Before leaving Marsala I made an excursion by bus and ferry to the island of San Pantaleo which was settled as Mothia in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians. In 1979 a 5th century BC statue was discovered there, buried in the dirt, which is considered by some to be the finest piece of Greek sculpture in the world. It is white marble, slightly larger than life size of a young man in a tunic. It is on display in the museum there and yes, I see what they are talking about. I also enjoyed walking all over the island looking at the many excavation sites. Sicily is so OLD. It’s going to spoil me for other countries or areas that only have medieval relics!
I took the train to Palermo and found my Regina Hotel which I had booked the day before on hostelworld.com. Palermo has many pretty buildings but also is kind of a mess, but in a nice way. There is dog poop all over the place and EVERYBODY smokes and throws their cigarette butts and wrappers everywhere. I explored many churches, palaces and nooks and crannies—it’s very OLD. Many churches are 12th century when the Norman kings took over and went on a building spree—fun to explore.
The Monday morning after daylight savings time went off, I was taking a 9:00 bus—for which I had to wait an extra hour as I arrived at 7:30 instead of 8:30. Well, no TV and no newspaper—it happens! The bus was to a town called Piazza Armerino near which are the remains of a 3rd century Roman villa with amazing floor mosaics. It had been flooded with mud in the 1200’s and was only rediscovered in the 1950’s. I was forced to take a taxi (against my religion!) because the buses had stopped running from Piazza Armerino to the site after Sept. 15th. Two mosaics especially were outstanding—one of a stylized hunt with animals like tigers, horses, cheetahs and lots of blood, and another with 10 young women doing athletic things in bikinis!
The interior is completely covered with mosaics that tell Biblical stories—42 of them in all, from both the Old and New Testament, including one of Noah building his ark. I’ve never seen anything like it (I keep saying that in Sicily!) But you also have to wonder at the amount of resources spent on things like this—were the people going hungry? I’m afraid so. Still it is something to behold.
The cloisters were also a great show and beautiful –lots of Arabic influence.
They were both crammed full of 17th century Serpotto’s stucco works where all the statues are made of stucco.
Then I got a city bus to see a very bizarre sight—the Catacombs of the Cappuccine monks. For three centuries (17th to 19th) they hung up dead bodies in these catacombs. They called them ’embalmed’ but they all looked like skeletons with clothes on to me. They had separate corridors for ‘professionals’, ‘women’, ‘babies’, ‘virgins’, etc. Except for Guanajuato, Mexico, I’ve never seen anything like it! The last ones were hung there in 1861.
From the Catacombs, via a couple more city buses, I went to see the Castello della Zisa, a 12th century summer home of the Norman kings. Here they really let Arabic influences have their say. I was a little let down, though, as it all had been pretty much ‘restored.’
Lunch followed with once again a kiting of the bill. They always pretend it was an honest mistake—these are 60 year old waiters who have been working there for 40 years and they don’t know the prices? I had mussel soup for the umpteenth time—I really enjoyed that.
And now I’m home—arrived here today (Friday) after three flights, the last of which was delayed for four hours. It happens! But it’s good to be home, no matter how interesting and exotic Sicily was, and it was.
I have to say that except for restaurants adding to the bill over the menu price (it happened from Napoli on south into Sicily about eight times) I have never dealt with nicer people. Of the dozens of whom I asked directions, only one person blew me off and he was in the Tourist Information Center! Everybody else went out of their way to help me find mine. In fact on at least eight occasions, shop keepers or kiosk vendors came out of their shops to point the way. I have never experienced this before. When I was coming back from Monreale I jumped on the bus at the last minute and was without a ticket. You cannot pay the driver. He shrugged, then explained to the bus passengers that ‘la senora’ didn’t have a ticket and did anybody have an extra they could sell me? A lady did and the transaction was made. Nice people.
The food and wine were good—lots of eggplant, fish, olive oil—quite a Mediterranean influence. I think it was a great season to visit Sicily—September and October—the weather was perfect, and there weren’t too many tourists. Until the last couple of days (in November) I was comfortable in a short sleeved tee shirt. The buses and trains were good and came on time.
You do get a different view of history when visiting Sicily. In the centuries BC when the Greeks made colonies here, couldn’t they just have lived in peace? No, even without population pressures they went to war and conquered each other time and again. And then the monuments (churches, palaces, etc.) that the rulers built to ‘show power’ which are interesting to view today, must have made the people punishingly poor—over and over again.
Sicily was far more exotic than I expected—I’m sure I’ll come again