Sicily’s marvellous mechanical dining table in the Palazzina Cinese

One of the things that has made generations of English aristocrats fall in Love with Sicily over the centuries is the mutual passion for eccentrics. I don’t mean subtle characters, like one of my beloved uncles whose favourite food was broad bean and custard sandwiches. I mean flamboyant filthy rich people who could construct a…

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 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…

The Jewish Ghosts of Palermo

There was a Jewish presence in Sicily for centuries, possibly from before the birth of Jesus. The Jews were the only outsiders who made their homes in Sicily and became part of her population without invading. They simply turned up, fitted in and made themselves indispensable.   The Jews were the literate and educated members…

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…

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…

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 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…

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…

9 May – Ode to Peppino Impastato

This is a tribute to the first Sicilian who stood up, shouted against the Mafia, and dared to make them objects of ridicule instead of fearful reverence. ***** 9 May is a day most Sicilians remember. On 9 May 1978 Peppino Impastato, a political activist who opposed the Mafia, was brutally killed. He was my age….

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…

The Rich Man in his Villa Ramacca and the Poor Man at his Gate

This is an 18th century villa near my home. It can be hired for weddings and other special events.   I walked around it recently, as it hosted the exhibition about Sicilian Sulphur mines I blogged about. Whilst the sulphur miners in Sicily were living in slavery and abject poverty, the barons who owned the…

Sour, Corrupt and dominated by the Mafia: The Citrus Industry in Sicily

Delicious juicy oranges and succulent lemons are one of the first things that spring to mind when most people think  of Sicily. The other, unfortunately, is the Mafia, but few outsiders realise how closely they are connected. Citrus fruit trees were brought to Sicily by the Muslim invaders from North Africa in the 11th century…

Sulphur, Sicilians, and the Exodus to the USA

There is not one manufacturing industry in the world that can work without sulphur. When the industrial revolution took place in the 19th century, 90% of all the sulphur in the world came from Sicily. These are Sicilian sulphur miners: Why are they working naked? It was 40 degrees centigrade above ground and down in…

The Moorish Heads of Sicily

…Otherwise known as Pot Heads! I like the ambiguity in the phrase Moorish Heads. When the Moors invaded Sicily from North Africa in the 11th century, they built ceramics workshops all over the island and taught the Sicilians to make brightly coloured majolica, an art form which gradually spread throughout Sicily. One of the excavated…

Mazel Tov! The Sicilian Housewife goes to Israel!

Not really. I went to a “meeting” in the local council building to “discuss” the “promotion” of “tourism” in our town last night. All these “”””””” “”” ” ” “””  have a purpose and I promise to explain. Being an astute housewife, I realised very quickly that I had been lured there under false pretences…

The Cappella Palatina muqarnas

Originally posted on siquillya:
EDIT: I’ve made some scans and have adjusted the images as best as possible. Wish I could have copied these in glorious color, but sometimes you have to work with what you can get. On Thursday, I braved the holiday tourist crowds and took the train from Trenton to New York…

Q: Who promoted Italian food before Jamie Oliver? A: Renato Guttuso!

  We are all used to buying imported and exotic foods in our local supermarket these days, and seeing Jamie Oliver on TV wagging spaghetti about and telling us to grow “some lavly fresh basil” on our windowsills. Jamie has become the global marketing manager for Italian food these days. But how would you market…

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…

Brain Drain, Sicilian Talent, and the World’s Oldest University

Did you know the world’s oldest university was founded by a Sicilian? It’s in Cairo, and he actually founded the whole city, too. This shows the terrible problem of Brain Drain has existed in Sicily far longer than most people realise. To get a concept of how big an issue this is, consider that there…

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…

The Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino, Palermo

Walking through the doorway of a magnificent Baroque church, and finding youself in a gloomy cave with water dripping on your head, has to be one of life’s most interesting experiences. The church is the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia. It stands at the very top of Monte Pellegrino (Pilgrim’s Mountain), which overlooks the whole bay…

My husband was nearly shot by the Mafia

This event happened when he was six years old, and he lived to tell the tale, obviously. The story startled me, though, as he was so blasé about the whole thing that he only got around to telling me about it last month, after eight years of marriage. He had been hanging about by 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 ‘Cult of the Beheaded People’ in Palermo

There’s a small road in Palermo called “Via dei Decollati,” which means “Street of the Beheaded People.” In medieval times, this area was just outside the city and criminals were beheaded here. Unfortunately the Sicilian government was corrupt in those days – not any more, of course! – and many innocent people were beaheaded, too….

What have the Africans done for Sicily?

Africans are so often portrayed as the underdogs, nowadays, that we sometimes forget they conquered southern Europe twice and ruled it for centuries. The Sicilians don’t forget, though, for the Africans invented pasta as we know it, shaped their language and gave them the word Mafia, and brought them their citrus fruit trees, taught them…

The Villa of the Monsters in Bagheria

We have a very bizarre tourist attraction in our town. Villa Palagonia has been nicknamed the Villa of the Monsters locally for centuries. It is absolutely crammed with caricature stone sculptures of bizarre creatures, deformed little men, goblins, and ugly hybrid “manimals”. It was visited in the 18th century by multi-talented German writer, politician, lawyer and…

The Villa Romana Del Casale, Piazza Armerina

This post is about a UNESCO world heritage site in Sicily! Classy or what? There are altogether 44 UNESCO world heritage sites in Italy. The criteria are that World Heritage Sites can be “natural” or “cultural” places of general wonderfulness. That’s my handy summary of a long and tedious paragraph. Interestingly enough, the UK only…