La Bella Sicilia
-By Diana Maiola
I recently had the honor of leading a small group of curious travelers to the southern region of Puglia and then to the lovely island of Sicilia. I have been to both places countless times and never tire of what each has to offer. This blog post will be dedicated to the beauty of Sicilia.
Sicilia is the largest island in the family of seas known as the Mediterranean. The capital is Palermo and roughly 5 million people live on the entire island. The shape of Sicilia is somewhat triangular and as a result, it is known as “La Trinacria”. This curious form is found everywhere, woven into fabrics, in ceramics, wood, art etc. It is identifiable by a feminine head with 3 bent legs attached to it and golden wings. Instead of hair, the central figure has snakes. Originally a pagan symbol dating back to 400-600 B.C, “La Trinacria” lost its religious significance during the Roman era to become the unique geographic symbol of Sicilia. Most notably, it is the central figure on the Sicilian flag.
Starting from the northwest quadrant, you have the capital city of Palermo. Travelling clockwise to the east you will find the fantastic seaside city of Cefalu and then further still to the east you have the jewel of the Island known as Taormina. From the ancient theatre in the heart of town which was built by the Greeks and then expanded by the Romans, one can have 360 degrees views of sea, island and smoking volcano. Truly, truly stunning. Below Taormina are Catania, Siracusa and Ortigia. To the south eastern corner of Sicilia we find Modica, Ragusa and Noto. Otherwise known as the baroque heart of the Island, these towns are rich with history, beauty and genuineness. As we continue our journey around the southern bottom of the Island, we stumble upon Agrigento. Probably my favorite, Agrigento and the Valley of Temples are majestic and unforgettable. Several years back I had the opportunity to enter the temple of Concordia and in the center of that temple there was a significant energy from a past era. I will never forget that feeling. On the western side of the Island, you will find Marsala and then the salt mines. The interior of the Island boasts beautiful old towns and rolling landscape. Last but not least are the numerous tiny islands that surround Sicilia. Just to name a few, there are Pantelleria, Stromboli, Vulcano, Salina, Panarea, Lipari and Ustica.
Sicilia is rich in contrast and offers incredible history, culture, cuisine and landscape to its visitors. Before Christ and over several centuries to follow, Sicilia was under the domination at one point or another by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Romans, Normans, Argons and Spanish. Each group that conquered left something behind and this is evident in modern-day life in Sicily. For example, cous cous is a popular dish in many parts of the Island. Cous cous along with citrus trees and sugar cane were brought over by the northern Africans (the Moors). Norman and Byzantine architecture is still evident in most every city. Greek and Roman temples and theatres are still standing and bear testimony to their great influence of the past. I am thoroughly impressed by the Sicilian ability to embrace and maintain the myriad of influence left behind by previous cultures. The Sicilians are proud to be a combination of many civilizations. It is a sense of identity and pride to be carried forward for future generations. On the mainland of Italy, it is not always the case. The Sicilians have a true camaraderie with the variety of groups who have left so much influence behind. I highly suggest a visit or two as this is a magical place that you will remember forever……….