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Through the Centre of Sicily to the East Coast

Enna and Villa Casale

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Viev from Enna over central Sicily with Calascibetta

Enna and Calascibetta

These are two examples of the typical villages and towns in the mountainous central Sicily. Former centuries built their settlements on top of steep rocky hills for purposes of security and defence.

We had a quick stop during the bus transfer from Agrigento to the east coast in Enna. The bus drove us up, for which we were glad. We just had time for a walk through the town to the viewpoint. From the terrace on top of the steep cliff we had a wide view of the surrounding landscape over to the neighbouring smaller town of Calascibetta, located on a steep hilltop just like Enna.

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Enna is the geographical centre of the island, nicknamed the Navel of Sicily, and the seat of the provincial administration. The town has several interesting historical buildings and is crowned by a castle.Palazzo Chiaramonte belonged to one of Sicily’s most important noble families in the late middle ages. I would have liked to see more of the town.

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The "Bikini Girls" of Villa Casale

Piazza Armerina: The Mosaics of Villa Casale

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Villa Casale is an ancient Roman villa urbana from the 4th century A.D. near the small town of Piazza Armerina in central Sicily. The luxurious villa must have belonged to an important, very rich and very influential personality – researchers are still not sure about the identity of the owner. It must have been someone who could afford hiring the best artists and craftsmen and who had knowledge and taste.

The archaeological site is most famous for the mosaics of the floors. Each floor is devoted to a particular topic. The elaborate pictures show scenes from the daily lives and the festivities of a well-to-do society in the countryside as well as mythological themes. The mosaics depict hunting scenes, feasts, playing children, exotic animals, sports, birds and flowers, a couple of lovers, circus games. The best known figures, and every male tourist’s favourites, are probably the “bikini girls”, young female dancers in very light clothing.

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Our base for the next couple of days was Acireale, a medium-sized town about halfway between Catania and Taormina. There is not much to write home about Acireale, I did not even take photos.

Our hotel there - I forgot its name - was a bit of a nuisance, though. The hotel had a pool and a roof terrace and other nice facilities, but they were all closed and could not be used. They open the pool only in August, for the rest of the year they save themselves the work, who cares if the weather is fine and the guests would like to have a swim. Our group got the worst rooms they had, on the ground floor facing the noisy road and exposed to the smell of petrol from the petrol station across the street as well as the stink of cigarette smoke from the adjacent bell boy's office. Our group leader very quickly organized himself a better room but did not care a thing about the others. So who had to deal with the reception and organize a room change for half the group? Well, guess...

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:47 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (1)

Catania

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Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and capital of the province of the same name. It is a large busy city with narrow noisy streets and a lot of traffic – just like you’d imagine an Italian city. Traffic lights and signs are considered a recommendation and cars can be parked anywhere, who cares… On the other hand, people are easy going and problems are solved quickly and free of bureaucracy. Due to a parked car the road we wanted to pass through was wide enough for small cars but not for our coach. The scene occurred in front of a busy coffee bar, much to the entertainment of a bunch of local guys seated there. A dozen of them got up from their seats, rolled up their sleeves, lifted up the four-wheeled culprit and set it aside so we could pass. Mille grazie!

The old town centre of Catania has UNESCO World heritage status due to the amount and quality of its baroque architecture. After the devastating earthquake of 1693 the city, just like several others in this part of the island, was rebuilt and redesigned. As can be expected on bus tours, we had far too little time… All we saw was the main square with the elephant monument (photo 1), Catania’s landmark, and the cathedral Sant’Agata with the lovely flower garden by its side (photos 2 and 3). Palazzo del Seminario dei Chierici in photo 4 is the seminary for clerics.

Note to self: Return and explore further.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 07:45 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (1)

Siracusa and Ortigia

Siracusa, the ancient Greek colony of Syrakus,was "done" as a day trip from Acireale. This was the city in Sicily that impressed me most and that I remember best. We spent most of a day there, so we had a bit more time there than in the other destinations, including some free time to ourselves. After spending almost a week among this difficult group I enjoyed walking and looking round all by myself.

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We visited the archaeological sites on the mainland first: the so called Ear of Dionysos, an artificial cave in an ancient stone quarry which has excellent acoustics, the Roman theatre, the amphitheatre and the other excavations.

Then we crossed the bridge to the old centre. The old town is located on an island named Ortigia. The island is divided from the mainland by a narrow stretch of sea water which makes a perfect boat harbour. Around the main piazza the town has remarkable baroque architecture, churches and palazzi. The cathedral has a baroque façade, too, but the church behind is much, much older. An ancient temple has been transformed into the cathedral. The Doric columns are still visible in the northern wall and the interior. A walk around the island offers many views of the sea, the harbours, the buildings.

The residential quarters especially on the northern half of Ortigia are a maze of little streets and alleys, many of them dead-end. Very picturesque, but it is hard to find your way. Better not venture in unless you either are with someone who knows the place or have enough time at hand to risk getting lost. My sense of direction is actually quite good, but at the second street corner I quickly decided not to continue but to return to the shore and rather continue the walk around the edge of the island instead of through the middle.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 07:22 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (1)

Taormina

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Taormina is located on a terrace high above the coast, overlooking the sea and the coastline, in a location that deserves all superlatives. The Etna is close but not directly threatening. The landscape setting is overwhelmingly beautiful.

Mass tourism has unfortunately discovered this place and ruined parts of its charm. Taormina is one of the posher destinations in Sicily, and rather touristy. The day we visited, the old town was invaded by dozens of tour groups from various cruise ships, all running after a guide holding a sign with a number. They reminded me of the duck herds in South East Asia who are conditioned to follow a flag. The narrow streets in town were more or less wall-to-wall crowded. Souvenir sellers and restaurants sniffed big business. I would like to revisit on a quieter day, if that exists.

My favourite memory of Taormina is the Roman theatre. The stage has a natural setting which is breathtaking. I abandoned my group and stayed behind, and spent an hour or more just sitting in the top rows of the ranks, looking at this panorama with Etna in the background.

Posted by Kathrin_E 06:03 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (0)

Halfway up Etna

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We made it only halfway up the volcano. In theory you can go up to the rim of the crater if all is quiet, but dear Etna had been spitting fire not that long before our visit, and dumped a load of lava on the cable car. Hence we were not able to proceed any further than what had been the bottom station. We saw the green masts of the cable car sticking out of a rather fresh lava field. A short climb over the rough rocky terrain and a glimpse at some side craters was all we could do.

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Anyway, it was impressive. From the slope the view over the coastline, island and sea is already wide. Standing on the summit it must feel like being on top of the world.

What do I remember? The moon-like devastated landscape without any bit of green. And most of all, the colours. The lava fields have an incredible range of colours, all shades of brown, olive green and grey, reddish, blueish, and yellow patches of sulphur. Fascinating. I apologize for the lack of quality in my scanned photos and the lousy tint they have despite much editing. Please use your imagination.

From a souvenir shop up there I bought a necklace with little lava pearls and turquoise glass pearls, which I still have. Of course they claimed it was made with original lava from the Etna. I have no idea whether that is true or not. But it does not matter to me. The necklace was not expensive, it is pretty, and it brings back the memories whenever I wear it.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 06:08 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (1)

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