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Sicilia the scented island

Palermo, Messina, Taormina, Catania, Siracusa, Agrigento

 

 

 

 

Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman,  Anjevin, Spanish and Italian . This is one way of describing Sicily. But there is also   the sunshine,, and the warm hospitality of the people of this land of lemon tree, which makes Sicily a delight for all those who love beauty. We will start our visit in

 

 

 

 


   Palermo,                standing in a magnificent position on the edge of the orange and lemon tree-covered plain called "Conca d'Oro" . We can take three different tours of the Palermo- the Cathedralcity, The first starts at the junction between Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele, in a beautiful Baroque square known as "Quattro Canti". We will go to the nearby Piazza Pretoria, with the monumental 16th c. Pretoria Fountain, and Piazza Bellini, with three churches: S. Caterina (16th c.) , S. Cataldo (12th c. with a fine interior, floor and mosaic), and Martorana - a masterpiece of Norman art (1143), with its original bell-tower and splendid mosaics. Then we can see the Baroque Church of S. Giuseppe dei Teatini, and then go to the cathedral, begun in 1185 but restored continually until the dawn  of the 19th century. After admiring the grandiose right-hand wall of the Cathedral, we will go inside and see the many sculptures and the majestic imperial and royal tombs, including the tomb of Frederic II. The museum of the "Tesoro", contains wrought gold, enamels and illuminated manuscripts. Just a short walk away is the huge Palazzo dei Normanni, originally built by the Arabs, with the Royal Apartments and the Palatine Chapel, Palermo's most magnificent monument from the Norman period (12th c.) , with its extraordinary decoration and architecture (wooden Arabesque ceiling, 1143, 12th c. lectern stand and Easter candle-holder, superb mosaics including Christ in Glory surrounded by archangels, prophets and the evangelists). Palermo- S. Rosalia ShrineThe nearby Church of S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, with its red domes, has a beautiful cloister and garden full of exotic plants that give us a taste of  the Orient. The second tour takes us along the Baroque Via Maqueda and Piazza Verdi , dominated by the huge Teatro Massimo, as far as the Archaeological Museum, one of the Italy's richest and largest, known particularly for the sculptures and carving unhearted at Selinunte. We will visit the Baroque Church of S. Domenico and the Oratories of the Rosario and S. Zita, both beautiful stuccoed by Serpotta (17th-18th c.). Our  third walk begins with a visit to the Catalan-Gothic And Renaissance Church of S. Maria della Catena, the mediaeval Palazzo Chiaramonte standing in the huge Piazza Marina, with Garibaldi Garden inside, full of rare trees and plants. No far away in the Piazza S. Spirito is the International Marionette Museum. We end our tour in the Sicilian National Gallery (in the magnificent Catalan-Gothic Palazzo Abatellis designed by M. Carnelivari (15thth c. frescoes of "The Triumph over Death", bust of Eleanor of Aragona by Laurana, and the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina, etc.), and the gardens in Villa Flora and the "Orto Botanico", one of the Europe's most important Botanical Gardens, founded in 1789. There are many other major Palermo - Teatro Massimomonuments, such as the Church of Gesu', S. Spirito, S Giovanni dei lebbrosi (1070 AD) and the 13th century S. Francesco d'Assisi and nearby the Oratory of S. Lorenzo (stuccoes by Serpotta);  Palazzo Aiutamicristo (15th c.), the Shrine of S. Rosalia on Mt. Pellegrino, the Arab Norman Palaces - "La Cuba" and "La Zisa"; the Friary of the Cappuccini with its catacombs (not be missed by enthusiasts of things macabre...); the splendid Parco della Favorita with the 19th century Palazzina Cinese and the Pitre` Ethnographic Museum. There are several interesting excursions outside Palermo : the seaside of Mondello, or Bagheria with its 17th-18th century villas; or to Solunto (visiting the ruins and the museum) or Piana degli Albanesi, an Albanian settlement founded 11488 which is famous for the richly embroidered folk costume. But one place that cannot be missed is Monreale, with its incredible 12th century Cathedral, who's magnificent interior is richly decorated with the most magnificent mosaics - a gold mine, full of splendid colors whose hypnotic beauty imply dazzles the eye - and the adjacent ancient cloister with the columns and capitals, all different, and its charming well. In

 

 

 


 Messina - Duomo , detail

 

Messina             there is the Cathedral, originally buit by the Normans, the Fountain of Orion (16th c.), the astronomical clock in the cathedral bell-tower where we can see the mechanical men strike noon. The there is the elegant Church od S. Annunziata dei Catalani (12th-13th c.), the Museo Nazionale ( archaeology, paintings, works by Antonello da Messina, Caravaggio, Gagini, etc.) . Our next unforgettable town of

 


Taormina.            where we can stand in the Greek Theatre and see Mt. Etna and the sea inTaormina - Isola Bella a Mt. Etnasplendid panorama, before visiting the Cathedral and Palazzo Corvaia (15th c.) . But the greatest pleasure in Taormina is to stroll along the streets, walking up to the Castle, to Castelmola and down to the pretty coastline around Mazzaro` and Giardini Naxos. Driving trough the nice town of Acireale (Baroque monuments, Folklore Theatre where traditional Sicilian marionettes perform at the "opera dei Pupi" ) , Aci Trezza, (with its rocks, called the "Scogli dei Ciclopi" because legend has is that the blinded Polyphemus hurled them against the boat of Ulysses, used as the setting for Turner's famous landscape painting of Ulysses deriding Polyphemus), and Aci Castello (Norman Caste built on black lava stone), we reach

 


Catania,              lying in a magnificent position surrounded by the citrus groves on the southern Catania - Orange groveslopes of Mt. Etna . It is a city with sumptuous Baroque and noble buildings; we can visit the Baroque City Hall, the Cathedral, the Ursino Castle (built by Frederick II, and now the Municipal Museum), the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini in Piazza S. Francesco (Museo Belliniano), the nearby Roman Theatre and the Odeon. Walking down one of the city's most monumental streets, Via dei Crociferi, with the Churches of S. Benedetto, S. Giuliano and S. Nicolo` (the largest in Sicily), and Via Etnea, with its splendid palaces , we reach the gardens of Villa Bellini. If we have time, we must go up Etna. From Catania, we will drive to Augusta with the nearby ruins of the Greek town of Megara Hyblaea, and

 

 

 


Syracuse             (Siracusa), where some of the island's most important ancient remains are to be seen, in a setting of great natural beauty. There are at least two tours we can make in this city, tha was famous in the age of Magna Graecia,. We can visit on the island of Syracuse - Roman TheatreOrtygia, visiting Piazza Pancali with the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, Piazza Archimede, dedicated to the illustrious Archimedes, who was born here , via Minerva and Piazza del Duomo, lined with beautiful buildings and overlooked by the Baroque style Cathedral, buil on the site of the ancient Temple of Athena, whose Doric capitals, part of the columns and architrave can still be seen on the rght hand external wall of the cathedral. We will linger at the Spring (Fonte) of Arethusa (the subject of Shelley's Arethusa) hymned by Pindar and Virgil, and visit the 13th c. Maniace Castle, as well as the city's two splendid Museums ("Archeologico", one of the best endowed in Italy and 'Nazionale' in Palazzo Bellom), and the take a sstroll around the mediaeval streets. Our second tour takes us to the Greek city on the mainland, where we will see the "Parco Archeologico della Neapoli", with the Roman Amphitheatre, the Greek Theatre - where classical drama is still performed - hewn out of the rock, with a capacity of 15,000 people. The there is the Latomia del Paradiso with the "Ear of Dionysius" (Orecchio di Dionisio) - an enormous artificial cave with unusual acoustic properties capable of amplifying even the faintest sound, and the beautiful Cordari Cave. We will also visit the Chapel and the catacombs of S. Giovanni (4th-6th c.), the huge Latomia dei Cappuccini, embellished with luxuriant  vegetation, and the Church of S. Lucia al Seplocro (in the apse in Caravaggio's late masterpiece, "the Burial  of S. Lucia"). We recommend a trip up to Eurialo Castle  - the most beautiful and complex Greek military construction in existence, - and to Fonte Ciane- adeep circular papyrus pond in a silent, solitary setting. Another interesting tour could be to Palazzolo Acreide, with its churches and buildings, and an archaeological site (Greek Theatre , caves, and the strange 3rd c BC roughly carved sculptures), which is Sicily's most grandiose necropolis with over 5,000 caves hewn out of the rock-face. We can go to Noto, with its unusually arranged 18th century houses. From here we drive to Ipsica (detour Via Cava d'Ispica), a valley of great prehistoric and Ragusa - S. Maria delle Scalearchaeological interest), Modica (imposing 18th century Church of S. Giorgio) and Ragusa - an interesting town on the slopes of the Iblei mountains, divided into two valves : Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla. In Ragusa there is the splendid 18th century cathedral, the archaeological museum, and the Church of S. Maria delle Scale. Ragusa Ibla is famed for the beautiful Church of S. Giorgio (Baroque facade and neoclassical dome). Our nest stop is Gela , on the site of the ancient prosperous Greek settlement, with its excavations, the Archaeological Museum and the fortifications of Capo Soprano. If we have time we can go inland to visit Caltagirone, famed for its terracotta and tiles, with its cathedral, 16th-17th c. Palazzetto della Corte Capitaniale, and its many churches, of which S. Giorgio has a Flemish painting on wood attributed to Roger van der Weyden. Driving through Mirabella Imbaccari we reach Piazza Armerina with its churches and 14th c. castle, whose fame mainly rest on the nerby archaeological zone of Villa Romana del Casale, where excavations only began in 1929. It was built at the end of the 3rd century AD as a huge country villa and hunting 'lodge', and was lived in until the 12th century. Its mosaic floors are superb, and depict hunting scenes, 10 young girls in the Roman equivalent of bikinis, and the Labours of Hercules. We soon come to Lake Pergusa, where Persephone's abduction is supposed to have taken place. Passing Enna, perched high up over the fertile plain ( known as 'the belvedere of sicily'), with a splendid Cathedral, Alessi Museum, Lomardia Castle ad Frederick II's Tower, we reach Caltanisetta (interesting Churches, two museums - the Civico and the Folkoristico - Pietrarossa Castle and the Abbey of S. Spirito, 2 miles away). And this brings us to

 


Agrigento ,            the city of the "flowering almond", with a wealth of archaeological monuments. Our first tour will take us round the mediaeval and modern town: Piazzale Roma, Via Aetnea, 13th c. Church of S. Spirito, Piazza Purgatorio named after the church (with fine statues attributed to Serpotta), the municipal  museum, the Gothic Church of S. Agrigento -Temple Valley - Concor TempleMaria dei Greci, built on a Doric temple, and the cathedral. The second tour takes us through the archaeological zone: from Piazza Marconi to the Valley of the Temples, visiting the church S. Biagio, the Shrine in the rock dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, the Greek fortifications, the Hellenic Roman quarter, the Romanesque-Gothic church of s. Nicola, and the National Archaeological Museum - one of the Southern Italy's most important of its kind. Next comes the Temple of Zeus, the Shrine of the Gods of the Underworld, with the Temple of Castore and Pollux (5th c. BC), the Temple of Hercules , and Concord (the perfectly proportioned and best preserved of all extant Greek temples) and the Temple of Era (Juno) standing alone in Agrigento - Temple Valley - Hera Templesplendid solitude. We leave Agrigento for the ruins of  Eraclea Minoa, the spa resort of Sciacca, Menfi and Selinunte (selinus) with its important archaeological remains of a Greek city (6th-5th centuries BC). Castelvetrano is our next port of call, with the nearby Norman Church of SS. Trinita` in Delia, the Mazara del Vallo (Phoenician origin, with some fine churches), and Marsala , famed for two totally different things: its dessert fine wine, and the place where Garibaldi disembarked (visit the Insula Romana and the ruins of the Punic Mozia on the nearby island of S. Pantaleo). The History of  Trapani has left many marks on the city: The Baroque Shrine of the Annunziata, the Churces of S. Agostino and S. Maria di Gesu`, Palazzo della Giudecca 916th c.) , the Pepoli Ntional Museum (archaeology, painting, wrought gold and handicrafts from the 16th and 17th centuries) . To return to Palermo we will follow the rugged coastline, with its beautiful views, or we can drive through the interior. But there are just two more places we can visit Erice and Segesta. Erice (6 miles from Trapani) is an extraordinary mediaeval town perched high up, with a most unusual atmosphere that one can take by strolling through its narrow winding streets that suddenly lead into little squares and flower-decked courtyards, lovingly cared-for. We can see the Gothic Curch of Matrice , the fine Museo Comunale and the 12th century Venere Castle standing on the Segesta - Greek Theatresite of the ancient acropolis. Segesta has a Theatre built in the 3rd century BC which overlooks the surrounding countryside from on high, and a splendid Doric temple standing aloof and proud in a wonderful natural setting which exudes  a mysterious atmosphere by moonlight. To conclude this fairly complete visit to the Island of Sicily, we should go and  visit at least one of the small islands : there is Ustica, a paradise for skin-divers (ferries from Palermo), the Aeolian Islands (ferries from Milazzo), the  volcanic archipelago of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Filicudi Alicudi, Panarea and Stromboli, a natural paradise;  then  there are the Egladi Islands (from Trapani): Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo whose unrivalled beauties include the caves and remains of ancient fortifications; Lampedusa and Pantelleria (from Trapani) with its varied and enchanting coastline and pinewoods.

 

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