We recently returned from another great trip, this time a cruise around Sicily followed by stops in Corsica, Sardinia, Menorca and ending in Spain. When we take one of these trips, we know a little about what we are going to see, but we never know which sites will make the biggest impressions. Let’s start with two of the highlights from this trip. (You can click on any picture to see a larger version.)
Duomo in Syracuse
Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), is an ancient city. The Greeks came in the 8th century BC, but there were people here well before they arrived. The Cathedral is in the center of the old city. At first glance, we see a beautiful facade from the 18th century.
As we walk around the side, we see Doric columns are embedded in the walls, and the walls seem much older than the facade.
Once we enter the duomo, the Greek columns are more prominent, and there is a Latin inscription on the walls proclaiming this is the first Christian church in Europe, the only one older is in Antioch (Turkey).
The history of this site is rather amazing. Excavations have uncovered pre-Greek houses from the 8th century BC, followed by an Archaic temple built in the 7th century BC. This was destroyed to build the Greek Temple of Athena (5th century BC) whose columns we see today. The Apostle Paul visited on his first trip to Rome. The Byzantines built walls between the columns to create a Christian church. Under Arab rule it was converted into a mosque in the 9th century AD. The Normans raised the roof and added chapels in the 11th century AD. The Spanish added the wooden roof in the 16th century AD. And, finally, the “modern” facade was added in the 18th century.
For over 2500 years, this site has been used continuously for religious services by Greeks, Christians, and Muslims!
Palazzo in Palermo
During the first day of our trip, we visited a privately owned palazzo in downtown Palermo. Being half asleep from the flight over, we didn’t note the name of the palazzo or it’s owners. The owners, the Count and his son’s family, still live in the palazzo, and entertain tour groups to make a little money to keep the place up.
As you walk through the rooms, it looks like every other old house you have visited with silk wall coverings, 16th century chandeliers from Venice, frescoed ceilings by 17th century Italian masters, and rooms decorated to commemorate a visit by Garibaldi, the man who liberated Sicily in 1860 and created the modern country of Italy.
Then you get to the old rooms. The private dining room is in a tower built by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC on the their city wall. During Norman times in the 11th century AD, the Phoenician walls became the foundation for the house built with Arab artisans. The Arabs had controlled Sicily for a couple of hundred years prior to the Norman conquest. The Count’s family has been renovating the place every century or so ever since. You don’t find houses like this in Raleigh!
You can’t go anywhere in Sicily without running head-on into history. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French, Germans, and others have ruled Sicily at one time or another. When you see the people in the streets of Sicily today, you are seeing people whose ancestors trace the entire history of Western Civilization.
If you read on in Parts 2 & 3, we will try to give you a brief overview of most of these people, where they came from, and what they were doing in Sicily. In Part 4, we’ll tell you a few more stories from our trip.