Monday, September 21, 2015

Travels to Sicily, Italy

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is just off the toe of Italy's boot. It has been a crossroads of cultures for 3,000 years, a history reflected in its diverse architecture, cuisine and ancient ruins. Palermo, the capital, offers colorful street life, bustling markets and Byzantine mosaics at the Cappella Palatina.  From Naples, we flew to Palermo to continue our Italian adventure along the Western coast of Sicily.

View from the funicular.


Trapani is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands. We stayed here one night and took the nearby funicular up the mountain to visit Erice.  We spent a couple hours walking this medieval town that was settled by the Elymians and was considered an important religious site associated with the goddess Venus.  For 10€ we gained entrance to the top churches, watch towers, and convents.



We wandered through its ancient streets and visited some of the famous homemade pastry shops world-famous for marzipan candies and other delicacies like almond and pistachio pastries.  My favorite was the savory street food like cardinale di spinaci (a bread ball stuffed with spinach) and the arancino di melanzane (rice ball stuffed with eggplant and cheese).



We continued onto Segesta, one of the major cities of the ancient indigenous Elymian people, to visit the unfinished Doric temple, late 5th century BC, built on a hilltop just outside of the ancient city and has a commanding view of the surrounding area. Out of justified pride, a few of today's Greeks might disagree, but this is the best-preserved ancient Doric temple in what used to be the Greek world.


We stayed at the Baglio Oneto Resort & Winery.

Next, we visited Marsala.  This fertile countryside is home to some unique Sicilian wines and olive oil.  There is a great view of the Lagoon Nature Reserve enclosing Mozia and Saline. With Rome's decline, vandals attacked and virtually destroyed Marsala in AD 440. It was already becoming a center of Christianity and the city maintained its place as a crucial maritime port under Byzantine, Arab and Norman rule. To the Arabs it was Mars el'Allah, literally "Port of Allah (God)," hence Marsala.


On our way back towards Trapani, we visited Cave di Cusa meaning "Quarry of Accusation" that was quarried beginning in the first half of the 6th century BC and its stone was used to construct the temples in the ancient Greek city Selinunte. The quarry was abandoned in 409 BC when the city was captured by the Carthaginians. It is now an official Sicilian Archeological Zone and a popular tourist site.  Selinunte was situated between the valleys of the Belice and Modione rivers. The archaeological site contains five temples centered on an acropolis. Of the five temples, only the Temple of Hera, also known as "Temple E", has been re-erected.  Of the limestone drums that had already been extracted from the quarry, some were found ready for transport and others, already on the way to Selinunte were abandoned on the road. Some gigantic columns, definitely intended for the temples, are found in the area west of Cave di Cusa, also in the state in which they were originally abandoned.



Four Corners.
We also spent some time in the capital city of Palermo. We walked to the famous "four corners" that converge in a quartet of baroque palaces from the climax of the Spanish rule dating from 1560. Then our stroll continued on to Casa Professa Church.  This breathtaking church is an amazing example of pure "Sicilian Baroque" style. After, crossing the old city center, we arrived at the lively Ballarò Market, a place overflowing with beautiful fresh fish, and local vegetables and cheeses. Originating from the era when Sicily was occupied by the moors, this 1000 year old market has run much in the same manner for centuries. It has strong Arab influences, resembling an eastern souk, and these influences are also evident in the merchandise itself.

Here is a map of the stops we made in Sicily - feel free to use it to build your own itinerary:


For more Italy eats check out my restaurant reviews. We really enjoyed the Western coast of Sicily - from ancient temples and ruins to abundant green country sides lush with vineyards and olive groves.  Have you visited Sicily before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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