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…

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…

Mount Etna, Europe’s Biggest Volcano

Imagine my shock and embarrassment when I suddenly realised, after 11 years in Sicily, I had never blogged about Mount Etna! Now I have finished clutching my pearls in horror, I am rectifying this oversight forthwith. Mount Etna is Europe’s largest volcano, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not only the biggest, but the…

Castelbuono, the Foodies’ Paradise in Sicily

I have blogged about Castelbuono before, but not recently, so I am doing it again! We took an English friend there last summer, and she took all these lovely photos. Thank you Adrienne! Castelbuono has a medieval castle with a very long ramp at the entrance and several arches to negotiate before you get there:…

The Villa of the Fashionista: Villa Sant’Isidoro in Aspra

I have spent eleven years being irritated by an 18th century villa near my house, because it blocks the middle of what could be a perfect road running right behind Casa Nostra into the nearest town. Despite its fancy gates, Villa Sant’Isidoro looked like a derelict building from the outside. I assumed it would fall down…

The Vucciria Market in Palermo

I was bewildered recently to find an article online, published by Italy Magazine, purporting to be about the Vucciria Market in Palermo. It described the Vucciria as a flourishing food market full of exciting fruits, vegetables and meat and fish. It said visiting the Vucciria is one of the most exciting things to do in…

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…

Camping like Tarzan

You may have noticed I’ve fallen quiet lately. This was partly because I hoped you’d miss my witty tales of derring do around Sicily so much you would decide to buy my hilarious novel to fill the void. It was mainly because the electricity keeps getting cut off. The electricity has been cut off 42…

Through Their Words and My Eyes

I “met” Karen La Rosa online when we both participated in a documentary about Sicily produced by Mark Spano. A fascinating and charming man himself, he raved about her insight, eloquence and passion for Sicily. When we started e-mailing, I realised everything he said about her was true. Karen lives in New York and runs…

Daily Life in a Sicilian Fishing Village

The fishermen in my village usually go out in these boats.     Each village along the coastline has its own particular colour scheme. Our village uses orange, white and blue, but there are some fishermen who originally came from another village along the coast where they use green instead of blue.     I always…

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…

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…

Loafing around in Sicily’s Gingerbread Village

The people of San Biagio Platano, a village in south-western Sicily, have celebrated Easter every year since the 1700’s by decorating their streets with arches and towers made of bread. The entire community spends three months turning the place into a gingerbread village… yet Hansel and Gretel never come!   For this Archi di Pane…

A Rough Start for the Rough Guide to Sicily

  So, what’s it like to earn your living by going on holiday? Jules Brown, author of The Rough Guide to Sicily, describes his very first hilarious trip to Sicily especially for my blog. He has written stacks of travel guides, but Sicily was his first and, he says, still his favourite  – despite how…

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…

Explore the Elements: Thomas Cook Photography Competition

Thomas Cook is running a photography competition. The rules are simple: post four photographs, each one representing the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Click here for Competition Details CLICK ON EACH PHOTO TO SEE IT FULL SIZE WATER This is a fisherman in Saint Elia, northern Sicily. Along the Sicilian coastline, thousands of families…

What do Wine, Salt and an English Martyr have in common?

Marsala, on the westernmost point of Sicily! Marsala, being a major strategic town on Sicily’s west coast, became a major base when the Spanish conquered Italy. It has a very southern-Spanish feel. The houses have exciting balconies that reminded me of the beautiful ones you see in Seville. Marsala Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Thomas a…

How can Art bring the Dead back to Life?

We went to the southern Sicilian town of Favara a while back. The historic town centre looked like a slum in Chad, or perhaps the most bombed-out district of Damascus. There were wooden boards and scaffolding around the derelict houses, to make sure pieces of masonry didn’t land on the cars. There were hoardings to keep…

The Botanical Gardens of Palermo

Palermo has a 200-year-old botanical garden with a vast and stunning plant collection and a crazily cheap entrance fee. Obviously there are different flowers to see each month: this is the garden in August. These photos are all by my super-talented sister Susanna. Click on any photo to see a high resolution enlargement.   Have you voted…

Francu, King of the Watermelons

A watermelon stall in Bagheria. That yellow sign, written hilariously in Sicilian, says: “Only one person in Bagheria sells watermelons which are red and sweet. They call him Francu, King of the watermelons.”    

A Dozen Safety Tips for a Holiday in Sicily

I have read articles in the UK travel press by journalists who, overwhelmed by their own intrepidity, actually visited Sicily and came back alive! They described their holidays as if they had toured Palestine with an Israeli flag draped over their backpack. You are 27 times more likely to get murdered in America than in…

The Vucciria by Renato Guttuso

This painting is called “The Vucciria” and is by Renato Guttuso. The original – which is absolutely huge – hangs in Palazzo Steri in Palermo – at various times the former seat of the Spanish Inquisition, palace, Moorish pottery factory, community food storage warehouse, government office and prison. It was painted in 1974 and Palermo University had…

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…

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…

How the Africans brought Plumbing to Sicily: The Cefalù Laundry

The African immigrant crisis continues in Sicily and Lampedusa. At its peak the island of Lampedusa, which usually has 2,000 inhabitants and a plumbing infrastructure to fit, was also home to 5,000 refugees from Libya. The plumbing could not cope and people had no alternative but to use the beaches as toilets. The Lampedusan economy depends…

A Nativity Play that Fills a Town

I think Sicily produces the only nativity play in the world which features live belly dancers. It happens in the town of Termini Imerese, on Sicily’s north coast, which produces a nativity play each year which fills the entire town. The historic town centre is closed off and becomes the stage for a dramatic production…

Fancy some nuts?

I photographed these traditional Sicilian market stalls during the village festival this summer. They sell all kinds of nuts, and a few typical sweets as well. The vendors travel around Sicily from village festival to village festival – there’s always one going on somewhere – livening the streets up and selling their healthy snacks. The…