Be my guest
CATANIA and PALERMO. On the Island of the sun
“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in “Italian Journey”. Sicily is a small paradise on earth, not yet discovered by many tourists.
The legend has it that three nymphs were collecting fruit in the most beautiful places in the world. They threw them into the sea, which created Sicily. You can find there mountains, a volcano and climbing spots, as well as captivating beaches, large hotels or small lodgings, and quiet villages whose atmosphere is similar to the that from many years ago. Sicily also means olive groves, citrus plantations and sweet juicy fruit and vegetables, which owe their sweetness to the warm climate. It is impossible not to mention the extraordinary hospitality and warmth of the inhabitants of this land. Sicily can also boast the largest number of sunny hours in Europe – the sun shines there for even 300 days a year. Its ancient name is Trinacria. It is also one of the most important symbols of the island, depicting Medusa with the head of a woman with three bent legs and three earns of corn sticking out of her head. Trinacria appears on the red-yellow flag of Sicily. For the inhabitants of the island, Medusa is a symbol of happiness and prosperity. Three bent legs mean the three most protruding capes: Boeo, Passero and Faro.
One of the towns that I highly reco- mmend visiting is Caltabellotta. It is situated just below the rock of Monte Castello, on which the ruins of a castle rise. It has narrow, steep streets, as well as small and simple houses that are often glued to the rock. The town probably has the most beautiful view in all of Sicily. Even the smoking Etna did not make such an impression on me! And yet it was the first volcano that I saw and… conquered. Mount Etna, 3345 m a.s.l., is the highest mountain I have ever climbed. I remember that the day was very sunny and the sky was cloudless, without any gust of wind. Etna was blowing smoke from several craters, and it has over 270 of them. And although I got to its top by cable car and then off-road car, I felt as if I had conquered Mount Everest.
A JOURNEY INTO THE PAST
The first city I saw was Palermo – the largest on the island. It is full of contrasts. At markets, you can feel as if you had travelled to another continent. On the other hand, Baroque churches and palaces can be placed on an equal footing with those in Rome or Florence. As it was in Andalusia, the Sicilian rulers had a taste for the heritage of the Arab culture. At first glance, Palermo may not be impressive: the houses are dilapidated and remember the Second World War. However, it is worth appreciating its originality and authenticity, as well as the traces of great civilizations present in the city – many works of art and architecture of Sicily are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is necessary to climb the roof of the Cattedrale di Palermo cathedral, from where you can see the whole city and go to Quatro Canti square with four palaces. On their fronts, you can see figures depicting seasons, kings and saints. In the close vicinity of Quatro Canti, there is one of the most beautiful fountain in Europe – Pretoria, also called the Fountain of Shame because of its 48 nude statues.
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
I just have to mention the town of Monreale. Located on the Monte Caputo hill, it is 30 minutes away by bus from Palermo. The Cathedral in Monreale is a jewel of Sicily. This extraordinary work of art combines Arab influence with European architecture. The cathedral’s main apse houses a golden mosaic, representing Christ Pantocrator with an arm span of over 12 meters! One of the most beautiful beaches on the island can be found in Mondello, which is about 10 km from Palermo. It is 2 km long and is surrounded by two monumental rocks: Monte Gallo and Monte Pellegrino. Vacationers are delighted by the soft sand and azure sea.
STREET FOOD IN PALERMO
The basis of Sicilian cuisine are pasta with aubergine, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and seafood. Dinner must be served with local wine. Street food stands, operating from dawn to dusk, are also very popular in Sicily. Served dishes delight with originality and taste, and are inexpensive. At the Palermo market, you can buy cooked, steaming potatoes and warm artichoke in a paper bag. Just find a place on the pavement, sit down and eat the contents of the bag with gusto. It is worth visiting the Vuuciria market in the Vuuciria district at the end of the day, when the sun is going down and the streets are lit by lanterns. Then, stalls with local specialties, which are difficult to find in restaurants, are set up in the narrow streets. Wonderful aromas spread here, delicious drinks are offered, and residents chat about what happened in the last few hours.
THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF THE CITY
The second largest city of Sicily is Catania, located 35 km from the crater of Mount Etna. In its history it was repeatedly destroyed by volcano lava and earthquakes. On some buildings, you can see the turbulent history of the city: they are blackened by volcanic ash and hide secrets. Catania is full of hustle and bustle, which has its own unique charm. To discover it, it is best to spend more than a day here. All attractions are located in a way that allows you to easily reach them on foot. I recommend visiting via Crociferi, the oldest street in the city. Although it is easy to overlook, it is charming and worth seeing. The main street is vibrant with life via Etna that is also paved with pieces of lava. It runs from the old port through Piazza del Duomo square to the suburbs. Numerous cafés, shops and restaurants are located along it. Piazza del Duomo is the square next to the cathedral dedicated to St. Agatha, the patron of Catania. The top of the cathedral houses a dome open to visitors, from which you can enjoy an impressive view of Mount Etna and the whole city. In the Duomo square you will also see the symbol of the city – the famous fountain with an elephant. Made of lava stone, the animal is said to guard Catania against disasters. The architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini designed the entire square, taking inspiration from a Roman obelisk near the Pantheon.
RELAXATION IN CATANIA
In the oldest city park of Villa Bellini (Bellini Gardens), you can wind down and have lunch in the open. An interesting element of the park is the hill on whose top there is a clock and date made every day from live plants. Gardens are a popular meeting point for young people, Italian families and pet owners. You can dine at the Pescheria fish market, where a daily dose of fresh fish and seafood awaits you in an almost medieval scenery in the middle of the city. The screams of sellers encouraging to buy at their stands can be heard from afar. Next to the market is the Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab restaurant offering fish specialties and fine wine – the perfect opportunity for a short break in sightseeing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A travelling retired accountant. A lover of Italy, to which she returns regularly. Her knowledge of the Italian language, which she is constantly improving, helps her travel. The destination of her next trip is Rome.
What to see
The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum in Palermo; Flea market in Palermo next to Via Alberto Amadeo; Salt evaporation pond (salt lands) between Marsala and Trapani; Street Art in Palermo. Murals inspired and alluding to Caravaggio, who also lived and created in Palermo; Villa Romana del Casale – 3 km from the town of Piazza Armerina. The largest and richest collection of Roman mosaics depicting scenes from everyday life or mythology; Marettimo – one of the islands of Egad archipelago (access from Trapani).
What to eat
Pasta alla Norma, i.e. pasta with ricotta, aubergine and tomato; Arancini – fried balls filled with rice mixed with various toppings; Sicilian pizza Pizza Sfincione. The dough resembles a thicker cake; Cannoli – crispy tube-shaped biscuits filled with ricotta cream; Brioche con gelato – ice cream served in a brioche roll; Crema di pistacchio – Sicilian Nutella made from pistachios.
Sicilian Ricotta Festival in Vizzini (April); San Vito Lo Capo – International Kite Festival on the beach (May); World Festival on the Beach in Palermo (May); Noto - Flower Festival that takes place on the third weekend of May; Festa Santa Rozalia in Palermo (14 July); Festival of Ancient Flavours in Catania (last Sunday of August); Feast of Mostardia and Opuntia in Militello at the foot of Mount Etna (October).