Cathedral Building… or was it Economy Building?

All the cathedrals across Europe were built in the space of about 200 years, at the height of the crusades. They look expensive, but they were actually money machines. Whilst there may have been an element of religious fervour to them, they were also a way of demonstrating power to potential enemies and the illiterate…

A Festival in Noto

Every parish in Sicily has a festival once a year to celebrate the saint in whose honour the church is dedicated. We happened to be in Noto a good few years back during the festival at the Cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Nicolas (Basilica Cattedrale di San Nicola). We began the day with the classic…

The Baroque town of Noto, Sicily’s Ingenious City

Noto was one of the earliest cities in Sicily, first built in the Bronze age by the Sikels, one of Sicily three indigenous tribes. By early Medieval times it was a bustling city, and one of the last Arab holdouts to finally succumb to the invasion of the Normans. It retained a multicultural population and…

The Museum of a Sicilian Water Mill at Cavallo d’Ispica

We visited this lovely little museum near Siracusa when we found it by pure chance. It is called the Museo Cavallo d’Ispica. It is in an old water mill, which the same family has converted into a museum, after several generations of their family used it to mill flour. They were clearly the kind of…

The Ear of Dionysus near Syracuse

These photos are of a remarkable rock formation called the Ear of Dionysus, just outside Siracusa in south-Eastern Sicily. It is named after a former dictator of the Greek-founded City, as apparently he was very paranoid about rivals and improsoned them all in this cave. He then sent envoys to eavesdrop on them, as the…

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…

A Priceless Hoard of Sicilian Treasure

I first visited Siracusa two summers ago. The highlight of my trip was visiting the Medagliere (Numismatics Treasury) in the Archaeological Museum and getting to know its charming curator, Rosalba Riccioli. Blonde and vivacious, Rosalba’s passion for the 2,500-year-old gold coins and jewellery in her care – and the intriguing stories behind them – is…

2014: Dolce and Gabbana’s year of Siracusa!

Sicilian fashion duo Dolce & Gababana have been taking their inspiration from Sicily for several years. I usually try to report on it as soon as the collection comes out, despite the fact that I am about as likely to end up owning a real D&G outfit of clothes as I am to hire Brad…

Fancy walking into the richest bank vault in the world?

You actually can. In Sicily. It is called the “Medagliere” and it occupies the basement of the Archaeological Museum of Siracusa, on the island’s south-eastern tip. You get an adrenaline rush just walking through the door. It is solid metal about four feet thick, with iron bars that poke out in all directions and penetrate…

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…

Archimedes and his Terrible Stomach Ache

This puzzle, at least 2.5 thousand years old, is called a Stomachion, which means “stomach ache”. It comes to us thanks to Archimedes, Sicily’s greatest scientist and one of the greatest mathematicians in the world. He described it in a book now called The Archimedes Palimpsest and used it to inspire some of his great mathematical…

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…