Monthly Archives: June 2017

Wilma, I’m Home!

If ever the Flintstones were real, it seems they were natives of Sardinia.

– Philip Coppens

Sardinia has over 7,000 ancient stone structures (nuraghe) from its Celtic past, mostly constructed between 2300-500 BC, which could have been fortifications, palaces, temples or lodgings. This is quite a lot for an island of that size, and reflects an overall high level of preservation. The nuraghic civilization drew to a close with the arrival of the Phoenicians around 500 BC.

Many of the nuraghe are circular towers, whereas the Albicciu nuraghe is rectangular. The building is well preserved and after coming into a small hall you can head up to the rooftop. The construction simply laid dry fitted stones against the other.

You have a good view of the mountains to the north through an olive grove. There are signs of  additional construction – including a wooden structure as well as a tower.

The rear of the nuraghe shows multiple rooftop levels where additional, probably wooden structures may have stood.

Nearby is the Coddu Vecchiu burial structure, one of the larger burial monuments on the island, believed to be constructed around 1800-1600 BC and excavated in the 1960s.

The burial chamber sits behind the stele which contains a small entrance.

Together with the nearby La Prisgiona nuraghe, this area was quite heavily built up for the time. Arzachena is a good base for this as well as for exploring Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.

I stayed at the Santa Lucia B&B in Arzachena which had great rooms and breakfast. http://www.bbslucia.it

Of the other 200 or so excavated nuraghe, others worth seeing in Sardina include major complexes located at Barumini, Torralba and La Prisgiona, also near Arzachena.

The Lost Cities of Ancient Sicily

You can’t move very far in Sicily without coming across the remains of the cities left by Greek, Roman and other occupants of Ancient Sicily. It would take months to fully explore the sites, and so even if you have a couple of weeks you’re going to be selective. Here are three that you shouldn’t miss.

Agrigento – Valley of the Temples

The Valley of the Temples, about 3 kilometers south of Agrigento, is a Greek temple complex dating mostly from the 4th-6th centuries BC that was built around the city of Akragas, one of the major cities of the ancient Greek world. The very well-preserved Temple of Concordia was built in 430 BC and has managed to stand since then as one of the finest examples of Greek temples, withstanding Sicily’s many earthquakes, in part owing to a layer of clay beneath it. It’s certainly worth half a day to walk the 1,300-hectare site.

The 6th century AD Christian basilica was added within the structure.

View east towards the Temple of Hera.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was destroyed in an earthquake and contains two toppled Telamons – figures of a man with raised arms that would have acted as supports.

Telamon, Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Hercules is one of the oldest temples from the 6th century BC,  with eight standing columns.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux was destroyed by Carthaginian invasion and then restored by the Greeks. It’s four remaining columns were rebuilt in the 19th century.

I drove from Catania to Agrigento and afterwards went west to stay in the fishing port town of Sciacca, which is great choice for a low-key stopover in the southwest of Sicily. In Sciacca, I stayed at the Garibaldi Relais in the center and the Trattoria La Buona Forchetta on Via Pietro Gerardi 16 is excellent for dinner:

Seafood Stew, Sciacca, Sicily.

Villa Romane del Casale

The Villa Romane del Casale is a 2nd/3rd Century AD Roman villa complex located about 4 km south of Piazza Armerina. Much of the structures are recognizable, but more compelling are the extensive and incredibly well-preserved floor mosaics throughout much of the building. The villa is believed to have belonged to Rome’s co-Emperor and would have been an impressive regional palace. The building was covered over by a landslide in the Dark Ages and was only excavated in the 19th Century. Hence the preservation of the building (which otherwise would have been demolished and it’s stones re-used) and it’s stunning floor mosaics. The building is now covered with a lightweight wooden structure that protects the site and gives some useful context as to it’s original size.

Villa Romane del Casale

The reception areas must have glowed when first built.

Remains of wall frescoes still stand along this long hall.

The center of the building consisted of a large covered courtyard with hunting scenes. The Roman aristocracy were clearly obsessed with hunting and capturing large African mammals.

Seafaring and fishing scenes including the inevitable large mammal capture scene.

 

The animal motif floor mosaics are cartoon-like and reveal a sense of humor in some of the aesthetics.

The Room of the 10 Maidens (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze sounds a lot better though) features bikini-clad athletes in a Roman-era equivalent of BayWatch.

The throne room, or Basilica, is quite impressive, and the wooden ceiling conveys the size of the place. You would have to ascend into the room and presumably the aristocrat in it would be on a raised dais of sorts at the far end.

The tepidarium (warm room) contained the hot baths heated from below.

I drove to the Roman villa from the Madonie mountains area http://wp.me/p7Jh3P-fh which is reasonably close by.

Selinunte

Selinunte was once a major port city and fortress constructed by the Greeks from about 630 BC.  Once one of the largest and most powerful cities in the known world, it was ransacked by the Carthaginians in about 400 BC. Abandoned as a city in the Roman era, it was only excavated in the 19th century.

You enter the site through the Eastern temples which originate from the 5th Century BC and were reconstructed in the 1950s. Temple E is the most complete and gives off a golden glow.

 

Further north, the other two temples are massive ruined expanses of handcut stone.

From the temples, the walled acropolis overlooking the sea is visible and a decent walk.

Selinunte must have looked impressive overlooking the sea when it was up and running – one of Europe’s major cities around 600 BC.

The acropolis is anchored by a series of temples on its south seaward side, of which Temple C is the only one standing. The temple area is littered with stone wreckage that makes it interesting to traverse.

The street plan of the acropolis still stands out amongst ruined stone buildings and temples.

You can still leave by the north gate of the city.

The fortifications are clearly laid out, although ultimately didn’t help against the Carthaginians.

Selinunte is a must-see for a western Sicily itinerary and is less than two hours from Palermo, which you shouldn’t miss: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-palermo/

If the above still doesn’t get you into the 2,000-year old mood then don’t forget Siracusa: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-siracusa/ 

 

Sicily’s Highlands

Sicily!

Historical atmospheric ancient cities beside azure seas, etc. All true. Try to head inland if you can though, for rugged and scenic hill country awaits. Along with a surprising amount of snow for mid-March.

Madonie Highlands

The Madonie highlands are a little over an hour’s drive southeast of Palermo and are an excellent outdoor hiking and nature area.

Pizzo Carbonara, Madonie Mountains

Madonie Park (http://www.parcodellemadonie.it) is a highland area that features the Madonie mountain range surrounded by the towns of Polizzi Generosa, Collesano, Petralia Soprana, Gangi and Castelbuono, amongst others, which offer a base to explore the region. If you hate the outdoors you can just drive around the park and visit the towns. There was cross-country skiiing at Piano Battaglia, which is an outdoor recreation area in the center of the Park and there are multiple hiking trails best accessed by your own car – public tranport is infrequent. Some itineraries are here http://www.parks.it/parco.madonie/Eiti.php and this is a good description of the topography http://www.summitpost.org/le-madonie/364267

Petralia Soprana

Gangi

Petralia Sottana and Pizzo Carbonara in the Distance

I went for a hike on the Abies Nebrodensis trail (Sentiero degli Abies Nebrodensis) which you can reach on SP 119 from Polizzi Generosa and Piano Battaglia, with a trail head about 8km on the right from Polizzi Generosa. Even for mid-March at about 1,000 meters elevation, there was a lot of snow on the trails. http://www.parcodellemadonie.it/sentiero-degli-abies-nebrodensis.html

I went again the following day and the snow was more manageable for a few hours. The trail to the Rifugio Monte Cervi was also accessed from SP 119 and headed west.

The weather clouded over but it was a nice stroll along the valley.

The Rifugio was shuttered and was a good turnaround point.

I stayed at Agriturismo Cuca just north of Polizzi Generosa which worked really well. Agriturismos are a farmstay option that are very well set up – http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/sicily/palermo/Cuca-1470060/index.html

Castelbuono is the largest of the towns if you are looking for a base and it has a large fortified medieval center. I quite liked Polizzi Generosa as well.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna, Sicily’s only active volcano, is located just north of Catania, and is an interesting day hike. There are multiple routes up, and I drive to the base on the south side at Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza. You can take a cable car up or alternatively you can hike up the main access road – I had a roughly 4-hour round trip without going all the way to the crater.

As ever the weather was quite clear in the late morning but it clouded over soon after.

This was where I turned around. Not so much owing to the warning (which was relevant the following day when Etna erupted http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/17/europe/bbc-crew-volcano-mount-etna-eruption/index.html) but because I didn’t trust myself to navigate across the snow with the visibility being variable.

Variable visibility and a suspiciously recent lump of ejected rock.

This is a fuller account:

A Day Jaunt Up Etna, Wherein Not Much Happened Except for Cold Weather

Enna

Enna is good place to base out of central Sicily. It has an impressive and defendable hilltop location – in case. Enna is very pretty.

It has the obligatory historical sites that will fill say half a day.

Commanding views over Sicily’s heartland.

I stayed just south of Enna at the Agriturismo Mandorleto http://www.agriturismo.it/it/agriturismi/sicilia/enna/IlMandorleto-3080663/index.html

Also within striking distance of Enna and worth a visit is the Roman villa near Piazza Armerina http://www.villaromanadelcasale.it