For our anniversary and for the King's birthday the King and Queen went to Sicily for 5 days. Sicily is the football island that the Italian boot is kicking. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean and covers about 25,000 square kilometers. Before you run to your calculator - it is triangular in shape with the sides being about 150 miles long. We decided that we could not cover the entire island in 5 days so we limited ourselves to the eastern side of the island.
Sicily is important for a number of reasons. It is where the Mafia was born. It is where cannoli was invented. It is where Marsala wine was first made. It is where you can get pistachios on your pasta. It is where they have a wonderful after dinner drink made from almonds. For those of you who are used to my normal history lesson I suggest you go find a book on Sicily. The King is writing this after returning home and it appears he left his creative juices at the Fumincino Airport in Rome.
Sicily was first inhabited in 10,000 BCE by the Elymians, Sicani and the Siculi. These were followed by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Rome, Vandals (Byzantine), Arabs, Normans, Germans, French, Spanish and finally the Italian Kingdom and Republic.
We flew to Catania which is the second largest city on the island. The largest is Palermo, which is where the allied forces first landed in World War II when they invaded Italy. We rented a car and were given a `Smart Car For Four' which was basically a normal sized large car. The car proved to be a problem since I could not start it. I only learned by accident that I had to keep my foot on the brake to start it. It also was a semi-automatic which took me a while to figure out how to work. There was no clutch but you had to still shift through the gears.
We drove to our first destination, in the northeast corner of the island, that was a beautiful medieval city perched high on a cliff. On our trip to Taormina we passed by Mt. Etna. It was snow covered and there was one part of the highway that had an old lava flow on both sides so at some point the lava had obviously flowed over the highway.
The town is very popular with tourists in the summer. In November it was less crowded. Most of the tourists we met there were American - and mostly older. Lots were on Elder hostel tours. D. H. Lawrence lived here while he wrote Lady Chatterly's Lover and it was the haunt of the English aristocracy in the 19th century. The food was good but very expensive. We paid almost twice what we did for food in Rome.
We had made reservations at a hotel (Villa Fiorita) and we got a very detailed map for directions off the Internet. We got totally lost in this little city and wound up driving past the hotel three times. We had a room with a balcony with an incredible view. The hotel was built into the side of the mountain and when you walked through the hotel the rocks of the mountainside were part of various structures of the hotel. The second picture is the view from our balcony!!
Taormina's most famous site is the Greek Theater build into the hillside in the 3rd century. The Romans enlarged this theater and it actually had reserved seating. The view of the sea and Mt. Etna in the distance was incredible. The picture below shows the town with the Greek theater built into the top side of the mountain.
The overall city was sort of one big very expensive medieval shopping mall. We wandered the streets all day and all night. At night we were able to see Mt. Etna erupting (does this constantly) and the lava flow, which is visible at night, is probably a mile or two long. The town had very narrow streets in places. Hynda is sitting at the bottom of one street - Vicolo Stretto. Stretto means narrow in Italian.
The bakeries and pastry shops specialized in marzipan that they made to look like fruit, candy, and other objects. In the picture below all the items are made from marzipan!!!
Some of the stores were a little over the top in the display of tourist crap.
One bakery had enormous cannoli shells on display in the window. We never found out whether these were for sale or just for show. The cannoli was wonderful.
In the center of the town was a duomo (cathedral) and neat little fountain. The Normans built the church in the 12th century.
At the bottom of the cliff was a beach town. You could either walk down or take a cable car. We opted to walk down and take the cable car up. The beach was rocky but the scenery was beautiful. From top:
At the top of the town was a Sacaren castle with a spectacular view.
About twenty minutes away from Taormina is the Alcantara Gorge. The Alcantara River and the volcanic activity of Mt. Etna created this gorge. It had some beautiful basalt formations but our hike was limited because they only hike into the gorge with high rubber boots in the summer when the water is lower.
Out final destination was the city of Siracusa - built by the Greeks in 700BCE. We reserved a hotel (Hotel Gutkowski) which was in the old city part of Siracusa located on an island, Ortegia. This was the city where Archimedes lived. Archimedes lived in the 2nd century BCE and was a famous mathematician and inventor. During the Golden age of city states the only ones that were more important than Siracusa were Athens, Carthage and Rome. The city of Ortegia is actually an island off the mainland. Hynda is standing on one of the two bridges that connect the island to the rest of the city.
Our hotel was located on the water and this is the view from our little balcony.
After two years the King got a haircut - this time in Siracusa. The first picture is of me after the Queen took my hair out of the braids that I had gotten in Rome.
This is me in the barbershop with my barber.
Siracusa had some of the best food markets we saw in Italy. Here is one stand in the 'fresh fish' part of the market.
and a fruit and vegetable stand. Notice the size of the cauliflower in comparison to the Queen's hand.
The following is a Greek theater in Siracusa.
and a Roman theater.
In the center of Ortegia was a Greek Temple built to honor Apollo.
and a fountain - more recent - built to honor Archimedes.
This is the Queen in front of the entrance to a quarry that was used by the Roman's for building materials.
As is the case in most of Europe, the remnants of the once thriving Jewish communities exist in street names. Sicily is no different. The first Jews arrived in Sicily in the first century - brought as slaves from Rome. The community flourished and grew until 1492 when all the Jews were expelled. Sicily was under Spanish rule at the time. The population was estimated to be about 5 - 8 percent of the island at the time. This is the King on the Via Della Giudecca - the street of the Jews in Siracusa.
This is a fortification that is located about 5 miles from Siracusa and was completely designed by Archimedes. Built in 400 BCE and expanded during Byzantine era - it was considered the one of the best fortifications of the times and people came from all over to look at it. It had almost 18 miles of defensive walls around it.
Although it was raining we decided to drive to some other cities close to Siracusa. We only made it to Noto. The city was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and then rebuilt at a slightly different location. All the buildings were built of the same rose colored stone and it has been preserved. Most of the city seemed to be undergoing renovation while we were there.