Monday, May 21, 2018

Sicily: Greek, Roman, and Norman Influences

The Island of Sicily is 25,711 square kilometers, slightly smaller than Massachusetts (27,340 square kilometers). Because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean, it has always had invaders coming and going: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, French, Aragonese, Austrians, Spanish, and more.  

Our recent Sicily tour (Insight Vacations) allowed us to visit archaeological sites of some of these peoples. Because of the clout of Insight Vacations we were able to bypass the long tourist lines (thank you Insight!). 

We visited the archaeological site in Syracuse which has Greek and Roman ruins. The stone quarries were where slaves worked, digging for limestone. It was also here where 7,000 Athenian prisoners were kept in 413.  The pictures show the "Ear of Dionysus" quarry-cave, more quarry photos, the Greek theater of Syracuse (courtesy of Wikipedia), and an Acanthus plant, which abounds in Sicily. (The Acanthus leaf design is on top of Corinthian columns.) 

In another section of Syracuse, we visited the ancient port area in the island of Ortigia, which has many churches including one with a Caravaggio painting of the Burial of St. Lucy. Ortigia is very charming with narrow streets, churches, palaces, two or three-story apartment buildings fronting narrow alleys so the balconies are almost touching one another.  

The Greek Doric columns shown below, originally part of a temple but now part of the Cathedral, had been built by slaves who were freed because of their fine work. One guide mentioned that the Greeks generally did not kill captives but put them to work and allowed them to buy their freedom or in this case rewarded them with their freedom.

We went to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, which has nine temple ruins including theTemples of Heracles, Juno, Zeus, and Concorde (which was used as a Byzantine church, thus the name Concordia). 

The statue is a modern creation but stays in the grounds with the ancient temples.

Rare Agrigento goat kept in the temple grounds

Villa just outside the Temple grounds

We also saw the Greek-Roman ruins in Taormina. The structure had been originally built as a theater by the Greeks but the Romans later turned it into an amphitheater. (These two photos courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Not to be forgotten are the Normans who also settled in Sicily.  This was an eye-opener for me, because the Norman ruins I'd seen were in England, Ireland, and Scotland -- North -- far away from Southern Italy. 

Apparently the Normans had contact with Sicily from 999, but it was Roger Bosso who became the first Count of Sicily (circa 1068). The Pope had asked the Normans for help in securing Sicily from the Saracens from Africa, but the Normans who had issues with the Pope in any case decided to stay in Sicily. 

 I saw one of the most beautiful churches in Sicily built by the Normans -- Monreale near Palermo is filled with elaborate and highly intricate mosaics of biblical scenes. (My pictures include Eve rising from Adam's rib; and Noah's arc with a dead body in the ocean.) We also visited a Normal Cathedral in Cefalu, although the interior was not as breathtaking as Monreale. 

 Noah's arc with dead body in the ocean. (How did the Mosaic artist achieve this look using tiles?)

Mosaic detail of Eve rising from the side of Adam.

Norman Cathedral of Cefalu

While I have focused on just three influences in this blog entry: Greek, Roman, and Norman, there were many more outside influences in Sicily, such as the Spanish. It is particularly interesting to me to note that while Spain owned the Philippines, it also owned Sicily (circa 1735), which meant both places were part of the Spanish Empire at the same time. 

I'll be blogging about our trip to Malta next, so stay tuned. I'll also be adding more pictures to this blog on Sicily so please check back.


Tags: travel, Italy, Sicily, Agrigento, Taormina, archeological ruins, Greek, Roman, Norman

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