Escape to Sicily with our Expert Guide Lecturer Tony O’ Connor19th September 2017
Turquoise seas, ancient philosophies and Italian delights all at the illustrious corner point of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
One of the reasons Sicily is special to me is its beauty, uniquely formed over time by the fusion of cultures which have each left their impression on this diamond in the Mediterranean.
In the centre of the Mediterranean, this island captured the minds of distant civilisations who came together in displays of power, celebrations of culture, and fierce battles over the bountiful seas and sun-soaked lands of Sicily. Each of these movements in history has seen many civilisations come and go; from Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans through to the well-trodden migration routes from Asia and Africa, each leaving a piece of their legacy etched into the foundations of the Sicily we see today.
Through years of working as an archaeologist in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, I developed a great admiration for the Phoenicians, one of the earliest civilisations which spread from Levant, now Israel, across to the eastern Mediterranean. One of their great accomplishments is on the little island of Motya, near to Marsala, where stands one of their great cities which, still today, is giving up its secrets through the ongoing archaeological excavations.
No visit to the island is complete without the chance to view the wonderful ‘Motya Youth’, one of the finest statutes remaining from the 5th century BC. This and other finds in the museum, as well as the site itself, demonstrate the contact between the eastern (Phoencian) and western (Greek) worlds.
In Palermo, the capital of the island, that fusion of ideas and mix of cultures comes to the fore in the great buildings of the Norman Kingdom, with their influences from western, Islamic and Byzantine elements. This is all summed up most perfectly in a visit to the Capella Palentina (the royal chapel in the Norman castle). Here, in this jewel of a building, the senses are overwhelmed by Christian stories illustrated through mosaics and the fabulous Islamic decorated ceiling. A private visit to this amazing chapel is not to be missed.
As well as all this historic richness, the island has much more to offer, after exploring the baroque splendours of Ortygia we try one of the several local restaurants on the tour, dessert at the gelateria and, of course, an evening’s aperitif at one of the famous Enoteche before taking part in the end of day Palermo passeggiata and maybe a stop for a slice of cassata and a glass of zibibbo (one of the oldest vines in existence) by the opera house.
The mixture of peoples and cultures from around the Mediterranean who have come to this island have blended ideas and created some of the most sublime architecture and art demonstrating the best of human achievement. That legacy continues today in the food, wine and lifestyle of this fascinating Island.
Enjoy the highlights of our Classical Sicily Tour with Dr. Denise Allen.