Medieval things to do on holidays in Sicily

Monreale Cathedral, Sicily
Monreale Cathedral, Sicily

During the Medieval period, Sicily was ruled for 200 years by the Moors from North Africa and then by the Normans. So medieval, in Sicily, means a unique blend of North African and Viking. It was probably the most exciting place in the then known world, so cosmopolitan and so forward-looking that the literature of the time talks about it with love and adoration.

To get an idea of just how many remainders of their cultures you will see, hear and eat in modern Sicily, read these two articles:

What have the Africans done for Sicily?

Are the Sicilians Africans or Europeans?

Monreale Cathedral courtyard, Sicily
Monreale Cathedral courtyard, Sicily



Palermo Cathedral and the Palazzo dei Normanni, the Norman Palace, are two of the most fabulous monuments of this era which I haven’t blogged about yet! Don’t miss them!

King Rogers bedroom from the Palazzo dei Normanni
King Rogers bedroom from the Palazzo dei Normanni


Possibly the best of all, though, is the truly staggering Cathedral of Monreale.

The Arabic Cathedral of Monreale

Monreale Cathedral
Monreale Cathedral


Castelbuono is a medieval town with a great many attractions, including an atmospheric medieval castle. A lovely town to wander around, it specialises in ice-cream and manna. Manna, which most people know only as some enigmatic food mentioned in the Bible, will probably be the most amazing souvenir you could ever take back to friends at home. It is the sap of the manna tree, which is now extinct almost everywhere except the Castelbuono area.

Castelbuono is the centre of the Sicilian Slow Food Movement which makes it a not-to-be-missed stop for foodies. You will be able to buy organic jams, wild honey, home-made salami and other unusual foods. This is not a touristy town so you may have to go asking locals where to find these things – many Sicilians are not instinctively good at marketing themselves to tourists.

Manna from Heaven? Or from Sicily?

Castelbuono, the Foodies’ Paradise in Sicily


Tindari has long been home to a black madonna statue which washed up on the beach hundreds and hundereds of years ago. She was already a rare antique when she mysteriously arrived. She has survived three successive churches which were built to house her and then destroyed in war… and special lady indeed, to whom many people still address their prayers, or just go to see such an unusual artifact.

The Black Madonna of Tindari


The inside of Caccamo Castle has armour, torture instruments and a real dungeon where the world’s most wicked baron used to throw people. He built an altar and tipped his victims into the dungeon, while they prayed, by opening a trap door in the floor using a secret lever! Caccamo is also a very pleasant mountain town to walk around, with some spectacular panoramas and good restaurants.

This one is definitely fun for kids. It has a medieval festival in July with processions, jousting, falconry and other medieval festivities – look online for dates and details. Sicilians are very haphazard at publicising events and they often make last minute changes, so ask your hotel to double-check and confirm dates for you before embarking on a long car journey.


Cefalù, in Sicily’s north coast, is another medieval town with typical Norman town planning – a grid of roads all running down perpendicular to the sea. The Normans also built a stunning cathedral at its centre. It belonged to the Moors first, though, and the shady, cool laundry they build in the town centre by diverting the river is stil open to visitors and in beautiful condition. Cefalù is packed with tourists all year round because of its lovely beaches, Italian schools, shops and restaurants, but it is still a delightful place to visit.

How the Africans brought Plumbing to Sicily: The Cefalù Laundry


The Moors brought new colours of ceramic glazes to Sicily and set up large workshops across the island. You can still see one of them, recently excavated in Palazzo Steri in Palermo. Eventually their majolica wares spread throughout Italy. You can also buy them, for in Sicily they are still made to the local designs, each town sticking to its traditional motifs and colour-schemes from over 1,000 years ago.

Sicilian Maiolica Ceramics from Caltagirone and Taormina

The Moorish Heads of Sicily

Sicilian Majolica
Sicilian Majolica



The Sicilian puppet theatres are a tradition which tell the stories of the medieval wars of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.

Sicilian “Pupi” – The Soldier Puppets of Charlemagne


Saint Benedict lived in Sicily in medieval times and is still celebrated with an annual festival in several different Sicilian towns.

Saint Benedict: Black Celebrity Healer, Chef and possibly Lion Tamer

Back to Travel Guide home page

How to keep your children occupied on journeys (or whilst you look at things they find boring)


Book front cover

This book gives very clear instructions for twelve Sicilian card games, with photographic illustrations.  It is the only book of Sicilian card games in print worldwide.

Available on all Amazon websites worldwide, in paperback and Kindle

Packs of Sicilian playing cards can be ordered online, from Amazon or other sites, or bought at any tobacconist’s in Sicily



So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s