The Three Ancient Super-Powers: Part 2, The Greeks

On Wednesday I told you about the Phoenicians, the first Super-power of the ancient world and Sicily’s first colonists. Today, let’s see what the Greeks did for Sicily. The ancient Greeks: the second superpower The Greeks copied the Phoenicians by founding coastal colonies all over the Mediterranean from the 8th century B.C. onwards. We call…

Sicily’s Valley of the temples, Agrigento

There’s a modern town called Agrigento on Sicily’s southern coast, but alongside it, in a fertile valley, lies an ancient Greek city also called Agrigento. These cities give their name to the Sicilian Province of Agrigento. Agrigento was founded around 582–580 BC by Greek colonists from nearby Gela, who named it “Akragas”. In its heyday,…

Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I think you can tell the people at UNESCO were a bit overwhelmed with how much wonderful stuff there is in Sicily. When they were naming World Heritage Sites, they just lumped together nine towns all in one go, or an entire group of islands. Each part of these sites merits a listing in its…

Ancient Romans in bikinis and mini-skirts at Casale

The Villa Romana Del Casale, in Piazza Armerina, is one of Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The villa was huge and would have been built and decorated at staggering expense. It was the manor house of a colossal agricultural estate, owned and run by an Italian aristocrat. Sicily was regarded as a terribly primitive province…

The History of Sicilian Cuisine in Thirteen Invasions

Sicilian food is the original fusion cuisine, a unique mix of all of its diverse cultural heritages. The island has been at the heart of thirteen different empires over the last three millennia, and each one of them has left its mark on the Sicilian housewife’s kitchen cupboard. The Phoenicians The Phoenicians were traders and…

Do you only eat fruit in season, or forced in greenhouses?

Whilst scoffing mango and strawberries with my nephew the other day, I found myself thinking of my friends in Sicily with pity. This is the season when they have pretty much no fruit, you see. Oranges fizzle out in February, and then there’s basically nothing till May. Fruit and veg in season The idea of only…

Nature loving things to do on holidays in Sicily

Sicily has 70 nature reserves and I have still only visited a handful of them. They make it a paradise for nature lovers, but there are other irresistible natural attractions all over Sicily, too. BEACHES AND MOUNTAINS IN LO ZINGARO NATURE RESERVE This was the first nature reserve in Sicily and it has mountains, a…

A Time to Die – the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily

The history books about Sicily have little to say about the time of the Spanish rule. I find this strange, because the Spanish changed Sicily more than any other conqueror. The way they wanted this island is the way it still is: the Sicilians just cannot seem to shake them off.   Some history books…

What do Sicilians Look Like? Let’s dig into the DNA

What colour are Sicilians? This seems to be the most controversial and provocative question one could possibly ask in relation to Sicily. I receive a regular stream of distressed or outraged comments from people who cannot bear it when I mention that Sicilian skin spans a range of many tones. They are always Americans with Sicilian…

Sicily Travel Guide

A free online travel guide to Sicily, with sightseeing ideas and practical tips Some inspiration for your Sicilian bucket list Sicily is a place where you can walk around a bank vault containing the most precious collection of coins in the world (Siracusa) or meet a real life knight in shining armour (Caccamo). You can…

Food loving things to do on holidays in Sicily

Sicilian food is probably the best in the world. Just look at how many fatties there are in Sicily if you don’t believe me! (I should probably stop making fun of fatties these days; after ten years in Sicily, I am one of them.)   SICILIAN FOOD: THE ORIGINAL FUSION CUISINE Read this post to get…

Ancient History things to do on holidays in Sicily

I studied Classical History at university, so this particular section just grows and grows. There’s a fantastic concentration of ancient sites in Sicily – including a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which are not only educational but great fun to see. ANCIENT CULTURES LIVE ON IN SICILY Ancient history can be found in the present…

The Three Ancient Super-Powers: part 3, The Romans

The last, and ultimately the most powerful, of the superpowers of the ancient world was the Roman Empire. Why were they ultimately the winners in the power struggle? We have seen decades of power struggle between the USA and the USSR. They fought the cold war using technology and financing small wars around the globe,…

The Three Ancient Super-Powers: Part 1, The Phoenicians

It may be hard to imagine, these days, that Sicily was once the cradle of European civilisation. Three super-powers battled for supremacy and Sicily was the centre of it all. Today, I’ll tell you about the Phoenicians, the earliest super-power and Sicily’s first colonists. Carthaginians and Phoenicians: the first empire The Phoenicians were the first…

Baths and Curses in Palermo’s Archaeological Museum

I recently visited Palermo’s Archaeological Museum (called “Antonino Salinas”). Most of it is closed for restoration, but there was still plenty to enjoy.   I sat for ten minutes serenely enjoying the sound of the fountain before exploring the part of the museum still open. Can you guess what this is?   It’s a Roman…

Where is the City of Zyz, and why was it Cut in Four pieces?

Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians from Tunisia and called Zyz. They divided the city into quarters, with one long road running south from the sea right through the heart of the city, and another running across it. These roads divided the city into four quarters or cantieri. The place where they intersect is still…

Top Ten places to visit in North-Western Sicily

Sicily’s north-western region is rich in exciting and varied places to visit. There are countless wonders, but here’s my TOP TEN. 1. MONREALE CATHEDRAL Monreale cathedral was commissioned by the Normans but mainly designed and built by the Africans, whom the Normans had just conquered. The Muslim-Arabic influence shows everywhere in this cathedral, which is…

Siracusa, The Ancient Greek jewel in Sicily’s Crown

We had a holiday in Siracusa this summer, over on the south eastern corner of the island. That side of Sicily has a lot of Baroque architecture. Sicilian baroque is a distinctive style developed under Spanish and Bourbon rule (17th century). Here’s Siracusa cathedral: The Museum of Archaeology in Siracusa is wonderful. Since my degree…

Solunto – One of the world’s first multicultural cities?

Ah, my legs hurt! What a long uphill hike that was! Solunto was a city close to Santa Flavia, on the north-western coast of Sicily. It was founded by Carthaginians (from the city that is now called Tunis) when they colonised Sicily in the 11th century B.C. That was an awfully long time ago to…

Are the Sicilians Africans or Europeans?

The Arabs and Normans ruled Sicily in medieval times, and left a legacy I see all around me in Sicily today. I see Arabs in the girls with big dark eyes and thick black hair, or in the little boys on the beach with nut brown skin. I see Normans too, in the fishermen with…

Sicilian Amber – the Tears of the Sun God’s Daughters

On some of Sicily’s beaches after a big storm, if you’re sharp-eyed and lucky as well, you can find pieces of a rare type of amber called simetite. Some pieces of simetite have recently been found to contain hitherto unknown types of prehistoric insect. It dates from the Miocene, a later period than the more…

Eureka! Archimedes the Sicilian Detective

We all know the story of Archimedes flooding his bathroom, leaping out of his bath, and dashing stark naked through the streets shouting “Eureka!” in excitement at his discovery of the Archimedes Principle of water displacement. But exactly which city’s streets did the world’s first flasher actually dash through? For years I thought it was somewhere…

How to Protect yourself against the Evil Eye

I was collecting my son from school a few weeks ago and noticed two bags of salt lying on the ground, split open with salt scattered all over the place. “Oh dear, someone dropped a bit of their shopping,” I commented to a couple of mothers. “No, they didn’t,” said one of them.  They laughed,…

The Hanging Gardens of Bagheria

The legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They were supposedly created by the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar II, the king of Babylon, for his Persian wife, Queen Amytis. We have a hanging garden in my home town in Sicily, too, and this post has photos of it. The…

About Jews, Greek Philosophers and Offal sandwiches

Q. What do Socrates and a spleen sandwich have in common? A. Read on to find out! There was already a significant Jewish population here in Sicily by the 5th century BC. They came with the Greeks from Athens, which also had a large Jewish community. Since the Jews influenced Greek culture a great deal…

A Lateen, or Latin Sail boat

A friend of mine took these photos while we were with his wife, having coffee, ice-cream and shameful amounts of chocolate biscuits on his gorgeous terrace overlooking the sea. The sail is triangular, and its front side is lashed to the mast from top to bottom. This Vela Latina or Lateen was the sail used all…

The Mediterranean Diet – how to do it properly

All over the world, there exists the myth of a “Healthy Mediterranean Diet,” which everyone is urged to emulate for the sake of their arteries. The Mayo Clinic (which always makes me think of Mayonnaise, anyone else?) says on its website: “Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option” A cursory search on the Internet will…

The Black Madonna of Tindari

Yesterday we went to Tindari in Eastern Sicily, famous for its statue of a black Madonna with a black baby Jesus. Like most of the “black Madonna” statues from places where the majority of the population is white, she is carved out of wood, and so was originally light-skinned. Wood darkens over time so, eventually,…