Sicily – Stepping Back in Time [Part 2]

Carrie is currently working some other web tasks so I decided to pinch hit for her again.  Now that you’ve officially been warned, let’s talk about Sicily!

Our western loop continued with a trip to the Scala dei Turchi (the Turk’s staircase), a stark white rock formation that juts into the Mediterranean.  On our last trip to the Valley of the Temples, we passed really closed but didn’t quite make it there.  This time we vowed to see the calcium and clay formation that’s been a popular sunbathing spot since the Greeks populated the island.  Unfortunately for us, the wind was ripping and a storm was on the horizon so we didn’t get to layout.  We did however admire it from afar and above.

Scala dei Turchi

Viewing the staircase from the moon.  You get to there from here, but you have to wade in waist deep water

Scala dei Turchi

Sunbathers about to get rained on in five minutes (suckas!)

Scala dei Turchi

From the road you take to get to the stairs, no waist deep wading required

The next stop on our “western” trip was the very eastern town of Caltagirone, a UNESCO world heritage site.  To get there we passed through Gela, our least favorite town in Italy.  My run in with a mafioso fruit vendor in this repressed town is here.  Located just 40 minutes from Gela, Caltagirone burst with life, color and self-determination.  The local economy revolves around the production of ceramics and stretches all the way back to Greek empire.  As a side note, the city hosted one of the largest jewish population (who greatly grew the ceramics trade) in Sicily until the Spanish Inquisition pushed the religion off the island in the 1400s.  It was also the epicenter of the anti-fascist movement in Sicily in the early 20th century.

The focal point of Caltagirone is the 142-stair, 400 foot tall staircase that links the ancient part of the town with the “new” (built in the 1500s).  The first staircase was constructed in 1606, but the modern version consisting of steps decorated in ceramics was inaugurated in 1954.  The decorations of the steps represent important Sicilian symbols that stretch from the 10th to 20th century.

Caltagirone

The staircase the entire town revolves around

Closeup of the stairs of Caltagirone

Closeup of the stairs of Caltagirone

Caltagirone staircase

Christmas card contender?

Caltagirone stairs

The view from the top. I want to see Rocky run these stairs

All along the staircase are numerous ceramic workshops that mold, paint and bake their products on site.  Stopping in one of them, an owner gave us a tour of his workshop and walked us through the process.  In another store an 82-year old former sculptor provided us with an amazing description of his works as well as his life story.  We left smiling ear to ear I decided I wanted to be like him when I grow up.

Caltagirone ceramics

The ceramics ready to be loaded into the kiln

The famous SIcilian Pigna.  It is a symbol of fertility and is placed outside houses to welcome guests

The famous SIcilian Pigna before they are baked.  A symbol of fertility, they are placed outside of homes

What the pines looked like once they are baked

What the Pigna look like once they are baked.  The shape of each “cone” is made by pressing the clay with your thumbs

After buying a sweet Sicilian lamp, from the 82-year old no less, we headed on to another UNESCO world heritage site, Villa del Casale in the outskirts of Piazza Armerina.  To make sure we were properly fueled for the car ride we grabbed some Sicilian deserts.

Taking a moment to honor the cannoli before I sacrifice it in honor of my stomach

Taking a moment to recognize the cannoli before I sacrifice it in honor of the stomach gods

At a certain point in our drive we saw the largest group of cactuses we had ever seen.  We did a little bit of research and found out that Sicilians harvest cactuses in the south eastern part of the country (remember this is our “western trip”).  Called “big bastards,” they were originally used to mark the property lines of farms.  One day a disgruntled farmer cut off his neighbors cactus bulbs following a heated argument.  The nubs grew back as sweet prickly pear fruit and the rest of Sicily’s cactus industry is history.

Sicily cactus farm

Sicilian cactus harvesting

Once we arrived at Villa del Casale we were blown away by how beautiful and how well maintained it was.  Discovered in 1950, the Villa was the home to a Roman aristocrat (some historians contend that it was a slaves residence) from the early fourth century.  The mosaics, which cover every flat surface in the residence, measure over 37,000 square feet and provide a snapshot of Sicilian life 1,700 years ago.  If you are coming to Sicily add this to your must-see list.

VIlla del Casale

One of the four sides of the interior courtyard of the Villa del Casale

Villa del Casale

Zoomed in on a single figure in the hallway

Villa del Casale

Romans wrestling ostriches into a boat that so they can later be fought in the Coliseum

Villa del Casale

Half of the 200′ long 15′ wide main hallway

Corridoio della Grande Caccia

Not even elephants were spared from the cruel games of the Coliseum

While looking for a magnet in the parking lot (well organized vendors I might add) we saw many photos of the “Bikini girls.”  What we discovered inside the Villa is that they were not wearing bikinis, but athletic outfits.  The girl holding a “sun umbrella” was playing a game where a circle made of reeds is balanced on a stick.  Roman females were very progressive and competed in athletic competitions alongside their male counterparts.

Bikini girls Villa del Casale

The most famous of the “Bikini girls”

Villa del Casale

The girl in the bottom left won the games and is being rewarded with a woven olive branch crown

Next stop, the UNESCO world heritage site (seeing a pattern here?) of the temples of Segesta.  The Greeks built the temple and amphitheater 1,000 feet above the surrounding valleys.  In its early history the site passed between Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman rulers before being destroyed by the Vandals and abandoned.

Segesta Temple

Looking at temple from the amphitheater

Temple of Segesta

The Doric temple followed the same 6 x 14 column pattern of the Selinunte temple

Segesta amphitheater

This would be a sweet place to take in a concert

Our last stop took us back to the northwest corner of Sicily to the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro (gypsy nature reserve).  The park was the first protected reserve on the island and for good reason.  It consists of five beaches, numerous ancient cave sites, camping areas and hiking itineraries.  Instead of climbing into the hills we stuck to the beach route.

Riserva naturale dello zingaro

Beach number one and they are all this beautiful

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

This little guy and his buddies escorted us along the path

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

Massive cave entirely carved out over thousands of years . They found dwellings built over layers and layers of graves

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

About to burst into nuclear sweat mode here

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

Beach #3, seemed like heaven

After losing 20 percent of my body weight in sweat at the park, we closed out our second trip to Sicily.  Upon getting back to Florence I kept repeating, “there is something in the air down there, there is something magical.”  For being such a small place, Sicily is the home to incredible amounts of culture, history and beauty and it tempts you to stay when you are there and calls you back when you are gone.

Comments

  1. Wow! I want to visit Sicily! How do you get there? Is it by ferry or is there a boat?

    • TheFlammias says:

      You can take a ferry from the main land (we did that the first time around), but this time we flew!