some of the heat that must be scorching the whole area, especially as there is no place to hide from the Sun on the top of the hills. Later in the year (like in October when we visited) the sweetness of the sun in the final hours of the day envelops the area and the ruins seem to radiate warmness from within.


paleo-christian necropole


Another combination of art and antiquities that seem to belong to the imaginary spaces created by Dali or de Chirico. Entries to tombs in the necropolis dating from the late Roman and early-medieval era, identified as paleo-christian are flanked by two of the works of Mitoraj.




Tempio della Concordia


The Temple of Concordia is the best kept structure of the whole complex. The reason is that when Christianity became the official religion in the Roman empire (in the 4th century CE) it was transformed into a church. This led to works of maintenance and stegthening of the building to be conducted, but also for some of the characteristics of the original design (like the ‘pagan’ altar) to be removed or changed.




Another two of the Fascinating works of Mitoraj. The works are complex and there are are many details hidden by the larger structures (do you remember Dali’s drawers?) that become visible when you get near and walk around the works, but it is the game of forms and dimensions, of human and human-made forms that stays in memory.


villa Aurea


Villa Aurea is the place built by sir Alexander Hardcastle, one of the two personalities whose contributions were key in bringing out of the earth the monuments in the Temples Valley and pushing them into the cultural patrimony and later into the touristic circuits. Hardcastle, barely remembered today (the English version of wikipedia does not even have an entry for him) settled here in 1921 and between this time and 1933 brought an important contribution to the archeological discoveries and the recovery of the monuments which were still part covered under the hills. He followed in the tracks of Domenico Lo Faso Piertrasanta, who started the excavation and archeological works in the valley during the Napoleonic era.


Tempio di Zeus Olimpico


The end of the itinerary on descends at the Eastern edge of the hill towards the remains of the Temple of Zeus Olimpico. Built in 480BC to celebrate the victory over the Carthaginians and the taking back of Sicily by the Greeks, it was the largest of all in the complex. Little remains today of the original structure, but some of the huge pieces of statues or columns give a hit on the dimensions of the monument. Just a few pieces are left here of the toys of the Giant Gods.


(video source SicilyTravelNet)


I found on youTube a short film made at the installation of the exhibits of Igor Mitoraj – it will give you an idea about the dimensions and the immense skill of the sculptor whose works danced with the forms and shades of the ancient Greek Temples for almost the whole duration of the last year.