Most importantly, each day we carefully planned what we wanted to explore in the many cities of Sicily. Nowhere in the whole boot of Italy are there variations of culture, history and exploitation than found on this island in the Mediterranean. Many in the past had come to conquer Sicily and its people. These conquerors had left their mark, and their mark is visible.
The influence of Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, the Nordic countries and northern Africa can be identified in some of the architecture, customs and religious artifacts. Sicily has always been an enticement and haven for others. It was the garden spot of Europe and still today it attracts vacationers from all over the world.
Walking along the cobblestone streets of Bronte, a small town in the foothills of Mount Etna we visited the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This was the church our parents attended mass when they were children. Much to our delight came into view a wedding procession. The bride, groom and their attendants dressed in their finery walked along the same cobblestone streets, irregular and winding making their way to the church to be married. They were following traditions as others did centuries ago.
Later that day, we engaged a tour to climb Mount Etna. As we started our ascent, the terrain was beautiful with the thickness of fir, poplar and fruit trees. Greenery was lush. We rode upward higher and higher, and at each level we could see the dramatic changes in the landscape. First it was subtle, with less and less vegetation, until we witnessed the incredible stretches of black lava deposits.
We travelled by bus until we transferred to small jeeps to facilitate the climb further up the mountain. The change from green to pitch black was stunning. The formations of lava left indelibly from past eruptions formed sculptures made by the hand of nature.
When darkness appeared in the evening, the show really began. In the dim light of the moon, we could see Mount Etna always active, surrounded by a gray mist spewing white sulfur turning to yellow and then orange. Few of us made it to the top since the air became rarified and breathing was more difficult. The desolation and remoteness of the area was likened to the moon itself. It was an experience of a lifetime.
We chose different cities to explore for the unique features. Caltigirone was a mecca for pottery, hand crafted, colorful with exquisite detail and design.
We visited Plaza di Amerina a hunting lodge, the home of the fascinating Villa Romana de Casale. It was built in the 3rd century. The ruins remained wonderfully intact. On of the most amazing rooms of this palace was a space used by the Romans who had their slaves compete in intermural sports with other slaves of wealthy men.
The walls and ceilings depicted the activities. Figures were illustrated in brilliant colors. There were women competing in archery and calisthenics wearing bikinis like the ones used today. The floors were designed to show swimmers competing. These illustrations were remarkably done in exquisite mosaic pieces and told the story of the era.
Throughout the area can be seen remnants of Greek temples. It is said there are more Greek temples in Sicily than in Greece. We learned the architecture and distinctive difference of the columns defining the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. Somehow our trip to Sicily was the best history lesson any of us ever learned. We left Sicily with a feeling of great pride in our heritage. History has given us a look into the past, its wonders and sometime negative events. Sicily has experienced it all. I came away from this adventure with pride and renewed appreciation for a people who suffered centuries of invasions by others, but never succumbed to other than what they are, rich in tradition and uniquely creative. Reconnecting with my heritage gave me the richest gift of all.
Linda Alessi contributes a weekly column to The Democrat on life’s later decades.