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…