Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Segesta, about an hour from Palermo, is the site of an ancient temple and theater built in an area with roots back to the 12th Century BC. The temple dates from the 5th Century BC when Segesta had a prosperous alliance with Athens.
The temple was never completed, yet today it remains one of the few intact temples standing from when the Greeks had influence on the island of Sicily.

The landscape today is pretty much what Goethe described in 1787.
“The location of the temple is singular: it stands at the top of a long, wide valley, on a hill that is isolated but surrounded by rocks…It is a fertile but sad region: it is all cultivated, but you cannot see one single house in it. “
The theater was built in the second half of the 2nd Century BC when Segesta was a free town under the Romans.

B&B in an 18th Century Villa

A five day excursion took us from Enna, over the mountains, to the north west coast of Sicily. We stayed four nights in a Bed and Breakfast that was a restored 18th century country villa in Mondello, near Palermo. 

We had a very comfortable room and enjoyed breakfast every morning on the garden terrace. Our gracious hostess made our stay very relaxed and enjoyable.

Our time in the region included visits to Cefalù, Segesta, Erice...


and some hiking and swimming at Capo Gallo (Barcarello) and the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro.

B&B Surprise:
The villa had a chapel dedicated to Santa Chiara. Our hostess showed us inside the chapel, but it is now used just for storage.


Erice is a walled mountain town, 800 meters above sea level. Today it is a town of several hundred inhabitants with a castle, towers, over a dozen churches and streets that are really winding alleys, making it feel like you could be back in the Middle Ages.The city’s different names at different times reflects it’s history. “Erice” was the name given to the mountain when The Cartheginians were in control of the area. The Moslems named it” Gebel-el-Hamid” (Mount of Mohammed) and the Normans named it “Monte San Giuliano”, a name it kept until 1934 when the Mussolini government renamed it “Erice.”
Of the churches we visited, my favorite was the duomo, originally built in 1312 by King Federico of Aragon. It was restored many times and was rebuilt when it collapsed in 1853. The ornamentation of the ceiling is amazing.

Here is a sampling of faces we encountered in the churches and on the streets of Erice.

Hiking and Swimming

On the northwestern coastline of Sicily are two nature reserves where we had to do some hiking in order to get to some beautiful beaches. A hat kept me shaded while hiking and goggles and a snorkel made for some great underwater sightseeing.
We visited Capo Gallo twice and enjoyed both the trails and the water.

Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingero was the first nature reserve to have been established in Sicily and is a completely unspoiled 7-km stretch of coastline with steep mountains sloping to the sea. (The reserve happened because a group of environmentalists got people together to protest the building of a road through the area.)

We only hiked into the first beach area, but were rewarded with beautiful water filled with many kinds of fish.

We were also treated to a trail-side exhibit of bamboo sculptures.


There are two main attractions in the town of Cefalù: the sandy beach and the 12th century Cathedral.
The medieval town is tucked on a small shelf of land under a looming rock formation. It was here that the Norman ruler Roger II built a cathedral that has Sicily’s earliest and best preserved medieval mosaics.
Another treasure of the church is a statue of the Madonna carved by the Renaissance artist Gagini.
In the adjoining 12th century cloister, recently restored, I was captivated by the carved double columns, especially a set with Noah.


Nestled in the mountains between Enna and the northern coast of Sicily is the town of Castelbuono. This village grew up around a castle built in 1316 by Francisco Ventimiglia, the Marquis of Geraci. The town did not prosper financially until the 19th Century because the residents remained under the feudal control of the Ventimiglia lords until the abolition of feudalism in 1812. The result today is a charming village of simple buildings clustered around piazzas and winding narrow streets on the hillside. When we visited Castelbuono preparations were being made for the feast of St. Anne, the town’s patron. The street from the castle to the cathedral was decorated with overhead lights, a stage for performances was being erected in Piazza Margarita and vendor stalls were being set up for the celebration.
Dominating the town is the Ventimiglia Castle. It was at first a holiday home, but after the town grew up around it, it became the family’s primary residence. In the early 20th Century the residents of Castelbuono bought the castle from the Ventimiglias and today it houses a museum with a changing exhibit of contemporary art a well as several rooms of religious objects from the 17th Century, mostly related to St. Anne.
The surprise of the castle is its baroque chapel, containing a relic that is supposedly the skull of St. Anne. (The story is that the relic had been with the Ventimiglia family for six centuries before being transferred to the castle. It was immediately stolen, but recovered in 1615 and then made safe behind a strong iron grating on the altar. On July 26th it leaves it’s secure home and is taken out in procession.)
The chapel is fascinating work of stucco sculpture by Giàcomo Serpotta.

The Old Cathedral: Matrice Vecchia
The cathedral was originally built in the 14th century on the remains of a pagan temple and today, under a recently reconstructed ceiling we discovered some interesting works of religious art.

Recent restoration has uncovered a fresco of the “Consecration of the Virgin” next to the sacristy door. I especially like the two angels peering over the top of the chair to see the action, and God the Father atop a lunette of red seraphs. (You can tell that they are seraphim because they each have six wings.)

The crypt walls are covered with 16th and 17th Century frescoes depicting the passion of Christ beginning with the Last Supper.