Sicily Stories

  • Syracuse: Sicily’s Ancient Greek City.

On Sicily’s south eastern shore sits Syracuse , nowadays a grand baroque styled city,   but in ancient times one of the greatest powers and,  for  the Greeks , the most important city outside Greece itself .

The Temple of Apollo ,the oldest Doric temple in Western Europe, and the first in Sicily, has over centuries served as a Byzantine church, a mosque and a fortress

The Greek City here was founded by the Corinthians , and the surviving theatre is one of the best examples of ancient theatre architecture anywhere .

Designed in the 5th century BC by the Greek architect Damacopos , it  seated 15,000 people .Great Greek playwrights including Aeschylus premiered their tragedies  here and staged their works in this magnificent setting .

The local tyrant Dionysius was a monumental builder. Enormous caves nearby served as rock quarries and prisons. The  Ear of Dionysius is one of the most impressive. According to legend , thanks to its extraordinary  acoustics,  the  tyrant Dionysius could hear the whispers of his most dangerous prisoners and take precautions .

The quarries  meant Syracuse had the grandest public works in the western world . Much here was built by slaves.

Syracuse and its succession of bellicose and often cruel dictators was defeated by Athens which dispatched a massive  fleet here in 413 BC and it declined further after the Roman victories two centuries later


  • The Baroque cities of Sicily

In 1693 a mighty earthquake flattened many communities in the south east of Sicily .At the time Baroque architecture was the fashion in Europe and over the next few decades several Sicilian towns were re built in the Baroque image .

The result today are eight world heritage towns .Among them are Noto, Ragusa, Modica ,and Scicli which  exist in perfect and grand baroque style on their original sites or  just a few kilometres away .

Here churches and palaces have been created  in a wildly theatrical style , characterised by the fantasy and ornamention characterised by the Baroque movement which took off in Catholic Italy after the Renaissance in response to the austere architectural styles  of the Protestant Reformation .

In Noto , the Spanish Sicilian aristocrat  , Guiseppe Lanza ,the Duke of Camastra, oversaw much of the works and engaged top architects, planners and master craftsmen such as Rosario Gagliardi , to do the job .Together they achieved one of the world’s most successful post earthquake city re creations.

The Palazzo Castellucicio  was built almost one hundred years later  by the Marquis di Lorenzo  del Castellucicio , one of the city’s oldest families . Well prepared frescoes  on the ceiling and walls and the original Sicilian ceramic floors remain to this day.

Even the horses had elaborately tiled stalls and feeding troughs in their stables .



  •  Sicily’s Hidden Roman Treasure : The Bikini Girls

In the 3rd Century BC the Romans overthrew the Greek cities and states that had existed and ruled the island of Sicily for hundreds of years.

The Romans adopted many Greek cultural icons, forms and architectural practices including the creation of elaborate mosaic floors for their villas , palaces and public building .

For hundreds of years one of their greatest creations lay buried and undiscovered beneath a giant mud slide in the centre of the island near the town of Piazza Armerina.

Because of the massive scale of the mosaic floors here, The Villa Romana del Casale  was thought to have been built by Maximian  , a co Emperor with Diocletian in the 3rd Century  AD.

It’s thought the mosaics decorating 40 rooms  were the co creation of Roman artisans and  North African craftsmen . The most distinctive murals are the be found in The Room of the Ten Maidens  – ten scantily clad female gymnasts , known as the Bikini Girls .

All the scenes normally excluded from Christian art lie in this kaleidoscope of life celebrating hunting, fishing , dancing ,discus throwing , massage and lovemaking.

Also featured are elaborate hunting schemes . The Corridor of the Great Hunt is a swirling mass of movement featuring chariots , lions , cheetahs and rhinos .


  • Sicily’s Wild Coastal Walk

Just a few kilometres from the baroque town of Noto in the south eastern corner of Sicily is a wild and windswept coastline  which is now a protected nature reserve .

The  Vendicari  Nature Reserve covers 1400 hectares and is  dotted with deserted beaches ,  salt pans, lagoons, Greek ruins dating back two and a half thousand years and plentiful bird life which attracts hikers and birdwatchers from across Italy and  beyond .

For centuries this part of the Sicilian coast has also been a favoured destination for tuna  fisherman -,the giant fish is plentiful

In the seas south of the island and on an isolated headland on the reserve sits the ruins of a giant tuna processing factory dating back to the 16th century .

The site was originally used by the Romans to produce garum, a salted fish sauce which was very popular.

The site also includes a 15th century tower which was used as a storage facility for  the nearby port .

This unique and once bloody site sits as a an eerie reminder of an industry which once sustained communities along the coast. Tuna remains a seafood staple on the island today .