SICILYDecember 21, 2013 – Sicily is a conundrum. The football shaped island off the toe of Italy may look Italian but its heart and soul are elsewhere.
Like so many islands in the Mediterranean/Adriatic region, Sicily was once a crossroads of trade that greatly influenced its character and personality. Much of what makes Sicily unique is the autonomous nature of its people who frequently display a closer allegiance to Africa than Italy.
Combined with a long history of influence from the Greeks, you quickly discover that Sicilians define themselves more as Sicilian than Italian.
Though Sicily is relatively large, it has excellent roads which make it easy to navigate if visitors choose to immerse themselves in the abundance of sightseeing. Ferries from mainland ports like Civitavecchia (Rome) and Naples to Palermo and Catania are frequent, convenient and comfortable.
Sicilyis the land of Vito Corleone of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather trilogy and, yes, there really is a village named Corleone for movie buffs to explore. Though Don Corleone was fictional, the community of 12,000 residents has been home to more than its share of true-life Mafia bosses.
But there is much more to see and do in Sicily. Here are a few suggestions.
The Greeks established Agrigento on a fortified ridge overlooking the sea between 582 and 580 B.C. Though excavations have uncovered a series of seven Greek ruins known as the Valley of the Temples, the name is misleading because the temples are situated along the crest of a ridge rather than in a valley. Much of Agrigento, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, remains unexplored by archaeologists.
Despite that, the temples which have been excavated and partially restored, are among the best preserved Doric temples in the world outside of Greece dating as far back at 6 B.C. Oddly enough the Temple of Zeus, which was once the largest Doric temple in the world, is the most difficult ruin to comprehend because it has been so badly damaged.
The best preserved of the temples are The Temple of Juno and The Temple of Concordia, which resembles a scaled down version of the Parthenon in Athens only in better condition.
Known as the “gray city” because so many buildings have been constructed from the ash and lava of nearby Mt. Etna, Cataniais a bustling community on the east coast of Sicily. Architects frequently incorporate white limestone with the black volcanic rock to counter the darkness and brighten the buildings.
The highlight of any visit is the street market where vendors sell anything and everything for blocks. Arguably the most vocal area is that of the fish mongers where the freshest catches of the day are hawked amid row after row of stalls. Swordfish is most popular, but prawns and calamari are also favorites.
Sicily is the home of Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Though Etna does not appear to be two and half times larger than its mainland counterpart, Vesuvius, it is a restless mountain that periodically puts on dramatic fire and light shows. Twice within the past two months Etna has erupted with enough ash and lava to close the Catania airport for several days and to leave residents of Taormina sweeping huge piles of black dust from their houses and streets.
Etna has five distinct craters with more than 300 vents from which molten magma can ooze. Summit eruptions are the most spectacular with bright orange-red clouds of dust filling the sky and leaving residents below with massive clean-up chores in the aftermath.
Residents take it all in stride however, and deal with it just as Californians deal with earthquakes and mudslides and northerners handle the snow.
With lush gardens and serpentine roads that meander to the city center, Taormina is the “jewel box” of Sicily. Resembling a miniature version of the Amalfi Coast, Taormina has captivated more than its share of writers and poets throughout its history. If truth be known, Taormina is the location where Francis Ford Coppola actually shot many of the Sicilian scenes from The Godfather.
The ruins of the Greek theater facing the sea with its impeccable acoustics are, even today, an ideal venue for concerts and other theatrical productions.
While technically Sicily is part of Italy, its autonomy, history and character are distinct and convincing enough to add it as the 72nd country in a personal quest that will hopefully lead to 100 or more.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world.
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at The
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