Southern Exposure – Sicily [Part 1]

After staying in Reggio Calabria for the night, we took the ferry over to Sicily and had a short drive south to Taormina for our first stop on the island.  Sicily, which is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is largely known by the Americans as the land of The Godfather movies, the mafia, and the birth of the legend of Cyclops.  While these things are true, there is also a lot more to Sicilia – it has some of the most impressive archeological sites in Italy, boasts the highest active volcano in Europe (Mt. Etna), produces pretty darn good wine, wonderful pastries and has beautiful beaches.  We do have limited time while we’re here, so we’re trying to hit several of the main cities and sites.The symbol of Sicily, which is also represented on the region’s flag, is pretty interesting.  Called a trinacria, the image is of Medusa with 3 wheat ears and 3 bent legs that represent the three points of the triangular shape of the island of Sicily itself.

Sicily’s flag

We found the symbol all over Taormina and we even bought a ceramic version for Bobby’s mom, Terri!  Here, the symbol is used for a restaurant plaque.

Sicily’s symbol – Medusa’s head with 3 legs

Messina/Villa San Giovanni

Way back in 1876, discussions began for linking the mainland of Italy (near the port city of Villa San Giovanni) to Sicily (near the port city of Messina).  Several pretty adventurous plans have been announced over the years to make this happen, everything from submerged tubes to floating struts, to pontoons structures, and even a design for a revolving central section of the bridge. None of these turned out to be realistic.  In 2006, however, Danish Architects Dissing + Weitling wowed the Italians with a new suspension bridge design.  The plan called for a single-span suspension bridge with a central span of 10,800 ft.  This bridge  span (if completed) would be more than 60% longer than the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, the largest suspension bridge in the world at 6,532 ft.  In total, the bridge would be three miles long and 196 feet wide, and it would have enough room for 12 lanes of traffic in addition to two center lanes for passenger trains.

However, later in 2006, the Italian Parliament voted down the proposal, criticizing its cost (projected at 6.1 BILLION Euros) as well as its “doubtful usefulness and viability”.  When Berlusconi was re-elected in 2008, he vowed to re-open the project and even pledged 1.3 billion in federal funds to support it.  The railroad was re-routed in 2009 to allow for the structural towers of the bridge.  However, when Berlusconi was pretty much kicked out of office last year, the project went on the back-burner again.  Nevertheless, if it is ever completed, it will be an amazing feat!  Here are couple renderings of where the bridge is proposed to go and what it would look like.

View from Italy’s mainland

Bridge view from Sicily

The supports are enormous – each one is as high as the Empire State Building!

 

Taormina

Our first stop of the journey landed us in Taormina.  The city’s past is Sicily’s history in a snapshot: the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, French and Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.  Because of this, there is a mixing of cultures here; the buildings are layered with several styles, each culture covering up the work of the last.  It has been one of the most popular tourist destinations, if not the most popular, for over a hundred years due to the city’s sweeping views of the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna, its winding medieval streets, and the popular beaches that sit below the town.

The red arrow is Mt. Etna, although you can’t see her on this hazy day…

View of the Greek theater

Entrance into the “Teatro Greco”

Teatro Greco with Villagonia (suburb of Taormina) in the background

Huge Greek arch (with Roman brick covering)

Exterior wall of the theater

Columns framing the stage of the theater

Taormina also has some of the best groomed public gardens that we have seen in Italy.  Built in the 1920s, the garden is over 3 hectares and has lush Mediterranean flowers and shrubs.  There are some very unusual pagoda-style towers constructed of brick in the gardens as well.  An English nobelwoman had these towers built pretty tall to study the region’s birds and supposedly, she modeled them after chicken coops and Chinese pagodas, two of her interests.

Interesting Chinese-pagoda/chicken coop structure

Another pagoda structure in the public gardens

Wood beams holding up the 1920s pagoda structure

View from the gardens

There was also a WWII memorial in the gardens.  In addition to the statue, there was a replica of a torpedo that was driven underwater by 2 men in scuba suits, attached to a British warship, and detonated as a bomb.  Two British battleships were actually brought down this way by the Italian Navy.  A third attack on a British aircraft carrier failed.  One of the divers in the botched attack, who hailed from Taormina, was killed.  The replica was placed in the gardens on the 15th anniversary of his death and the man was posthumously awarded Italy’s highest honor (equivalent to our medal of honor) for his valor.

Time-bomb torpedo used in WWII, responsible for sinking 2 British battleships

As with many places we visit, we found some more handmade and hand-painted ceramics to buy.  I found a beautiful collection of brightly colored plates and bowls that would go well with our existing set of dishes at home.  The nice shop owner even threw in an olive bowl and Christmas ornament as well!  This collection was unlike others I’ve seen in Italy, and I found out that it is only made in one small town near Palermo in all of Italy. (Sorry about the quality of these photos.  We only had our phones with us at the time.)

The collection

It’s difficult to see, but I got the style like the bowl that is yellow, red, and blue.

Lastly, in Italy, I have had a difficult time finding desserts that I absolutely love (other than mascarpone, which is just basically a really sweet whipped cheese).  However, when it comes to Italian pastries, Sicily is the place to be.  I apologize because I forgot to write down the name of the little shop we visited, but we ordered a cannolo (deep fried shell filled with ricotta cheese) and a cinnamon-chocolate bun. They were both delicious and the place even got the stamp of approval by President Clinton, so we know we picked the right place!

We had a cannolo and a cinnamon/chocolate bun-thing

It must be good if Pres. Clinton says so!

Bobby’s pretty excited for the ricotta filling in his cannoli!

Comments

  1. Daniele Flammia says:

    Cannoli siciliani yummy, boy they are good.
    what about cassata siciliana?
    do you think you will be able to make it to the famous island of Favignana?
    I wish I was there for some of their goodies andd a good splash in the water.
    Hey once I heard that people make the geography.
    Maybe if you go to favignana might be able to run in some local old and wrinkled fisherman, if you find one take a good picture of him by his fishing boat.
    Happy tails.
    Daniele.

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  1. […] our second trip to the island.  On our first trip, we visited some pretty amazing places – Taormina, Siracusa, and Agrigento (to name a view), which are located in the eastern half of Sicily.  This […]