The Giudei of San Fratello: part 1

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

San Fratello is perched high up in the rambling Sicilian highlands, nesting itself in the crown of the Nebrodi Mountains, which run along the Tyrrhenian coast towards Palermo.

The road on the way to the town negotiates its way through the mountains like an elaborate obstacle course; every car is climbing up navigates hairpin curves and steep ascents.

Driving up to San Fratello I am distracted by the endless mountains, with their irregular shapes. It’s as if this part of the earth was once a giant cauldron, filled with melted pitch left to cool after being violently boiled.
The escarpments left behind after the creation of these mountains are outlined by an expansive cloak of forest that distends out like an insidious moss, covering wet stones. The greenery of the invading vegetation expands to the length and breadth of the island, the uneven growth interrupted by the scars of past landslides and roads that cut through the slopes.

The colours, too, attract my attention; it is early spring, and the heavy greys of winter are being surpassed by the bounties of the goddess Demeter, who has reigned over the island since time began. The countryside is filled with fresh new grasses, and the dead almond trees are being resurrected by blossoming pale pink flowers.
Arriving near the town, I see paddocks divided by clumsy fences, which hold the robust San Fratello horse breed, grazing on the springtime grass. These thoroughbreds are as noble as their Arabian origins. They are the essence of strength and elegance, with their fresh, velvety black coats and steadfast physiques. They fit precisely into the landscape, as wild and intense as any steep climb or precipice.
The history of the San Fratello breed dates back to the Sicily of the eleventh century. They are said to be descendant from the remnants of cavalry left behind during one of the many battles for Sicily’s possession. The Arabs came up against the Norman invaders from France, towards the end of their period of domination over the island, from 827 to 1060 A.D. The struggle between the two powers lasted some twenty years, and one of the points of focus was here in the fertile Nebrodi Mountains.

 

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I haven’t come to San Fratello to see the horses, even though they are a fascinating sidetrack: I’ve come to witness an ancient Easter celebration, which is part spectacle and part mysterious ancient ritual.
Easter is one of the most important feasts in the Roman Catholic Church calendar, and in Europe, it’s more widely celebrated than Christmas. It also comes together with the welcomed spring, so the celebration at San Fratello is a mixture of religious ceremonies and pagan rites associated with the seasons.
There are endless Easter celebrations in Sicily, from processions re-enacting the last moments of Jesus’ life, with antique statues, which meander through small towns, to decorative Palm Sunday celebrations showing the journey of Jesus from triumphal acclamations, to betrayal and execution, death and resurrection.
These festivities are all pure theatre and spectacle, dating back to medieval times when the church sought to educate the common people about the central figure and founder of the Roman Catholic religion, with the aim of bringing people into the church. Easter in Sicily is full of traditions, the most colourful of which happens here at San Fratello.
The Diavolata of Good Friday is a mixture of the diabolical, as its name suggests, and of many other complex strands of history, exhibited by the spectacle of the costumes and the music, which is filled with both pagan and Christian energy. Good Friday is when Jesus is crucified and is considered a day of mourning for the church, but at San Fratello the characters of the Giudei, or the Jews, as they are known, turn the solemn funeral of Jesus into a macabre celebration, which mocks both Christ and those who condemned him to death.

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Driving along the main street of San Fratello, I see a Giudeo for the first time. He’s one of a series of men in the most confusing fress, which seems both comical and sinister at the same time. The Giudei slowly begin to multiply, ambling by in bright red jackets with yellow lapels; pantaloons, pseudo-military trimmings, and ridiculous helmets decorated with different shapes and designs. They are soldiers from an army that never existed; gathering together every year to disrupt the Easter celebrations, and the town, with their masked faces, ridiculous appearance, practical jokes and trumpeting.
Each Giudeo has a cornet slung over his back, the straps of the instrument hanging over the elaborately embroidered designs on the back of his jacket. They are all dressed alike, but with a subtle difference in the details of their costumes, which reflects a lack of discipline in their characters and dramatically raises the level of madness and confusion in this truly unique celebration.
One Giudeo has a long white tuft of hair hanging down from his shoulder, another a long black donkey’s tail pinned on his buttocks, hanging down suggestively between his legs. They are a strange mix of elegance and silliness, complete with military jackets and white gloves.
Some Giudei gather together and line up on either side of the main street. A reporter and two cameramen from the Rai Italian broadcaster are standing near me, ready to record, which means I’ve inadvertently chosen the best vantage point to observe the procession. The second group of Giudei comes around the corner, and this time I get a better look at them from the front, as they walk past in pairs. The first one has a large red and blue pom pom feather duster on top of his helmet, like a cruel imitation of the Italian Carabinieri’s ceremonial headdress.
They all have a Klu Klux Klan sack mask over their faces, always in bright red, with circled black eyes, designed and cut out like a Zorro mask. The sbirrijan, or hood, is completed by a long, yellow, cartoon-like nose. Some have dark moustaches, like old black and white movie villains, ready to tie helpless damsels to railway tracks, while twigging at their whiskers and sniggering at their own dastardliness.

But it is the tongues that stand out the most on the Giudei’s masks; they are long, hanging down about ten centimetres, with a cross at the centre designed in silver studs. It is this symbolism, together with the name “Giudei,” which suggests that these masked men represent a synthesis of the Jewish leaders and the Roman military that condemned Jesus to death. Their long the black tongue is a symbol of the hearsay and deception that occurred during the schizophrenic turn of public opinion, which according to the Bible story led to the condemnation of Jesus.
The crowd of masqueraded men makes up a strange collage of colours; bright red military costumes, the jackets with lapels of gold fringes all the way down the front, each with a different design on it, and on the back a long strip of yellow. These men are the symbols of a military hierarchy; not just simple soldiers, but decorated generals or officials, like high commanders in the Kiser’s German army of the early twentieth century. But even this reference to a central European military tradition is a contradiction, undercut by the yellow strips on the men’s backs, yellow being the colour associated with cowardice.

 

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These costumes are striking. At first, they slap me across the face with their very absurdity, and I am utterly at a loss for words to describe or understand what they represent. Then I begin to separate in my mind the individual pieces that make up the costume, and I start to recognise the many different elements.

The most outstanding thing is how these came to be put together like this. The truth is that no one exactly knows. This is the most intriguing thing about the Giudei and their costumes. The celebration is a source of wonder for those who study anthropology and ethnology.
On the streets, there are Giudei of all shapes and sizes, junior Giudei, fat and slim Giudei. There are no women Giudei in this celebration, and I don’t know why they are excluded; perhaps this goes back to the fact that they depict the hierarchy of the Jewish community in Jesus’ time, in which only men were the patriarchs.
Some of the Giudei are waving at the TV camera, while others casually gather along the street, waiting for the procession to begin. One of them, his mask resting slightly above the bridge of his nose, is smoking a cigarette and talking to an unmasked friend.
They all have absurd helmets on their heads, made up of standard caps with distinct ornaments on top. One helmet has a flowerpot on it, complete with flowers, and others have horsehair tails, hooks, and feather dusters on them. Some are bejewelled with half moons and stars.
The Giudei wait for the procession to pass so they can celebrate with cruel joy the perceived defeat of Jesus in the history of the early Catholic Church. These colourfully dressed Giudei disturb the solemn, religious march with their loud trumpet playing; curiously, they never speak, their improvised music becomes their voice. The cortège is typical of the many others seen throughout Sicily on Good Friday, when the crucified Christ is taken around the town on a funeral celebration to commemorate his death.

The masked men line up on either side of the road, and some climb on the top of a wide wall. They are waiting to begin their celebration. I watch them clearing out their instruments of saliva, in anticipation of the arrival of the mourners, who can be heard from around the corner, droning out the rosary prayers and singing out the refrains of a traditional procession hymn, in a disciplined drill.

 

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The procession appears from around the corner; A large crucifix is mounted on a giant float and is carried by the modest pilgrims, who continue their sombre chants. The Christ’s head is bowed down; hands nailed to the cross.
Each of the Giudei launch into their trumpeting with a distorted joy; first in a warbled drone and then with a frantic, deranged glee. Different groups form small clusters to disrupt the mournful procession with their music; a loud braying begins and echoes along the corridors created by these extraordinary dramatis personae.
Soon the solemnity of the procession is overpowered by the Giudei’s racket, and they overtake not only the march but also the whole town, filling San Fratello with their loud trumpet playing and acrobatic stunts. Despite the distractions caused by the disguised men, the worshippers in the procession continue to recite their Good Friday prayers, as they run the gauntlet.
After the pilgrims of Christ have passed by, some of the Giudei join the tail end of the funeral march, continuing their wild celebration. Hundreds of masked men crowd the streets amongst spectators and participants, to create a discord of noise and colour.

Groups of hooded men form semi-circles every few meters along the street, ecstatically trumpeting a victory theme, echoed and drowned out by other groups of trumpeters nearby. Moments of silence don’t last long, as other groups start up further down the street, their impromptu music reverberating through the hollow streets of San Fratello, and deeper still into the timeless Nebrodi Mountains.
Some of the more exuberant men perform acrobatics by hanging from lamp poles, others climbing high to hold themselves horizontally and swinging around to attract the most attention possible.

 

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Looking at the backs of the Giudei’s red coats more closely, I notice that many of the intricately embroidered designs on them have religious references. For example, in one model there is Saint Francis, in his brown Franciscan robe, helping Jesus off the cross after the crucifixion; the two religious figures are mixed together to create a unique spiritual collage, as the Saint lived many centuries after the time of Christ.

Other random designs include swans swimming on icy lakes, princesses with Barbie doll features, wearing tiaras, and peasant couples holding hands as they’re about to start dancing; also, Christ on the cross, images of the crucified Christ, Snow White, an American eagle, the Virgin Mary, and various other religious icons, rich with details. I even saw a Donald Duck on one junior Giudeo.

The designs range from the deeply religious, to the secular, a strange juxtaposition of incompatible elements. These embroidered beaded or sequined costumes are hand made and are a tradition in themselves. Often, the suits are handed down from father to son.

The Good Friday Diavolata at San Fratello is a mixture of both pagan and Catholic elements, even though some commentators suggest that the celebration has more in common with pagan festivals celebrating spring than with any Catholic ceremony. Indeed, the festival has a grotesque carnival atmosphere to it, and the participants’ focus is more on enjoyment and mischief-making rather than anything else.

Remember to follow my advice on how to avoid Stendhal Syndrome on your next visit to Sicily:

The best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the beauty of art and history, especially in Sicily where art seems to grow ever more elaborate, is to space out your museum visits.
I have shared my own personal bucket list of artworks you don’t want to miss with Italy Magazine, who has published it on their webpage.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read my suggestions.
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Part two in my series of artworks you simply must not miss on your next visit to Sicily has also been published.

Thanks to Italy Magazine for sharing my love of fine art.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read more suggestions.

 

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Sicily is a must visit place for art lovers, it is filled with priceless works of art from many periods of history beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with contemporary art. Everything from architecture, sculpture, paintings, marble work, wood carving, mosaics to gold jewellery.

Looking forward to exploring more in 2019.

Will be back soon from my visit home to Australia.

See you then.

 

Poetry: Sicilian DNA

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I live in Sicily because I fell in love with a Sicilian,

but in reality, the love affair existed long before …

I’ve been enamoured since birth, 

Italy is imprinted on my DNA,

my family and heritage has always been here

connected to this place of endless human history

my love of stories keeps me happily lost inside its tale

there is always a story, a connection, a heartbeat.

 

Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart

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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

 

I discovered the work of John Keahey by accident a few years ago when his first book about Sicily (Seeking Sicily: a cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean) randomly popped up on my Amazon search for books on my usual trawl through the internet for inspiration.
After a quick, effortless click, John Keahey’s book was instantly on my e-reader. This turned out to be a beautiful discovery, and to my delight I soon found this book to be only the last in a succession of many dedicated to Italy.

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It was apparent I’d review it for Sicily Inside and Out and I definitely wanted to do an interview as I had with other excellent authors who have been inspired by Sicily and in turn become an inspiration to me.
John Keahey is a retired American journalist who has gradually fallen more and more deeply in love with Sicily through the years ever since his first visit in 1986.
I sent an email to Keahey’s publisher, but I didn’t get an immediate response and then found him on Facebook and messaged him. He said yes, to my surprise and I emailed him some questions. Here is the original article about his first Sicilian themed travel book Seeking Sicily.

 

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After that, we became virtual acquaintances on Facebook, his comments, likes and questions about my Sicilian posts and on the struggles I’ve had writing my first book have become most welcomed. I like to think we are friends, even though we haven’t met in person just yet, we still encourage one another through our shared love of writing and this complex Mediterranean island.

When he said he was working on a new book about small Sicilian villages, my heart skipped a beat at the prospect of yet another excellent book about Sicily and I’m happy to report it is now available.

This time I preordered on Amazon and on the day of its release Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart magically appeared, automatically downloaded onto my e-reader.

 

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What makes John Keahey’s approach to Sicily so special is his dedication to slow travel. He explores a place through its history, people, food, landscape and in turn crafts his own personal story which is a pleasure to read.

John is an exceptional traveller and writer, not a simple tourist blindly ticking things off a senseless status driven bucket list he is drawn to a place through his own personal interests and he then lets chance and his ability to connect with people around him to guide him.

In short, Keahey is exploring Sicily precisely as it should be, driving by car to small non-touristy places, making contact with the locals, pulling out threads of history, literature, culture and current events that intrigue him and then following them back to their original source. His journalistic approach is refreshing and offers up many fascinating insights.

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It is a pleasure to see Sicily through John’s eyes as he is always so open to the world around him, he sits with the pensioners in the piazza, knocks back double espressos and cornetti like a local, puffs on Italian cigars, savours every meal and tries to understand Sicily more and more deeply with every visit.

He’s never in a hurry, always stops to ask polite questions and is opened to the art of spontaneity and surprise which never disappoints. Sicily is definitely a place which offers its best when visitors give themselves space to be creative. It is difficult to plan anything in Sicily as things tend to develop organically and randomly.

Whenever he visits Sicily, he tries to live it from a locals perspective, and the result is a wonderfully personal travelogue which reflects the true nature of Sicily. It is always a pleasure to travel with John Keahey, he makes is wonderful company and his passion is contagious.

 

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I hope to meet John Keahley on his next visit to Sicily and finally offer him a double espresso and cornetto while secretly hoping to get a Sicilian themed trilogy from him.

I was even surprised to see my name in the acknowledgements at the end of Sicilian Splendors, which is undeniably kind and I thank him very much.

The new book Sicilian Splendors: Discovering the Secret Places that Speak to the Heart has just been released this November (2018) and is available on Amazon (also in audio book format).

Seeking Sicily is still available on  Amazon.

The Normans in Messina

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The Chiesa di San Tommaso Apostolo il Vecchio is a precious artefact of the Norman period of Sicily. It dates back between 1061 and 1109 under the reign of Count Roger the first, a French Catholic ruler whose crusading knights left for the Middle East from the port of Messina.

For many years it was known as the church of the Concezione delle Vergini Riparate until it was given the name of San Tommaso Apostolo from 1530.

It is a fantastic example of Norman Arab architecture, which borrowed the dome structure of the Mosque and placed within the very stoic, classic lines of the Norman style.

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Walking past the tiny church right in the centre of Messina fills the imagination with images from of Sicilian history, you can almost see the crusaders ending their prayers and galloping onwards to the port and then the holy land.

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Sicilian churches and cathedrals simply take my breathe away, the mixture of extravagant styles from baroque, Norman, Gothic, Romanesque, Catalanian and many more. Together with the tremendous artistry of marble work, sculptures, woodwork and small details unique to this part of the world which easily mixes so many cultures in its complex history.

The Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani in Messina a most unexpected church to visit. It is literally only a short walk away from the Cathedral at Messina and is easily missed as its entrance is located under street level hidden down a flight of stairs it is often closed but if you are lucky to sneak inside you will see one of the best examples of Norman architecture on Sicily.

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The church dates from the 12th century, built on top of the ruins of an older temple dedicated to Neptune, the church is a beautiful mix of different cultural elements. The church displays influences from Arab and Byzantine architecture and also contains Roman elements.

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The central apse is well-preserved with small intricate bricks which form an archway around a beautiful dark-skinned Christ on a crucifix at its centre. The church is popularly used for local weddings, and if you are lucky to see it decorated for such an event, it is truly spectacular.

The name of the church comes from merchants from Catalonia who established a presence in Messina in the 16th century.

A newly restored treasure of Sicilian Art Nouveau

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The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III at Messina was built from 1924 to 1929 by architect Camillo Puglisi Allegra who was inspired by the ornate seventeenth-century Sicilian baroque style which dominates the island, particularly in the Val di Noto area of South Eastern Sicily.

The beautiful Galleria has recently been reopened after many decades of abandonment, and in the evening it becomes a swirling buzz of cafes, bars, pizzerias, restaurants and fast food joints.

But visiting it in the early morning sunlight you really get a sense of the scale, colours and almost religious understanding of this elegant Liberty style structure, so characteristic of the eclectic post-1908 style of Messina.

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The Galleria is located on via Cavour and is part of a small cluster of important public buildings who circle the Piazza Antonello square at the entrance to the Galleria.

The circle around the piazza includes the main Post Office of Messina which was designed by architect Vittorio Mariani, il Palazzo della Provincia (or provincial government) built by Alessandro Giunta and the very grand Palazzo del Municipio (town hall of Messina) which is a work of the celebrated architect Antonio Zanca.

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In the morning the Galleria is like a stain-glass filled church, the sunshine streams in and there is a peaceful silence which allows you to take in the scope of the place and all of the decorative details.

The balconies which look out from the first floor onto the mosaic details on the expansive floor, the marble details, archways and domed ceilings are simply elegant. The balance of the simple classical elements gives the Galleria a real sense of style without being ostentatious.

It is light filled, breezy, with a wonderful well rounded sounding acoustics which I think would be perfect for chamber music, opera, choral music and other such refined performances which often find it difficult to find a performance space outside of the theatre.

And who would not pay good money to stay in an apartment or B&B directly over such a picturesque place?

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The Galleria seems to be empty, making it a home for Messina’s Burger King is a waste. The large elegant space has the potential to a focus of ongoing events and vibrant economic activities. If marketing is done the right way this venue could be the focal point of cafes, markets, local brands, offices and many other sources of entertainment.

Rather than lying half asleep in the late morning it should be bustling with people. The Galleria deserves to be filled with families, locals and tourists visiting and marvelling over this beautiful attraction, similar to other Galleria’s at Naples and Milan.

Messina’s Madonna

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Messina has a special connection to its Parton the Virgin Mary. Not only does she welcome the ships into the port with her giant golden statue at the entrance of the naturally formed inlet. She has many churched dedicated to her, and her image is at the centre of the city’s immense faith and religious celebrations.

On the third of June, a procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to the myth was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is part of a procession around the town for the Madonna della Lettera.

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For the mid-August holidays, a float is constructed in her honour at Messina. The Vara, an elaborate cart depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels ending with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the sky as she ascends body and soul into heaven.

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The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes while singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

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The Quattro Fontane (four fountains) once dominated the corners of the two main streets of the city in pre-1908 Messina between Via Austria (now via I Settembre) and Via Cardines. The decorative fountain heads were constructed between 1666 and 1742.

The immense structures were symbolic of the city’s beauty and aesthetics before the disaster hit. Palermo’s surviving Quattro Canti mimic the style and grandeur of what Messina’s four fountains may have been.

The first fountain was designed by Florentine architect I. Mangani while later in 1717 the second was made by a local sculpture Ignazio Buceta. While the final two were completed in 1742 by unknown artists.

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Damaged significantly in the 1908 earthquake the two remaining fountains have been reassembled in the surviving stretch of Via Cardines, while fragments of the other fountains in this series are preserved in the Regional Museum of Messina together with many artefacts left behind in the aftermath of the destruction of the city.
The details in the two reconstructed fountain heads recall the influence of the Tuscan and Roman style which was popular in the seventeenth century. The elaborate decorative heads and features remember elements of mythology and the artistry behind their designs is obvious.

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Even if only a little part of these fountains survived, it is certain they were terrific to witness when they first became a part of the city of Messina.

Walking around Messina

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I love walking around and exploring the streets of Messina.

This city is filled with many treasures, and its details tell many stories.
The beauty of the world is always found in small pieces of beauty.
Like in the moments we connect to those around us, a handshake, a smile, a quick greeting, the brush of a cheek, small discrete intimacies which create harmony.

 

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When I notice a pattern on a wall, a small flourish or funny shaped piece in the puzzle, there is a sensation of feeling connected to an essential human past as if feeling the warmth of another palm against my own opened hand.
Each precious little mosaic tile tells you about how it was all put together. A work of art is created one day at a time, one word after the other, one brush stroke at the moment, until one day you step back and see the bigger picture and see you have finished something bigger than yourself, a work which will speak to everyone.
I’d like to share the little details I discovered while exploring on an early morning walk around the city.

Please come with me to Messina.

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Messina is a living, breathing miracle. The city was decimated in one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history.

On the early morning of the 28th of December in 1908, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed ninety per cent of the buildings of Messina and Reggio Calabria on the opposite side of the strait which separates Sicily from mainland Italy.

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In the second half of the 1800’s Messina was a thriving hub of economic and cultural activity. It was described as a beautiful city filled with a succession of beautiful palazzi, churches and a beautiful baroque fountain which provided fresh mountain spring water to its inhabitants directly in the centre of the town.

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Gradually over the decades the city has picked up the rubble and rebuilt itself, some reconstruction projects lasting up until the 1980’s while others continue until today.

Many well-known literati, musicians, businessman and barristers worked and lived in the city. The university hosted many famous intellectuals of the day as lecturers.

Even today the University of Messina fills the town with bookstores, trendy cafes, take away stores and restaurants frequented by young students giving Messina the vibrancy that only University towns can have.

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While Messina is usually a chaotic, buzzing metropolis for most of the year as it is the focus of essential offices for the provincial and national government, towards the end of August when most office workers are still on holiday the city is much calmer and more comfortable to explore.

This is when I usually like to go for a visit, explore the typically crowded streets, take the time to soak in the cosmopolitan atmosphere and so some street photography.

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At Messina the buildings are always as expressive as the people, they speak without words, their delicate details tell of their reconstruction, the care and love that was expressed by the locals to never let go of their city, bringing it back from an apocalyptical end.

Mata and Grifone

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Sicily is famous for its ceramics, designed in the classic Maiolica glazed style with delicate baroque patterns. The most original pieces and those who stimulate the most interest from visitors are the Moorish head designs, which consist of pairs of pots, cups or jars which depict a fair-skinned woman and a man with distinctly North African features.

Most foreigners are perplexed by this extravagant couple, which is often impressive features of many exquisitely groomed balconies and gardens all over the island.
Behind this couple, there is an intriguing mix of mythology and Sicilian history.

Theirs is a love story akin to Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, with a surprisingly gruesome mixture of violence and folly. The story takes us back to the end of the Arab period in Sicilian history from 831 to 1091 when the island was known as the Emirate of Sicily (Arabic: إِمَارَةُ صِقِلِّيَة).

This intriguing tale has been interpreted many times, and the characters at its heart have inspired many artists throughout the centuries.

The original folktale comes from Palermo and tells of a Saracen merchant who falls in love with a beautiful local girl. They start a passionate love affair until the girl discovers her lover has a wife and children waiting for him in his homeland. In a fit of jealousy and rage, she murders him in his sleep, cutting off his head so that her lover would stay with her forever. The girl uses the head as a vase to grow a beautiful basil plant. Others who saw her flourishing plant forged themselves colourful clay head pots in an attempt to recreate the bountiful fertility.

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A more romantic version of the Moorish heads tale comes to us from Messina. Every summer as part of the elaborate mid-August celebrations dedicated to Messina’s patron the Virgin Mary, the pagan founders of the city is also featured in the religious procession.

The gigantic eight-meter tall papier-mâché statues of Mata and Grifone riding on horseback date back to 1723 and reenact the arrival of Roger the first of Sicily to Messina, after the island was finally liberated from the Arab domination in 1071.

Roger, I was a Norman nobleman he became the first count of Sicily, and his descendants continued to rule Sicily until 1194.

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In 1547, when archaeological excavations outside of Palermo first unearthed the remains of mini elephants and hippos which used to roam prehistoric Sicily, this discovery lead to the widespread belief that Sicily was founded by giants. The elephant skulls were also taken as proof that the Cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey existed. The elephant skulls peculiar shape, and a typical single hole at the centre seemed to confirm that the animal in question had a single eye.

Many Sicilian academics believe Messina’s Mata and Grifone are manifestations of ancient nature gods, the pale-skinned Mata is a version of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone who was the daughter of the goddess of nature Demeter and who was kidnapped by the underworld god Hades, ruler of the ancients afterlife. There is a secure connection to many other pagan gods representing contrasting elements which coexist such as night and day, male and female and winter and summer.

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The tale told at Messina is a love story, with a staunchly Catholic flavour and no bloodshed. Mata was the daughter of a Messinese nobleman caught the eye of Grifone a general in the invading army who had just conquered Messina.

Pledging his undying love for Mata, he asked for her hand in marriage, which was granted with the understanding Grifone would convert to Catholicism, which he did and then the two went on to become rulers of ancient Messina.

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Probably the most famous version of the gruesome Moorish heads story is the one retold by Boccaccio in the Renaissance short stories from his Decameron. Boccaccio sets the story directly in Messina, the main protagonist is Lisabetta or Isabella an orphaned noble girl who is jealously guarded by her three brothers.

Isabella falls honestly and spontaneously in love with Lorenzo, a local boy of modest means. Their love affair goes on in secret until the three brothers discover Lisabetta leaving to meet her lover and decide to put an end to the relationship to avoid tarnishing the good name of the family. The brothers lead Lorenzo out of the city and murder him, hiding his body in a shallow grave and on their return home tell their sister Lorenzo quietly left on business.
But when her lover is absent for too long, Lisabetta becomes desperate with worry. One night Lorenzo appears to Lisabetta in a dream telling her he was killed by her brothers and where his body is buried.

Determined to find Lorenzo, she obtains permission from her brothers to go on a trip to the countryside with her female servant. She finds Lorenzo’s body and unable to give her lover the burial he deserves and insane with grief she cuts off Lorenzo’s head. At home, she hides the head in a vase and plants some basil in it. The plan blossoms, watered by Lisabetta’s tears.
Isabella’s behaviour alarms the neighbours and her brothers discover Lorenzo’s head. They get rid of the evidence of their crime, leave Messina and flee to Naples leaving behind a distraught Isabella to die of a broken heart.

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In 1849 the sad tale of Isabella of Messina was revived by British artist Everett Millais who created the first painting in the romantic Pre Raphaelite style. The canvas of Lorenzo and Isabella is filled with hidden messages and subtle phallic symbols which have intrigued art lovers for generations.
Another imminent Pre Raphaelite artist Edward Coley Burne Jones painted a portrait of Isabelle and the pot of Basil in 1867. This interpretation of Isabelle depicts the emotive moment the girl weeps over her basil plant towards the end of the story.
The Coley Burne Jones masterpiece draws on ancient mythology, recalling elements of traditional folklore, for example, the ancient Greeks and Romans believed basil was associated with hatred, and according to folk beliefs the plant had to be sown with swearing and ranting. The ancient Egyptians used the herb in the embalming process, making it also a symbol of mourning.

Romantic poet John Keats used the story as the inspiration behind his poem Isabella, or the pot of Basil. In the hands of the highly idealistic romantic Keats, the tale became a love story corrupted by the pride and greed of Isabella’s brothers who treated her like an object.
The Romantic’s version is set in Florence, the poem is filled with profoundly violent imagery before and after the murder occurs. Keats quotes the Greek myth of Perseus who killed Medusa the gorgon serpent-headed monster, which is at the centre of the Trinacria an ancient symbol still used to represent Sicily today.
Behind every work of art, there is always a story, Sicily takes this aphorism to an extreme with its history filled with violence, tragedy and loss.

The baroque ceramic Moorish heads are the artistic expression of the islands rich yet dark mythology.

10 delle più spettacolari celebrazioni di Pasqua in Sicilia

La Santa Pasqua in Sicilia è ricca di antichi riti e tradizioni che sono tanto colorati e varigati quanto lo è l’isola stessa. La settimana che porta a Pasqua trabocca di celebrazioni religiose, preparazioni culinarie, processioni, parate guidate da antiche confraternite nei loro particolari costumi, rievocazioni del mortirio di Gesù Cristo e della resurrezione.

Ogni celebrazione fa parte di un elaborato spettacolo che mischia religione e paganesimo nelle festività che marca la fine dell’inverno e la rinascita della primavera.

Visitare ogni piccolo paese nell settimana di Pasqua sarebbe pieno di bellissime tradizioni religiose e di colore, ogni posto ha la propria versione delle stazioni della croce che richiamano i momenti finali della vita di Gesù e ci sono molte variazioni delle processioni religiose e delle celebrazioni. La settimana inizia con l’intreccio delle fronde delle palme che vengano benedette la domenica delle Palme, la settimana raggiunge un climax drammatico con le rappresentazioni della passione e finisce con il consumo delle delicate sculture di marzapane che raffigurano gli agnelli o ‘picureddi’, pane o biscotti decorati con uova dipinte, molti piatti tradizionali e infiniti desserts nell’usuale abbondanza della tavola Siciliana.

Se stai pianificando un viaggio in Sicilia proprio per provare le festività, qui ć è una lista delle 10 più spettacolari.

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Diavoluzzi di Pasqua ad Adrano

Il riflettore di Pasqua ad Adrano in provincia di Catania è la Diavolata, la rappresentazione di un antica ‘commedia’ religiosa. Scritta nel 1728, da un frate locale, viene messa in scena la sera della Domenica di Pasqua. La Diavolata rappresenta l’eterna battaglia fra bene e male. La parte principale della tragedia si focalizza sulla lotta fra diversi diavoli e San Michele Arcangelo, che non solo riesce a sconfiggere i procacciatori del male ma anche a fargli lodare Dio.

La sera prima Pasqua, c’e il volo dell’Angelo, dove una ragazza “terrorizzata” viene legata e issata lungo una corda tesa attraverso la piazza per incontrare la statua di Cristo appena risorto, dandogli il benvenuto e lodandolo. L’uso dei bambini è una parte essenziale dello spettacolo di Pasqua in Sicilia, essi infatti rappresentano la purezza in contrasto con la cattiveria dell’umanità.

 

Adrano I Diavulazzi di Pasqua

 

Gli Incappucciati ad Enna

Goethe una volta disse che aver visto l’Italia senza aver visto la Sicilia non è aver visto tutta l’Italia, perchè la Sicilia è la chiave di tutto. Ma per capire la Sicilia bisogna andare nel suo centro geografico, perchè incarna l’identità dell’isola .

La provincia di Enna è conosciuta come l’ombelico di Sicilia, ed è la casa delle più antiche tradizioni. I sinistri incappucciati sono i personaggi centrali della celebrazione di Pasqua di Enna già dal periodo Spagnolo, dal 15° al 17° secolo. Soli i maschi membri delle quindici confraternite locali partecipavano ad una serie di ben organizzate processioni, preghiere nella Cattedrale.

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 Pashkët alla Piana degli Albanesi nella provincia di Palermo

A Piana degli Albanesi e nei paesi vicini nella provincia di Palermo, Pasqua prende elementi dalla fede Greca Ortodossa. Le celebrazioni si ispirano all’antica chiesa Bizantina, infatti in molti riti religiosi rappresentati durante la settimana Santa si usano il linguaggio Greco e Albanese. Anche le città di Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso e Palazzo Adriano donano questa particolare caratteristica etnica alle loro celebrazioni Pasquale.

I riti religiosi a Piana degli Albanesi finiscono con il Pontificale, una splendida parata di donne in sontuosi abiti tradizionali che attraversa le strade principali della città terminando alla Cattedrale. Alla fine della parata, delle colombe bianche vengono liberate tra le canzoni in dialetto e la distribuzione di uova colorate di rosso che sono simbolo di nuova vita e del sangue di Cristo.

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 Il ballo dei diavoli a Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo

A Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo diversi diavoli e la morte stessa disturbano le celebrazioni la Domenica di Pasqua con le loro macabre danze, finchè non vengono sconfitti da personaggi angelici che permettono alle celebrazioni di continuare. I diavoli  dai costumi sgargianti rossi e gialli e le maschere pagane celebrano la resurrezione in una delle più colorate e caratteristiche celebrazioni in Sicilia, indossano una tuta rossa, con una maschera rotonda e schiacciata completata da una lunga lingua di tessuto, coperta da pelle di capra e con una catena nelle mani. Mentre la morte è vestita di giallo con una balestra in mano. La loro turbolenta danza disturba le celebrazioni religiose, finchè non comprendono   che la resurrezione li ha sconfitti.

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I giudei a San Fratello in provincia di Messina

In cima ai personaggi grotteschi nella Santa Pasqua in Sicilia ci sono i Guidei di San Fratello. Il branco di uomini incappucciati vengono fuori dal paese e disturbano la solenne processione funebre la mattina di venerdì Santo e le altre processioni durante la settimana santa in generale.

Questi personaggi vengono dalla storia della Sicilia, con tutti i loro colori, i loro scherzi e le trombe rumorose. I costumi sono tramandati da padre in figlio,simili ad un’armatura,  sono caratterizzati da un color rosso accesso, completati da elaborati elmi, strisce gialle e intricati lavori di perline, sono dei capolavori ‘viventi’ dell’arte folkloristica che rimandano allo stile del carretto siciliano.

La colonia Normanna di San Fratello è la casa di questi uomini che legano insieme i fili della storia in tutti i loro colori. L’assordante confusione che creano sembra spaventosa, ma questo pandemonio è un’affermazione della vita. Questa tradizione è ininterrotta da   generazioni è continuata perfino durante le due guerre mondiali. Grazie a questi Giudei i Sanfratellani sono stati chiamati ‘non cattolici’ e ‘diavoli’ , ma questi personaggi sono una parte importante dell’ identità di San Fratello.

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I misteri di Trapani

La processione di Trapani dei Misteri ricostruisce scene della passione di Cristo con una processione di statue di legno che raffigurano differenti scene di questa eterna storia. L’interpretazione dei Misteri di Trapani è la più conosciuta delle celebrazioni dei Misteri, semplicemente grazie alla dimensioni delle statue ed alla grande abilità artistica espressa nelle figure che sono estremamente emotive e dettagliate.

I Misteri rappresentano la passione di Cristo e gli elementi simbolici associati alla storia. A fianco le opere d’arte troviamo oggetti come, lance, martelli e corone di spine in una estesa metafora religiosa.

Le festività iniziano il Martedì dopo la domenica delle Palme con la processione della Madonna delle Pietà, conosciuta localmente come Massari. Un’ opera d’arte che risale al 16° secolo che è racchiusa in una cornice dorata. La tela mostra la Maria Addolorata, rivolta verso sinistra, su uno sfondo scuro circondata da varie reliquie sante.

 

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Gli archi di Pasqua di San Biagio Palatani in provincia di Agrigento

Oltre gli elementi religiosi e pagani, a Pasqua si rivolge particolare attenzione alla decorazione e all’abilità artistica. A San Biagio Palatani nelle vie della città, prendono il sopravvento  archi, cupole e campane  che fanno da sfondo alle celebrazioni pasquali.

I mesi precedenti infatti, le due principali confraternite storiche di San Biagio lavorano per creare queste grandiose opere d’arte folkloristica senza dimenticare il simbolismo religioso. Vengono impiegati solo materiali naturali come bamboo, salice piangente, asparagi, foglie d’alloro, rosmarino, cereali, datteri e pane.

Gli archi vengono disposti in successione, diventando più elaborati man mano che ci si avvicina al centro della città, punto in cui durante la processione della domenica di Pasqua  la Madonna e il Cristo risorto si incontrano.

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Lu Signuri delle Fasci a Pietraperzia in provincia di Enna.

Una delle più complesse processioni dell’isola è quella di Pietreperzia, dove il ‘Signuri di li fasci’ è il protagonista di un elaborata rappresentazione liturgica.

Dopo la proclamazione della morte di Gesù il Venerdì Santo, un antico crocifisso viene fissato su un lungo tronco da cui una complessa serie di lunghe tele di lino vengono sciolte lungo le vie, accompagnate da preghiere in dialetto. Le strisce di tessuto sono resti di usanza medievale, ma l’esibizione è unica in Sicilia.

Di solito coloro che tengono le strisce di tessuto,lunghe 40 metri, stanno chiedendo una grazia, ringraziano Dio per un miracolo che è già successo o mantengono una tradizione di famiglia che li collega a Pietraperzia.

Il corteo è anche accompagnato dalla confraternita locale nei loro costumi da frati incappucciati, ć è chi porta la statua della Madonna Addolorata, chi piange la morte di Gesù  tutti accompagnati dalla banda del paese.

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La Settimana Santa a Caltanissetta

La settimana santa a Caltanissetta è veramente bellissima, dalla Domenica delle Palme alla Domenica di Pasqua c’è una settimana piena esibizioni, processioni Barocche, rievocazioni dell’ultima cena, le stazioni della croce e riti tradizionali che riflettono l’antico e a volte aristocratico passato della Sicilia.

La Domenica delle Palme vede la processione di Gesù Nazareno, una statua di Cristo è posizionata dentro una barca decorata con fiori e portata per la città per ricreare il trionfante arrivo di Gesù a Nazareth. Il lunedì di Pasqua si può assistere ad una rievocazione dell’ultima Cena.

Mentre mercoledì si tiene una parata militare,la processione della Maestrina, le famiglie nobili e un’associazione di artigiani della città creano un miscuglio di elementi civili e religiosi. La sera poi avviene la processione della Varicedde, piccole statue fatte di argilla e terracotta che raffigurano le varie stazioni della croce.

Nel triste giorno del funerale del venerdì Santo la città è in lutto e il Cristo Nero diventa il centro di una profonda processione religiosa. La statua del Cristo crocifisso utilizzata per il corteo è un’opera molto antica che viene conservata dal 14° secolo nella chiesa di San Francesco.

Mentre il corteo della via Dolorosa e della Resurrezione, che si tiene la Domenica di Pasqua, proclama la resurrezione di Cristo in una colorata parata attraverso le strade.

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La corsa di San Leone a Sinagra in provincia di Messina

Non posso fare una lista delle usanze di Pasqua senza includere la caratteristica festa del mio piccolo paese, Sinagra, che comprende l’amore per il santo patrono San Leone e la gioia della Domenica di Pasqua.

Il giorno di Pasqua,la statua di San Leone parte dalla sua chiesa di campagna in cui trascorre l’inverno, per arrivare alla chiesa madre San Michele Arcangelo nel cuore del paese dove trascorre la restante parte dell’anno. La grande statua di legno è montata su una pesante struttura di legno (la vara) portata dai devoti della commissione di San Leone.

La sera quando il Santo arriva sul ponte all’inizio del paese, i fedeli iniziano a correre  portando la statua,accompagnando la corsa con grida e preghiere, il tutto incorniciato da suggestivi fuochi d’artificio. La corsa del santo ha lo scopo di celebrare uno dei miracoli  del Santo. Si narra infatti che quando era vescovo di Catania San Leone per  sconfiggere uno stregone che affermava di essere più potente di Dio, decise di sfidarlo proponendogli di attraversare il fuoco, la sfida vide il mago morire bruciato mentre San Leo rimanere  illeso attraversando le fiamme.

EASTER in Sicily

Per una lista più completa dei posti da visitare vedi la pagina Pasqua in Sicilia 2018, ć è una meravigliosa lista che puoi usare come riferimento per qualsiasi parte dell’isola tu voglia esplorare.

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See the english version of the post here:

10 of the most spectacular Easter celebrations in Sicily

How to explore Sicilian towns

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When people come to Sicily they tend to go along the well followed tourist road, sticking to places like Palermo or Catania or visit coastal resort towns like Taormina or Cefalù which are all beautiful and worthwhile but the island can offer so many more unique experiences.

I always advise people to go and visit a smaller town, whether it be tracking down the village where long-lost Sicilian ancestors came from or simply hiring a car for a day and heading up into the mountains, along the coast or into the interior of the island. There are literally hundreds of smaller towns to see. In the province of Messina alone there are 108 towns each with their own unique history, sights, sounds and tastes.

Small towns aren’t going to be as bustling and vibrant as the bigger cities but visiting them will give you a sense of the real colour and pace of day-to-day Sicilian life which is much more satisfying than merely crossing things off a bucket list.

You can easily hire a car from any major airport in Sicily and with GPS technology it is easy to get off the Autostrada and explore.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Bring a phrasebook

Once you get out of the tourist areas the frequency of spoken English disappears so you will need some Italian to make yourself understood. Some guidebooks will make you believe you will be hearing mostly Sicilian dialect, but the reality is most people are well versed in Italian although it will be spoken with a thick Sicilian accent. Once the locals see you trying to make yourself understood in their language they will do everything to accommodate you, as they are proud of their town and will do anything to show it off.

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Get there early

Get going early as most towns tend to slow down after midday and you will have to avoid any traffic heading out of the bigger cities. I suggest arriving in time to have breakfast (strictly a coffee/cappuccino or fresh orange juice and croissant which most cafe’s/bar offer regularly) and that way you can ask the waiter or barista what you should be doing in their town. Bar owners are fonts of great local knowledge as they are usually located in the centre of town and are always in the know. Sicilian’s freely give information on local events and the best local places to eat, so you can’t go wrong by simply asking.

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 Start with the churches

The best place to see traditional Sicilian art is in Sicilian churches, the Roman Catholic church once engaged the best local artists and artisans to beautify their places of worship and so you will literally find a treasure trove of sculpture, architecture and paintings.

Even the most run down looking church will give you the best surprises. Most churches are open throughout the day, they don’t cost you anything and you can walk around without any problem just as long as there are no religious services and you are respectful and don’t take too many photo’s especially of the altar. If you are feeling generous you can slip in a donation into the Offertory boxes which usually go to the upkeep of the church.

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 Castles and palaces

Every town with either has a Castle/Fortress (Castello) or historical aristocratic Palace (Palazzo). Many have been turned into museums and most will be opened to the public. They are always fascinating places to visit as they are focal points for local history. Sicilian small town are places with many centuries of history, the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times so there are endless fascinating historical sites to see. Once again be sure to ask the locals for advice.

Small town Sicily

 By foot

The best way to see a Sicilian village is to park the car and walk around the town focusing on little side streets, suggestive abandoned houses, tiny little stores and hidden courtyards. If you are visiting a mountain town this walk with mean hiking up, discovering new perspectives and picturesque views. While coastal towns will give you romantic strolls along the seaside or panoramic outlooks carved out of the landscape. Sicily is perfect for slow travel as Sicilians always take the time to savour the moment.

 

Feste, Sagre and Market time

If you want to see a Sicilian paese with it’s best face on, then you must visit when there is a local Festa (saint day celebration) or Sagra (local food festival). Each town has its patron Saint and protector which is celebrated with elaborate markets and processions during the year, so it is always great to see this celebration which is usually accompanied by other events like art exhibitions and concerts.

Sicilian’s are great connoisseurs of food and always love to promote their own local products, throughout the year each town celebrates their food by offering visitors a taste. For a few euro’s you can often enjoy a full meal. There are food festivals dedicated to everything from ice cream, to pistachio’s, sardines, salami, roasted pork, chestnuts, ricotta and oranges, the list is endless. Most are advertised through large posters fastened to walls on the side of the road or on billboards and above all by word of mouth. So if you see one be sure to swing by. These are usually evening events so you may have to arrange accommodation for the night.

The market day tradition is still very much alive in Sicily and each town has its own open-air market day during the week. You never know what you will find at the markets, there can be anything from cheap Chinese clothing, fabrics, local fruit and vegetables, cheeses, food carts, folk art and antiques. It will always be worth the effort even if you simply grab a few local products to taste for a picnic lunch.

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 Eat local

Food is never a problem in Sicily, even if you hurriedly run into a small supermarket just before they close for the lunchtime siesta you will still be able to ask them to make up a quick panino and deli lunch which you can wash down with a beer or wine easily available from the store.

If you are shrewd enough to follow my advice and asked the local barista where you should go for lunch you would already have a selection of recommendations for a place to enjoy a local meal.

Generally if you want to taste fresh local fare the best bet is to eat at a Trattoria (family run restaurant) or Agriturismo (agricultural tourism hotel) rather than a Ristorante (restaurant) which will charge you more and give you less.

 

Tourist Information

Each small town has a local tourist information office which is usually associated with the local town hall. If you decide to find a place to stay and experience the town over a few days they will be the place to go for recommendations about local bed and breakfasts and other places to stay overnight. The Pro loco will be a great font of knowledge as each town is connected through a network of other tourist information centres so they can give you in-depth information about the surrounding areas too as things like web pages and online information is hard to come by.

Sinagra from Castello

There is no reason not to go forth and explore.

Sicily has had a bad reputation in the past but if you use the same level of caution you usually use while travelling overseas there is no reason to be afraid. Keep in mind things like controlling your change while shopping so you don’t get short-changed, don’t leave cameras or expensive equipment in your car, keep valuables either at home or close to your person, don’t take too much cash and keep your documents in a money belt under your clothes to avoid falling victim to pickpockets. Don’t be ostentatious in the way you dress as it will identify you as a foreigner and you will become a target for a mugger or tourist fraud.

Generally, avoid run-down neighbourhoods or isolated areas like train stations or abandoned city squares late at night, if you don’t see people around it means you shouldn’t be there either and simply be aware of any potential danger.

These are the general rules to follow if you travel anywhere around the world, Sicily is no different to any other international travel location.

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The Madonna of Tindari

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Sicilian poet and Nobel Prize winner Salvatore Quasimodo immortalised the ancient town of Tindari in his poem titled: The wind at Tindari, which sketches out the timeless nature of the religious sanctuary high in the mountains of the Tyrrhenian coast in the north-eastern province of Messina.

Quasimodo’s poem is as relevant today as it was in the nineteen twenties when it was first published. Today the Basilica of Tindari still tantalizingly rests between the mountain tops above the sea drawing people’s eyes to it from kilometers, its distinctive golden dome like an exotic mirage on the horizon.

At Tindari Quasimodo finds peace from many restless spirits, secrets and lost memories of the Sicily which he left behind, his reflections bringing him back to a place immersed in the tranquillity of the classical epoch. The treacherous precipices below the town are easier to negotiate today thanks to the modern road yet same eternal wind still blows through the gracious pine trees and characteristic weeping elms which line the streets by the ancient ruins.

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Ancient Tyndaris became a Greek colony in three hundred and ninety-six B.C but had been settled during the Bronze age in approximately fifteen hundred B.C. Its strategic location looking out onto the Bay of Patti stretching up to Cape Milazzo made it a perfect to maintain control of the waters between the Eolian Islands and Messina. It was an important centre during ancient Greek times, a fertile zone high along the mountains near the coastline. The town’s early industries included the production of fine wines, precious olive oil and ceramics which made it a focus of rich trade and commerce.

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Many traces of the complex past are preserved in the town for example while climbing along the road up to the settlement, the original ancient pilgrims trail accompanies you alongside the modern road which winds its way to the top of Capo Tindari passing along-side the city’s ancient walls, built during the reign of Dionysius from three hundred and sixteen to three hundred and fifty-four A.D. The road ascends gently up to the sanctuary and the main church which is an attraction for both pilgrims and tourists alike.

Hiking up from the main car park below the church the road rises, up to the peak of Tindari. During the summer the road is closed and electric busses zip up and down every fifteen minutes. The souvenir shops begin directly after the parking area and are filled with the usual kitsch mixture of postcards, commemorative plates, ceramics, religious icons, rosary beads, beach balls, plastic toys, volcanic rock from Etna, Sicilian horse and cart models, tambourines and endless other knick-knacks.

Roadside stalls continue to present themselves up into the aptly named Piazza Salvatore Quasimodo which is directly in front of the basilica, only to resume on the other side of the square along the road at the centre of Tindari which winds its way down to the ancient amphitheatre, archaeological site and museum.

The Basilica of the Madonna of Tindari is modern construction, work beginning on it began in the late nineteen fifties after the old church was unable to cope with the influx of pilgrims to the site. The main attraction is the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna. The sculpture itself is quite modest yet history has given it a mysterious past and has bestowed upon it many colourful legends.

Source: I stock by Getty Images
Source: I stock by Getty Images

According to the tradition it was brought to Tindari by a cargo ship which was returning from the middle east filled with precious merchandise and treasures. The statuette had been salvaged from the Iconoclastic wars which saw the destruction of many religious icons which were seen as a form of idol worship by the Byzantines of the late Roman empire. As the ship sailed through the Tyrrhenian sea its journey was interrupted by a powerful storm, which forced the ship to stop in the Marinello bay under modern Tindari.

After the storm passed by the crew found they couldn’t move out of the inlet. So they lightened their load discarding cargo on the beach, including the casket with the statue of the Madonna. It is said the dark skinned Madonna chose her own sanctuary as immediately after she was offloaded the ship was able to continue its journey.

The origin of the ship and its final destination are unknown but the casket was soon discovered by local fishermen, who were obviously surprised by the discovery of such a precious artwork and took it as a miracle. The sculpture was placed in the highest and most beautiful part of Tindari, where a small Christian community was already beginning to flourish. The original church is inside the modern basilica which has been built around it leaving the original site intact inside the new construction. Many locals choose to be married in the original sandstone church with its medieval mosaics and intimate ambience, it has become quite an exclusive church.

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Inside the external church of the Madonna everything is opulent, shiny and gaudy. In the usual Baroque nature of Sicilian churches, the parade of masterpieces begins with a spectacularly intricate stain glass windows which take up most of the side walls, the most detailed found in the entrance framed with elaborate marble floors and gold details which create an exorbitant sense of extravagance.

The spectacle continues inside the church with detailed mosaics which illustrate the stations of the cross. Each mosaic is an explosion of technicolour, everyone is a life-sized panel and allows you to virtually walk right into biblical times and into Jesus’s life. The amazing detail includes the clothes, everyday objects and the natural landscape which have been carefully designed and arranged by a skilled set designer.

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Reaching the front altar of the church, bronze angels hold up a golden pedestal at their apex, framed by a protective glass case, is the statue of the Madonna.  Everything surrounding the relic has been created to glorify the Virgin Mary yet the humbleness of Madonna’s image is quite subversive when compared to the rest of the Basilica’s intricacies.

The icon is small about fifty centimetres it is quite far away yet the exotic elements of its design are obvious. This Madonna and child are in the style of an African wood carving, yet the elegant detail of the Madonna’s face and the complex design of her clothing and fine crown suggests the hand of a more refined artist. Her clothes are a tangerine colour with golden trimmings and lashings of woven gold inlays to her headdress and cloak.

 The whole church draws you towards the sculpture which is the main focus for pilgrims and its ancient quality creates an undeniable mystique. She looks out from her glass case as if she has been there for an eternity, a timeless icon of faith, motherhood and goodness. She is a mixture of pagan Goddess, nature deity and early Byzantine religious icon. 

Details of the statues origins are a little sketchy at best but most experts agree there is a mixture of oriental, African and Byzantine influences in the original design. In nineteen ninety-five the statue was presented for restoration at Palermo and after an intensive seven month period of work, many new elements of her design were discovered.

Before the restoration the statue was covered in a white silk embroidered in gold and crowned in gold, adorned in coloured stones while holding a small world globe and a crucifix. In reality under the silk covering she held the child Jesus dressed in a tunic. This additional decoration is typical of the manipulation of religious icons throughout the ages according to popular customs.

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In the eighteenth century, for example, the Madonna is described as being dressed in red with a star-shaped halo, blue mantle and golden shoes. During the restoration, the right hand was found to be covered in various materials which were wrapped around the fingers, including pieces of wire, chalk and colours. These were part of an earlier intervention in the eighteenth century which altered the statue in order for it to hold an elaborate flower arrangement.

After the cleaning of the statue, the Madonna’s eyes were found to be opened and not closed, an effect caused by layers of many centuries of dust and smoke. The form of her eyes aren’t Byzantine or Latin American, they are middle eastern, Syrian or Palestinian. The facial design is Arabic and the signs on her face replicate the energy and lines used by Egyptian or Assyrian women.

There are many contrasting elements in the statue’s dress which suggest a variety of influences during its creation. The Madonna’s headdress is a testament to the pre-existing Hellenistic traditions of the Middle East area. On the upper part of her veil, there are traces of orange-red laces which were part of an original ornamental design largely erased by repainting in gold. The mantle around the Madonna isn’t Byzantine but rather is Latin in a deep pink colour, with decorations of golden patterns in the medieval style. The clothing of the child Jesus instead is moulded by the pure Byzantine style in a typical Greek tunic with red and pink hues.

 Apart from the mixture of European and Eastern designs, there is the wooden used for the statue itself, a dark Cypress, typically found in the South of France. The origins of the statue and the artist who created it fuse elements from both Eastern and Western traditions, influenced by the Constantinople school and the traditions of the Middle East.

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The Madonna of Tindari also represents the phenomenon of the cult of the dark-skinned Madonna which has been dispersed throughout the world in the Roman Catholic Church. This unique following of this type of Virgin Mary figure is in intriguing area of anthropological and theological research. 

Olive skinned Marian statues or paintings are of mainly Medieval origin from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. There are literally hundreds of examples of these dark-skinned Madonnas venerated throughout the world because of the miraculous nature of the image.

Examples include Our Lady of Altötting (Germany), Our lady of the Hermits (Switzerland), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Jasna Gora (Poland), Our Lady of Montserrat (Spain) and of course Our Lady of Tindari (Sicily).

A notable study into the cult of the Black Madonna was made by Leonard Moss in nineteen fifty-two, in which one hundred samples of dark-skinned Madonna statues from around the world were classified into three broad categories.

The first included Madonna icons with physiognomy and skin pigmentation which match the indigenous population, as in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico).

Secondly there are artworks which have turned black through specific circumstances such as general deterioration over the ages, which is the case with Our Lady of the Hermits (Switzerland), while Our Lady of Altötting (Germany) was rescued from a burning church, leaving it smoke damaged.

Thirdly there is a residual category of Madonna statues which have no real explanation regarding their darkness, The Madonna of the Tindari falls into this final category.

One interesting theory suggests some Madonnas were blackened to illustrate a quote from the Song of Songs in the Bible, which became popular during the time of the religious Crusades. The same quote which is inscribed at the base of the Madonna at Tindari: Negra sum sed Formosa which translates to “I am black but beautiful.”  

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Comparative religionist Stephen Benko believes the ‘dark brown Madonna’ is the ancient earth goddess converted into a Christian context. Many goddesses from pagan religions were painted black to reflect a connection to the fertility of the soil, including Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Ceres and others. The Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility and the Greek equivalent, Demeter derives from Ge-meter or earth mother was worshipped throughout Sicily and Tindari was the site of a former temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele.

Some earlier portraits and statues of the Madonna are said to have been created by Saint Luke the Evangelist, who lived as a contemporary to Jesus and his Mother. So these early depictions of Mary which accentuate her ethnic appearance are considered authentic portraits of the Madonna, influencing the creation of many medieval religious icons.

Regardless of religious belief or faith, this statue is a universal symbol of unity between cultures, serenity and timelessness. Its true beauty lies in its ability to survive throughout the ages, its simplicity and its interpretive ability.

The Madonna of Tindari looks directly at you with her dark eyes and tanned skin and together with the wise adult Jesus child in her arms provokes you and invites you to look deeply into their fascinating mystery beyond the extravagant circus which plays out around her.

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The city of giants

Messina 1

Of all the major cities in Sicily, Messina is the one with which I am most familiar, simply because it is physically closer to where I live. Palermo can be too decrepit and full of crime, Catania is just plain dirty and dangerous and the others are simply too complicated to travel to for me. While Messina battles with the usual problems of a big city it is more cosmopolitan, intriguing and easy to explore.

Each of Sicily’s capitals has their particular historical appeal, for instance, Palermo with its boundless decaying palazzi and works of art, or Catania with its cacophony of sights and sounds covered in archaic lava. Messina’s intriguing mixture of mythology, legend and history is an alluring concoction which is more attractive than the usual heavily tangled histories of other Italian cities.

In Sicily, legends are often taught with the seriousness of any history lesson and historical figures become easily exchanged with characters in myths. This combination of seemingly contrasting elements creates a world of paradox, marrying together many unlikely elements.

Messina is Christian and pagan, old and new, historic and mythological, it contains many contrasts which exist side by side, spread out between the sea and the mountains, separated from the rest of Italy by a strait which seems easily traversed yet creates an immense sense of distance from the mainland.

Messina looks tranquil, the public servants are ordered enough, yet the laziness, corruption and apathy run as deep as the rest of Sicily.  Messina’s intricacies stem from the fact that the city has always controlled the marine passage between Sicily and the mainland. Its strategic importance means all invaders from Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean have passed through this port, leaving behind their imprints in the local culture.

Physically approaching Messina in every direction reveals its striking geographical layout, sandwiched between a natural harbour and the mountains. Driving down from autostrada takes you all the way through the mountain tops via a series of tunnels bored through the ancient rocks. The passageways are punctuated by strips of roads balancing themselves on cement columns hundreds of meters high like giant stilts, looking out onto breathtaking views for brief moments.

Taking the autostrada exit towards the centre of Messina and the port, the highway turns though Mount Petoritani which form the outside border of Messina producing its amphitheatre shape. The modern city is slowly climbing up into the mountains with sections cutting themselves up high into endless apartment buildings which push the city upwards away from the sea.

The slopes of Mount Peloritani are Messina’s foundation and in ancient times it was known as the hill of Neptune, the ridge to its north descended to the temple of Poseiodon, protector of sailors.

Fountain piazza duomo Messina

One of the most spectacular curves down to the city shows off the stunning panorama at the strait of Messina. Looking through a heavy steel barrier grill, the expansive city curves out in a giant semi-circle.

The tip of the Strait seems to be reaching out for Calabria’s coast on the other side of mainland Italy, which is trying to grab onto Sicily, barely out of reach. This spot is the shortest space between Sicily and Italy to the north between Capo Peloro and Torre Cavallo, it is here where the project for the Messina bridge is planned, made up of a massive suspension bridge some three kilometres long with two railway lines and a six-lane highway.

The Messina–Calabria link has been talked about and theorised upon since ancient Roman times and today it is the source of much political and environmental debate. Some want it for better connection to the mainland to improve the economy of Sicily, bringing in tourists and making it easier to transport goods. Others didn’t want it because they don’t want to destroy the natural environment, or because of a real concern for the seismic activity in the area. The Island of Sicily is moving further away from the Calabrian coast at an average of one and a half centimetres every ten years. Others want to protect the delicate economic situation between local business, ferry companies and the mafia. Whatever side you take in the debate, the fact is the work will not begin anytime soon.

Today Messina is still connected to Italy by a persistent ferry system. There once was a curious train system which saw carriages being loaded into the hulls of massive ships for them to be offloaded on the other side of the strait. A process took many hours of toing and froing and was one of the most unique train journeys in the world, sadly these trains are nearly non-existent, most mainlanders simply catching a ferry across.

Taking the ferry from Villa San Giovanni, Calabria to Messina at any time of the day still reveals the beauty of the coastline as the harbour stretches out before you in a cove off the Strait of Messina which is shaped like a sickle, in fact, ancient Greek name for Messina was Zancle or sickle city.

The ferry doesn’t make a straight journey across to Messina from the final stop of the train at Villa San Giovanni but instead, it curves in a “U” shape as is if avoiding an imaginary iceberg. This is because of the strong currents at a different point of the strait which create a powerful vortex.

There is a strong descending whirlpool in front of the Faro of Messina, caused by the conflicting currents of Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas who meet there. The two bodies of water intertwine to unite and repel one another at the same time. The currents flowing from the south to the north between Calabria and Messina change according to the position of the sun, the phases of the moon and the strength of the winds. The currents usually alternate every six hours changing course or length they are known to reach the width of a thousand meters.

These whirlpools have been easily identified and recognised since ancient Greek times. The vortexes have created the legends of the sea monsters Scylla, Charybdis and the blowhole of Cariddi. Homer’s hero Ulysses in The Odyssey recounts the dangers of crossing between the tightest part of the Strait of Messina as a life-threatening and nearly impossible endeavour, from confronting the monsters, treacherous rocks, to the songs of the Sirens.

Making it past the mythology of the world just outside of Messina another tale begins with the arrival of ships. At the entrance of the port a giant golden statue resting on a tall stone column welcomes travellers. The cities guardian the Madonna stands with open arms to greet and bless everyone who enters the city. She is more stunning than any lighthouse, a manifestation of the city’s faith.

Duomo Messina Madonna

Below the golden icon, there is a special greeting written in large white letters along the base of the grey pedestal in Latin. ‘Vo set ipsam civitatem benedicimus.’ The words of a blessing written in a letter the Madonna composed to the people of Messina, after receiving a delegation from the city in forty-two A.D. According to the traditional belief Christianity was brought to Messina by the evangelical voyage of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The letter was written to congratulate the city on its conversion to Catholicism and is still preserved at Messina. On the third of June each year a special procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to local belief was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is taken on a procession around the city during the celebration for the Madonna della Lettera.

The city has an intimate connection to the Virgin Mary, with endless churches dedicated to her. She is the focus of a special celebration in mid-August. In an elaborate float assembled in her honour. The Vara, an elaborate cart whose name means ‘coffin’ deriving from the glass casket at the base of the design which represents the body of the Virgin Mary. The construction depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels peaking with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the heavens.

The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes whilst singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

Vintage Messina

Also in August side by side to the religious celebrations associated with the Virgin Mary, there is the pagan commemoration of the two giants Mata and Grifone the mythological founders of the modern city. From the tenth of August, the two colossal statues of the giants riding on horseback are placed on public display.

Grifone a Muslim Moor was said to have come to Messina to sack the city but instead fell in love with Mata, the blonde daughter of a wealthy merchant who lived in the town of Camaro above the city. According to the myth, Mata refused Grifone’s advances because he wasn’t Christian and so he converted to Catholicism. The legend of Mata and Grifone dates back to the ninth century when the Arabs began to conquer Sicily and are believed to refer to the Arab general Hassan Ibn-Hammar who fell in love with the daughter of a Messina nobleman Cosimo II di Coltellaccio.

The figure of Mata came from the ancient town of Camaro one of the oldest parts of Messina whose name is believed to derive from the Greek ‘Kamar’ which literally means ‘city of the dead’ which alludes to how this area was used as a cemetery for many centuries. Another hypothesis is that the word Camaro is a combination of the names Cam and Rea which are another name for the two mythological giants of Mata and Grifone.

The giants are the perfect allegory of the city’s history with particular reference to its confrontations with invaders. Messina has always been in amongst the naval traffic of the Mediterranean and as a result, every aggressor has passed through the capital. Mata is the symbol of a beautiful, civilised, Christian city who converts the pagan to Catholicism. Like the city itself under the guidance of the Madonna , Mata’s faith, in turn, assimilates the foreigner into the Catholic metropolis, adding to the ongoing prosperity of the capital.

In the August festivities, the statues of Messina’s mythological founders stand some ten meters high and are believed to have been first constructed in the sixteenth century by the Florentine artist Martino Montanino. The Giants have a caricature quality to them and sit like two large Carnival floats towed around the city on wheels. Mata has a stern almost frowning expression while sitting on her white steed, carrying a flower arrangement and the reigns in on hand and a spear in the other. She is milky white with chubby legs compete with Roman sandals. On her head, there is a fortress shaped headdress representing the city’s fortitude.

Grifone instead is a bearded, charcoal coloured warrior with sword and shield with the city’s ancient fortress designed on it. His black stallion is draped in regal red robes, its reigns held firmly by Grifone’s muscular looking hands. Both of the giants are regal in their ancient Greek noble dress with details completed in gold. They have a strength and determination which is evident from their stance and their gazes are focused firmly towards the future.

Detail quattro fontane Messina

In the early twentieth century, Messina was one of the most spectacular and populated cities of Sicily. The main streets went around the circumference of the semi-circle created by the mountains and the coastline. The city was formed by the natural landscape and built its streets running from the higher part of the city down to the harbour quay which was the focus of the economic and civic life of Messina.  Along the four main streets there were endless villas and palaces which dated back to ancient times and at the intersection of these major streets, there were four decorative water fountains. The Quattri Fontani were the source of the drinking water for the city which was gathered from the mountains and filtered down to the centre of the city. The fountains were larger than life baroque-style statues with elaborate designs of fishes, nymphs and other mythological creatures. Messina was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe full of such treasure and was spectacular seen from its harbour aboard the ships who sailed into the port.

At 5.21 am on the 28th of December 1908 Messina was literally completely destroyed by a terrible earthquake and tsunami, the most devastating in Italy’s history. An estimated 80,000 people were buried under the rubble of the city, others surviving the initial earthquake remained shocked in the ruins of the city only to be swept away by a six-meter high wave. Bodies of tidal wave victims were discovered in the Greek Islands and in the Persian Gulf in Asia, from this moment Messina changed forever.

Messina is on an earthquake-prone belt stretching from Vesuvius through to the Aeolian Island of Stromboli and then onto Mount Etna. This arch of volcanoes has been active from ancient times until the present. Italy sits astride a boundary zone where the African continental plate is thought to be pushing slabs of the sea floor underneath Europe at a rate of about three centimetres a year.

Over ninety per cent of the city was obliterated, buildings were destroyed, the very streets disappeared as the mountains slipped down on top of the city in giant landslides. Messina had gone from a bustling metropolis with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand people to a completely ruined ghost town mourning the loss of some one hundred thousand dead.

The splendid historical city of Messina has suffered many disasters and gigantic traumas apart from this earthquake of 1908. The bubonic plague was brought to Europe on a ship which arrived in Messina and the allied bombardment of 1943 earned Messina the nickname of the city of ghosts as most residents fled to safety in the outlying towns.

Messina’s mythological and metaphorical giants rather than destroying it have been absorbed into its identity. Today it is a city full of life with the vibrant nature of a bustling metropolis that continues to pay respect to its history, folklore and religion. Messina in its suffering is always redeemed by its own deeply ingrained faith and determination to rebuild and reinvent itself.

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Visiting Sicily with Carmelina

Visiting Sicily with Carmelina

Recently Sicily Inside and Out spoke to Carmelina Ricciardello, the founder of Sicilian Experience who offers personalized guided tours of the island, she gave us a wonderful list of things to see and do in Sicily.

Carmelina is a charming lady, a lover of Sicily and a true Sicilian who is dedicated to promoting her birth place to the world. And it’s my pleasure to introduce you to her and hear her tempting suggestions.

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After emigrating to Australia at the age of 7 1/2, I returned to my roots here in Sicily more than 20 years ago. Since 2005 I have been setting up my sustainable tourism business based in the tiny village of Sant’Ambrogio on the north coast of the island, near Cefalù, and have been showing guests from all over the world some of the more authentic corners and curiosities of this multi-faceted island.

People are constantly asking me for advice on places to visit and here I have compiled a list of 10 activities which, in my opinion, give you a good insider look into the culture and beauty of Sicily.   They are not in any order of importance as I grade them all equally.   But I recommend them as they have been tried and tested many times and all have met with very positive feedback from my clients.   

Of course, they are not, by any means, the only things to see on the island.   

If you have any particular requests I would be more than happy to help you out.

On most of these trips I will accompany you personally.

Or if I should not be available I have my friend and assistant Marian, who is equally knowledgeable about all the places we visit.

I will start with those operating nearer to my home and office as the first 6 could all be done while making your base in the village of Sant’Ambrogio.  For further details: www.sicilianexperience.com

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1. COOKING WITH MIMMO

Mimmo is the dynamic and gregarious owner of our local restaurant Osteria Bacchus.   

With his life-long experience of cooking Sicilian food all over Europe and now in his wife’s home village, he delights in giving guests cooking lessons from as brief as half a day or up to one week long.  He will take you to local markets to buy the ingredients and then your hands-on lesson will be held in the kitchen of his restaurant.   He also makes his own organic wine which, of course, you will be tasting from his wine cellar or at table with the results of your own cooking!   Voted no.1 activity on TripAdvisor, it really is an all-round experience to remember.

2.  TOUR OF THE MEDIEVAL VILLAGES OF THE MADONIE MOUNTAINS

The Madonie mountains are one of the ranges along the northern coast and this car tour takes you to some of the prettiest villages in the area.  Pollina, Castelbuono, Petralia Soprano and Isnello all have something different for you to see.  You can visit a castle, an amphitheatre, taste local delicacies or just sit back and admire the spectacular views as you are driven from one village to the next before stopping for lunch in a family run trattoria.

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3. TREKKING WITH DONKEYS AND HORSERIDING IN THE MADONIE OR AROUND MT. ETNA

For equestrian lovers you have two choices.   Trekking with donkeys in the nearby town of Castelbuono.   Walk with the donkeys through the countryside stopping to observe flora and fauna.   Proving to be very popular with children, the donkeys will carry your picnic and bags for you, and any tired kids too!    Or take a one-week long horse riding trip to the foothills of Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. 

Organised by two different local lads, both Mario of the donkeys and Alessandro our horseriding leader will point out all the local curiosities as well as letting you taste manna, a local product obtained from the ash trees growing in this area.

4. ATELIER HOTEL AND HALAESA

Just a few kilometres along the coast road is the town of Tusa Marina where you can visit the interesting Greco-Roman site of Halaesa which consists in excavations and an interesting museum.  Combine the visit with a stop at the quirky Atelier Hotel down by the beach which has been turned into a living work of art.   Artists from all over the world have been given carte blanche by the owner, a local benefactor, and every room has been transformed into a different art concept.  A guided tour of a selection of rooms is fascinating, and not just for art lovers.

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5. CHEESE MAKING AND FALCONRY

Giulio is our local shepherd who makes cheese and ricotta nearly every day from the milk of his 200 odd goats.   Always happy to meet new people, he will take you through all the stages of cheese making to the end result which is his ricotta.   Naturally, you are encouraged to taste all the stages from the junket, fresh cheese and ricotta, washed down with some local wine!

Mimmo, instead, is a falconer who practices this ancient art brought to Sicily by the Arabs in the 9th century.   He delights in displaying his Lanner falcons and telling you all about the history of them.  

   

6. INSPECTOR MONTALBANO TOUR

A bit further afield and for lovers of the incredibly popular tv series based on the tales of Inspector Montalbano, Sicily’s very own police inspector, this tour takes you to the area where the series was filmed.   From his house in Punta Secca (Marinella) where he sets off for his early morning swim at the beginning of the programme, through the towns of Scicli, Ragusa Ibla and the castle of Donnafugata, all gems of Sicilian Baroque which are to be found over on the south-east side of the island.   Taste some of his favourite foods like the arancini (Sicilian rice ball filled with ragù or ham and mozzarella).   Eat fresh fish at one of the many sea front trattorias in the area, or taste chocolate made from the original Aztec recipe in Modica.

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7. MOZIA AND THE SALT PANS

On the west side of the island near Marsala, which gives its name to the famous dessert wine, there is a vast area of salt pans which are still operational and date back to Phoenician times in the 8th century BC.  At certain times of the year you can even help shovel the salt out of the pans and enjoy some beauty/health treatment at extra cost.   Also from here you can visit the tiny island of Mozia where the Whitaker foundation has an extremely interesting museum full of artefacts.  Joseph Whitaker was one of the Anglo/Sicilian families who produced Marsala wine here in the 19th century.

8. WALKING ON MT. ETNA, LUNCH, WINE TASTING AND VISIT THE VINEYARD OF AN ARISTOCRATIC MANOR HOUSE

This is a particularly pleasurable visit as I take you walking on Mt. Etna over fairly recent lava flows and visit my friend’s aristocratic 18th century manor house. Chiara and her mother will indulge you in some delicious local products and let you taste some of her excellent red house wine produced on the estate. Chiara will take you around the estate visiting the old wine press, the private chapel and vineyard.  Admire Mt. Etna from a distance and also see the 1981 lava flows stopped only 500m from the estate.

Around Etna

9. SICILIAN MARIONETTES AND PUPPET THEATRE IN PALERMO

Dating back to the Middle Ages this form of entertainment is still considered important folk culture.   Especially for keeping the Sicilian dialect alive.   The stories are loosely based on Orlando, one of the knights of Charlemagne, and the knights of Norman King Roger of Sicily who battled with the Moors and Baroque Paladins.   There is a museum annexed to the puppet theatre but I recommend going to one of the puppet shows.  You won’t understand the language but the performance is extremely entertaining, practically self-explanatory and if you have children, they will love it.

10. THE OPERA HOUSE – TEATRO MASSIMO

For those of you who appreciate good music, Teatro Massimo is a must.   

Not just for the excellent operas and concerts they put on but also to visit the second largest opera house in Europe and admire the interior which has been painstakingly restored.   Even if you don’t want to see a performance, it is still worth taking the guided visit of the inside.  Tickets can be obtained on request.

Taormina art studios

If you want any more advice from Carmelina, be sure to contact her through the Sicilian Experience Web site.

Thanks ever so much to Carmelina Ricciardello for the guest post, no doubt her suggestions will add to everyone’s Sicilian bucket lists.

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