Monreale is a small town in Palermo, it is located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called “La Conca d’oro” (the Golden Shell). Monreale is one of the nine treasures of the UNESCO listed Arab-Norman Palermo. The cathedral of Monreale is an extraordinary testament to the fusion of architectural styles and traditions that characterize Sicily. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century, after the Normans had driven the Arabs from Sicily and established Palermo as their capital. In 1174, King William II founded a Benedictine monastery and employed Arabic, Byzantine and Norman craftsmen to construct and complete a new church as soon as possible in order that he and his successors might be buried there. The result was over 6000m² of mosaics and masterpieces that include scenes of Noak’s Ark and, above the altar, the famous image of Christ Pantocrator, draped in a blue robe.
Cefalù is a pretty coastal resort on Sicily’s north coast situated just one hour or so from Palermo. The streets and main square are crowded with tourists from all corners of the world. With a long seafront promenade, Cefalù is tailor made for evening promenade, tasting a good ice cream or refreshing with granita( frozen dessert). Cefalù is much more than a seaside resort indeed most notable is its magnificent Duomo, an imposing Norman cathedral which looks out over the rooftops of the city’s historic centre. Mosaics by 12th century Byzantine artists dominate the interior of the cathedral which has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Segesta was one of the major cities of the Elymian people, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily. It is located in the northwestern part of Sicily, near Calatafimi-Segesta in the province of Trapani. Segesta guards the remains of the Elymian city, of an extraordinary Doric temple, a Hellenistic amphitheatre and some strong fortifications which make it today one of the most important archaeological sites of Sicily. The temple (V century B.C), which is still standing, is an austere example of Peripteral hexastyle, and its incompletion allows one to see the different phases of the construction of the temples. On the summit of the mountain, the magnificent amphitheatre (mid II century B.C.), the remains of a classic age building and a Hellenistic bouleterion show the life of the city while a portico, a paved courtyard and a colonnade indicate what was once the agorà in Hellenistic and Roman times. Near the amphitheatre there are the remains of a Muslim village with mosques and Norman and Swabian settlements with a castle, presences that contribute to telling the historical value of this site.
Trapani is a historic city on the west coast of Sicily in Italy. Founded by Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands. A powerful trading network between Carthage and Venice, tuna fishing, salt and wine production. Little is left today of the historic town but the now largely-pedestrianized old town is still a visit to the Colombaia Tower. Trapani’s most interesting churches include the 14th century St. Lawrence Cathedral and the Church of Purgatory which houses the twenty wooden Mysteries statues which play a key role in the atmospheric Easter procession. Locally, the wonderful beaches at San Vito lo Capo and the Zingaro Nature Reserve are within easy reach of Trapani and certainly want a visit.
Off the northwest coast of Trapani, the Aegadian Islands are a small mountainous group of islands made up of three larger islands – Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo – and a series of minuscule islands and giant rocks. This archipelago, dating back to prehistoric times, is part of the largest Marine Reserve in Europe, where large prairies of poseidon, as a large submerged tropical forest, provide a valuable habitat for the reproduction of many species of fishes, a great variety of resident and migratory birds, extraordinary cetaceans and Caretta Caretta sea turtles swimming in the beautiful crystal clear and clean waters and the nature puts on a show of unequaled beauty.
Favignana, with its butterfly shape, is probably the most known island, while Levanzo and Marettimo are the most remote and wild. On all islands, times that elsewhere have passed, here seem to be the same as always.
Located off the northern coast of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands (Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi) are a little piece of paradise and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archipelago of the Aeolian Islands, is the emerging part of a huge submarine volcanic arc that stretches for about 200 km, and that came to the surface about 2 million years ago.
The volcanic activity has also left the islands with very fertile soil that is conducive to the growth of natural flora. You will feel like you are in a world lost in time where, in an intimate conversation with nature, you will discover ancient history, stunning waters, beautiful beaches, enchanting bays, thermal springs, creeks, cliffs of incomparable variety and sweet Malvasia wine.
Selinunte is an ancient Greek city located on the southwest coast of Sicily and is now recognized as the largest archaeological park in Europe. It is part of the territory of the municipality of Castelvetrano, in the province of Trapani. Selinunte, called “Selinùs” by the Greeks, derives its name from σέλινον, the celery that still grows wild, which has become a symbol of the coinage of the city. The way in which Selinunte is presented today is not only due to its destruction by the Carthaginians, but also to earthquakes, centuries of neglect and serious looting. Among the most important archaeological emergencies, the Eastern Hill, that was a suburb of the town. The scene is completely dominated by the remains of the three temples E, F, and G. The temple E, built in Doric style in the 5th century BC, is the building that best presents itself in the Archaeological Park: dedicated to Hera (Juno), it was rebuilt in 1958 with the 38 columns hoisted again and the temple G, dedicated to Apollo, is the largest of Selinunte and it is a work of rare majesty for the Greek world: its construction was started in the 6th century BC but it was probably never completed. The acropolis of Selinunte, located a few meters from the sea, was surrounded by robust walls which are still partly visible. The complex of the north gate, made up of towers, underground tunnels and catapults, is one of the most magnificent military structures of ancient Sicily. In the southern area of the acropolis there were small buildings in which the sign of Tanit was found, symbol of the Phoenician divinity protector of the city and commerce. But, besides this, Selinunte also offers an unmatchable sea, with a suggestive marine protected area and wonderful beaches.
Situated on Sicily’s southern coast, Agrigento is a modern city where the main attraction is undoubtedly the astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valley of the Temples. However, you can still get a glimpse of the medieval city by wandering through the narrow alleyways that criss cross Via Atenea, an attractive street with a good selection of boutiques and restaurants in the heart of the city. Formerly the Greek city of Akragas, Agrigento was founded in 582BC and soon became one of the most important Greek cities in the Mediterranean. The Greek poet Pindar, described it as ‘the most beautiful (city) of those inhabited by mortals’ . It was also the birthplace of writer Luigi Pirandello (1867-1937) whose house in the tiny hamlet of Caos has now been turned into a museum.
Enna is a city located roughly at the center of Sicily overlooking rocky outcrops and hill towns.
Enna is an important agricultural centre since Arab times, in fact the region is still responsible for much of Italy’s grain production. Mythology and tradition is very much in evidence both in the town and at nearby Lake Pergusa (9km from Enna), reputedly the site for the snatching of Persephone (daughter to Demeter, the goddess of grain and earth) by Hades to become Queen of the Underworld. The principal attraction in the town is the Lombard Castle, which originally had twenty towers, although only six remain. The Pisan Tower is the tallest, offering stunning views of Sicily’s Dittaino Valley. Other highlights include a “Duomo” and the “Torre di Federico”, and, in the town’s public garden, an octagonal-shaped tower named after Frederick II of Swabia. A visit here can be combined with Piazza Armerina, Caltagirone and Morgantina.
Taormina is situated on the east coast of the island of Sicily.
Founded in the 4th century BC, the town was invaded and conquered from the Greeks and Romans through to the Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. However, on the 18th century the town was discovered by northern Europeans on the Grand Tour. Devotees have included DH Lawrence, Goethe, Cary Grant and Greta Garbo and its annual Film Festival continues to attract celebrities and film stars from around the world. The main historical attraction is the Greek Theatre where shows have moved on from works by Euripedes and Aristophanes to fashion shows, concerts and film festivals. There are several attractive beaches around Taormina. The most atmospheric is CERTAINLY on the rocky island of Isola Bella.
Catania is a combination of ancient and modern, with a UNESCO-listed historic center and large baroque square overlooked by striking black and white palaces.
The city was shaped by two major events of the 17th century: the volcanic eruptions of Mount Etna on 1669, followed by the 1693 earthquake. Following this, architects Giovanni Vaccarini and Stefano Ittar created a new street with squares and extravagant palaces and churches, many of which were built from the black volcanic rock. The old town center is compact and easy to visit. One of the city’s most impressive sights is the Cathedral, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St. Agata, and its square. Other highlights include the magnificent Roman Theater, the Odeon and the Amphitheater, constructed out of lava and marble. The church of Santa Maria della Rotonda is founded on the remains of Roman baths. Once you have acclimatized to the hustle and bustle of the city, make tracks for Catania’s vibrant fish market, heaving mass of artfully arranged sleek shiny fish of every conceivable shape and size. The market is a short stroll from the main Piazza Duomo, via the 17th century Porta Uzeda arch.
Siracusa – Ortigia
Syracuse is a historic city on the island of Sicily. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes.
Archimedes’ home town is situated in the south east of the island and is still home to a large number of fascinating archaeological and historical sights. Syracuse’s vast archaeological park comprises a Greek Theatre which hosts an annual summer Greek Drama Festival, a Roman Amphitheatre and some astonishing caves. The historic centre of the city is on Ortygia, a lively, bustling island, packed with restaurants, bars, palaces and churches. Ortygia is located at the eastern end of Syracuse and is separated from it by a narrow channel. Two bridges connect the island to mainland Sicily.
Other highlights include the ruins of the Greek Temple of Apollo, allegedly the first great Doric temple in Sicily, and the Fonte Aretusa, a fresh-water spring that is steeped in mythology. From here, the seafront continues along to the fortress of the 13th century Castello Maniace at the tip of the island. It is possible to visit the ancient Jewish baths (the Miqwe) which lay hidden for centuries after the expulsion of the Jews from the city in 1492. The principal shopping street on Ortigia is Corso Matteotti. Food specialities: fish, almonds, pistachios, cheeses and other typical delights.
Noto is 32 kilometres southwest of the city of Syracuse at the foot of the Iblean Mountains. Established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, Noto is a small and precious town baroque in south east Sicily with a disproportionately large number of magnificent buildings and architectural treasures. Destroyed in the 1693 earthquake, the old town of Noto was almost completely destroyed and subsequently rebuilt, under the supervision of the Duke of Camastra, on its current site several miles away from Noto Antica, the older, ruined town. The heart of the architectural action is along the main Corso Vittorio Emanuele which extends from the gateway of Porta Reale across three main piazzas, each with their own church. At every step of the way, honey-coloured stone buildings, elaborate facades and intricately carved balconies border the street. The Duomo, the Palazzo Ducezio, the Church of San Domenico and the Church of San Carlo with its bell tower are just some of the highlights of its original splendour.