The ancient gods of Sicily. What to see on an amazing island
Two of the most popular cities to start a trip to Sicily are Catania and Palermo. It is a huge island with a very special history and culture. Even the language here is its own, although very similar to Italian. Sicily has a very special cuisine, a special system of government and numerous attractions, which has no equal in Italy.
If the journey begins with Palermo it is worth considering that the city is very noisy, crowded and not very clean. With the security situation there is also not so simple, so it is worth watching out for purses and backpacks. However, the baroque beauty and antique architectural structure of the Sicilian capital more than compensate for any possible risks.
Of course, Sicily has public transportation, and in case of emergency you can take an intercity bus or use the services of local travel agencies to get you to the far corners of the island. If you can, however, it’s best to hire a car so you can go anywhere at any time.
About the city
Palermo itself has a lot to see. The city is famous for the mosaics, which are left from the times when the local Norman rulers ordered mosaics to Byzantine masters. Montréal’s cathedrals, the Palatine Chapel, and the church of Martorana are decorated with these magnificent works. The Greek mosaicists did a great job in building these magnificent monuments of Arab-Norman architecture, so that today we can enjoy the samples, which have not survived in the former Constantinople, i.e. modern Istanbul.
About the city
There are plenty of museums in Palermo, but start with the Archaeological Museum of Palermo where you can see the whole history of the island and its exploration by man from the earliest settlements to the more recent past. In Palermo you can also visit the Palazzo Abatellis, where you can find works of great masters like Antonello da Messina, who with his art brought the Renaissance period closer.
About the city itself
Outside of bustling Palermo you can easily find traces of great civilizations like Ancient Greece, Carthage. Even the peoples of the sea have left their footprints on the island, but there are no megalithic structures in Sicily, but that’s okay, because its decoration is the temple of the ancient Greek .
The city of Agrigento is located on the opposite coast of the island from Palermo. It can safely be called on the list of places to visit, because it is there that numerous ancient Greek temples have been preserved. For example, the Temple of Concord has not changed since the fifth century BC and it can be seen in full size. It is worth recalling that Sicily was once part of the so-called Greater Greece, that is, there were Greek colonies. Agrigento is one of those towns that can be visited in one day, living in Palermo, but for that just good to have a rented car.
The village of Castelvetrano
The village of Castelvetrano is located in relative proximity to Agrigento and, although there is much to see, it is famous for the ruins of the ancient city of Selinunte, located nearby. This ancient Greek colony has reached an incredible prosperity, thanks to which several large temples of amazing beauty have appeared there. The temple of Hera, for example, has survived in very good condition, preserving almost all its columns.
In the heart of Sicily is the Villa del Casale, famous for its magnificently preserved mosaics. Traveling from one room to another, tourists can see in what luxurious interiors lived its Roman owner. It is assumed that the house belonged to a trader of animals for the Roman amphitheaters. It is easy to guess that it was a very profitable occupation, so it is clear where the owner got the money for such exquisite decoration for his home.
Sightseeing in Sicily: Highlights
Sicily is a real treasure trove of ancient secrets and artifacts from the history of ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Arab conquests. In addition, Sicily is also rich in natural wonders: beautiful bays, picturesque parks, white-white beaches, not to mention the famous volcano Etna. When planning a trip to Sicily, at first it is difficult to choose something specific, because you want to see everything at once.
Our list of the top 10 attractions in Sicily will help you choose the most interesting places to visit.
Volcano Etna (Catania)
A formidable fire-breathing giant, Etna is the largest volcano in Europe, towering at least 3,000 meters above the earth. However, its exact height has never been determined due to the fact that it changes after each eruption. The neighborhood with Etna causes a lot of anxiety to residents of nearby cities, who fear the explosive manifestations of its character. On the other hand, Etna constantly attracts many tourists, helping to develop the tourist business in the region. There are several different ways to get to Etna: by cable car, sightseeing jeep, Ferrovia Circumetnea train and even on foot, all depending on your interests, budget and physical stamina.
If you want to know more about the volcano Etna and hear interesting stories about it, you can book a tour with a Russian-speaking guide by clicking here.
Address: Mount Etna, Piazzale Rifugio Sapienza, Nicolosi Catania.
The Valley of the Temples (Agrigento)
The Valley of the Temples is an archaeological park where the remains of eight ancient Greek temples from the 5th and 6th century B.C. are preserved. Although all of these temples are noteworthy, the temple of Concordia is considered to be the most important because it is the best preserved. It is the temple of Concordia that inspired the famous UNESCO logo. The area of the Valley of the Temples is more than 1300 hectares, it is the largest archaeological park in the world.
Opening hours: every day from 8:30 to 19:00. Ticket price: 10 euros. Address: Valley of the Temples.
Villa del Casale (Piazza Armerina)
Built around the 4th century, the Villa del Casale is interesting because of the mosaics that adorn it. It is the best-preserved example of mosaics from the Roman period. The 50 rooms of the villa have mosaic floors depicting scenes from mythology and everyday life. The total area of the mosaics is over 3500 square meters. For a long time, until the 12th century, Villa del Casale was completely abandoned, and only in the 19th century, after the discovery of the mosaic, became one of the main attractions of Sicily. The most famous fragment of the mosaic is the picture of the girls engaged in physical exercises.
Opening hours: every day from 9.00 to 18.00. Ticket price: 10 euros. Address: Strada Provinciale, 90.
Liparian (Aeolian) Islands
Many travelers who come to Sicily spend all their time on the island. However, you should take your time and visit the Aeolian Islands. The double name has to do with the origin of the islands: according to some myths they were created by Aeolus, the god of wind. These very islands are mentioned in Homer’s “The Odyssey”. Today they are more commonly referred to as the Liparian Islands, after the name of the main island. The most famous of the Liparian Islands is Vulcano, famous for its therapeutic mud, and moreover for the fact that it has an active volcanic crater.
Ortigia is an island in Syracuse, where the old part of the city is located. It is very easy to get around, and it is virtually impossible to get lost there. It’s hard to believe that 2.5 thousand years of European history could fit on this island. Start your walk around Ortigia with the temple of Apollo, then head towards the central square of the city – the square of Archimedes, a famous native of Syracuse. There you can admire the classical palaces and refresh yourself at the fountain of Artemis. Walking from Piazza Archimedes towards the coast you can see the spring of Aretusa, dedicated to the unhappy nymph who chose to turn into a torrent of water to escape her pestering advances. The farthest point of Ortigia is Maniace Castle, which houses the Syracuse Museum of History and Archaeology.
Montreale Cathedral (Montreale)
The Cathedral of Monreale is interesting because it reflects the political, religious and cultural achievements of Sicily during the Norman period. Another feature is that it is virtually the only cathedral in Sicily that remains in pristine condition. The architecture of the cathedral shows a departure from Byzantine forms, but at the same time, the dazzling mosaics decorating the cathedral are a typical example of Byzantine style. Mosaics depicting scenes from the Bible cover all surfaces of the cathedral.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30-12.45 and 14.30-17.00, Sunday 8 a.m.-10.00 and 14.30-17.00. Address: Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.
Archaeological Park of Neapolis (Syracuse)
The Archaeological Park of Neapolis is home to one of the largest theaters of ancient Greece, the main exhibit of this historical complex. But there are other structures worth seeing in Neapolis, such as the great Roman amphitheater and the altar of Hieron II, which date back to the 3rd century B.C. An interesting feature of this park is the opportunity to see the quarries where the stones for various buildings were mined. The largest of them is Latomia del Paradiso, where stone mining began as early as the 6th century B.C. Perhaps the most popular place in Neapolis is the “Ear of Dionysius” cave, named for its shape, which resembles an ear shell. According to legends, the ruler of ancient Syracuse, the despot Dionysius, used this cave, which has excellent acoustics, to eavesdrop on the conversations of his opponents.
If you want to learn more about Syracuse, admire the monuments of antiquity, admire the beauties of modern times and get acquainted with the most interesting historical stages of the ancient city, you can book a tour of Syracuse by following this link.
Opening hours: Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m., closing one hour before sundown, Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Ticket price: 10 euros. Address: Via Paradiso, 14.
Ragusa Ibla (Ragusa)
The lower town of Ragusa Ragusa Ibla is a fascinating labyrinth of intricate streets that eventually lead you to delightful squares, palaces and cathedrals. At first it seems so easy to get lost there, but in fact, even walking without a map, you will sooner or later find yourself in the center, in Cathedral Square. The pride of Ragusa Ibla is the church of San Giuseppe, decorated with the “Glory of St. Benedict” fresco and the Cathedral of St. George. And a favorite resting place for residents and tourists is the Ibley Garden Giardino lbleo, the oldest of Ragusa’s four parks.
Benedictine Monastery (Catania)
The Benedictine Monastery of St. Nicholas in Catania is considered one of the largest monasteries in Europe. It ranks among the best examples of late Baroque, and along with similar buildings in Sicily, the monastery is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today it houses the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Catania. You can join a guided tour of the rooms of the monastery, its cellars, the altar of St. Nicholas and the monastic gardens. On the last Friday of each month there is a special tour where you can learn not only interesting details about the monastery, but also about the history of Catania.
Ticket price: 7 euros. Every day from 9:00 to 17:00. Address: Piazza Dante Alighieri, 32.
The Archaeological Museum of Palermo
In a place like Sicily, where the fortunes of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire intertwined, it is natural to expect a large number of historical museums. In this respect, Sicily fully meets all expectations. Among the many Sicilian museums devoted to the history of antiquity, the Archaeological Museum of Palermo has a special place. It is considered one of the best not only in Sicily, but in the whole country. Among the most important exhibits are the Palermo Stone, with its hieroglyphs that list the Egyptian pharaohs of the 3rd and 4th millenniums B.C., the huge statue of Zeus from the 2nd century B.C. and the remains of temples in Selinunte, an ancient city in the south of Sicily.
Ticket price: 6 euros. Opening hours: Tuesday-Friday: 9.30-18.30, Saturday-Sunday: 9.30-13.00. Address: Via Bara All’Olivella, 24.