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Sicily Tour of Scenic & Historic Sights


Palermo, Taormina, & Mount Etna

Agrigento, Selinunte, & Syracuse

Royal Palace, Cathedrals, & Archaeological Sites

Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, & Normans

Column in Palatine Chapel, Royal Palace.

Column with a mosaic picture in the Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace in Palermo.

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Southern Italy pages: Rome to Rome

We were on a Globus escorted tour that included Rome and Southern Italy. An overview of the tour is given in the Introduction. The tour started in Romewhere visits included the Coliseum, Vatican, and the Spanish Steps. We then went south to Naples, Sorrento, and the Isle of Capri. The sights seen are described in the page for Southern Italy (mainland). We also toured Pompeii. Although Pompeii is part of Southern Italy, it is important enough to deserve a separate page. From Naples we took an overnight boat to Sicily where sights visited included Palermo, Taormina, and Mount Etna. That part of the tour is described here. From Sicily we went back to Southern Italy (mainland) where we saw the Caves of Castellana and Alberobello. The tour ended in Rome. Contact Us for more information.

Brief history of Sicily

Sicily has a strategic location in the Mediterranean with a desirable climate. So it is not surprising that many peoples through the years have invaded, fought for, and controlled for a time that island. As a result, Sicily has been a melting pot having been influenced by many different cultures. The civilizations that have ruled Sicily include the Ancient Greeks that migrated there as early as the eight century BC. Include also the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, and Arabs. During medieval times the Normans were there for awhile. In later years down to the present more peoples followed leaving their imprints on present day Sicily.

Royal Palace in Palermo

Ceiling in Royal Palace in Palermo.

Painting on the ceiling in the Royal Palace in Palermo.

For centuries the Royal Palace in Palermo was the house of Sicily 's rulers; it is now the Sicilian parliament building. Because it is the seat of government much of the palace is closed to the public. Fortunately, the Palatine Chapel within the palace is open. The palace was built by the Arabs. It was abandoned and later restored by the Normans when they conquered the land. The Palatine Chapel was built from 1130 to 1140, and it is covered with spectacular mosaics. The art work was produced by Normans and Sicilians in the tradition of eleventh century Greek Byzantine mosaics. The scenes depict stories of the Bible illustrated with examples of Arab daily life, and the overall effect is outstanding. Above mosaics are pictured on a column and paintings are seen on the beautiful ceiling.

Cathedral in Palermo

Outside view of Cathedral in Palermo.

Cathedral in Palermo.

The Cathedral in Palermo, pictured above, has an interesting history. It was once the site of a Christian basilica which was replaced by a Muslim mosque. Then in 1184 the Normans built a cathedral. The bell towers were added in the fourteenth century, porches were added in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and a baroque and neoclassic interior, shown below, was added in the eighteenth century. The different styles have been criticized as inconsistent, but the Cathedral has considerable charm and beauty. The tombs of royalty are found inside including that of Roger II, the first king of Sicily who died in 1154.

Inside view of Cathedral in Palermo.

View inside the Cathedral pictured above.

Monreale Norman Cathedral

Columns in Monreale Normon Cathedral.

Columns in the Monreale Norman Cathedral near Palermo.

The Monreale Norman Cathedral is located six miles (ten kilometers) southwest of Palermo. It was built by the Normans in the twelfth century, and it is considered to be the finest Norman church built. The interior of the Norman Cathedral is decorated with a large number of beautiful mosaics which depict stories from the Bible. An example is seen above. There are also beautiful paintings on the ceiling. Note the one below. The bronze doors, which contain scenes from the Bible, were created in 1185 by Bonanno Pisano, who was the architect of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Next to the Cathedral is a highly regarded cloister.

Ceiling in Monreale Normon Cathedral.

Ceiling painting in the Monreale Norman Cathedral.

Agrigento: Valley of the Temples

Agrigento is located 80 miles (129 kilometers) south of Palermo. It was originally settled by the Greeks, and they named the town Akragas. In Agrigento you find the Valley of the Temples; the temples were built from about 450 BC to 350 BC. These are rated as the best preserved temples of Ancient Greece, being in better condition than even those found in Greece. The architectural style of the temples is Doric, which is the simplest of the Greek styles. The most attractive of the temples and the one in the best shape is the Temple of Concord, shown below. It was built around 430 BC. In the sixth century it was converted into a Christian church. It has since been restored to its original form. Nearby the Temple of Jupiter exceeded 330 feet (100 meters) in length, and was considered the eight wonder of the world. It was destroyed by an earthquake.

Temple Concord in Valley of the Temples.

Temple of Concord in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.

Ruins at Selinunte

Dorian Temple at  Selinunte.

Dorian Temple C in Selinunte.

Selinunte is 76 miles (122 kilometers) southwest of Palermo overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded in the seventh century BC and was an important Greek colony. There were seven temples, but they were destroyed in 409 BC by the Carthaginians, and most of the temples now lay in ruins. In the battle an army led by Hannibal slaughtered 16,000 of the people of Selinunte. One of the temples was reconstructed in 1958. It is referred to as Temple C, and is seen above.

Syracuse

Syracuse, the birthplace of the great mathematician Archimedes, is located 205 miles (330 kilometers) southeast of Palermo. It was founded by the Greeks in 734 BC, and became the wealthiest city-state in the West. This disturbed the Athenians, and they attempted to conquer Sicily, but were defeated in a naval battle in 413 BC by the powerful Syracuse navy. The defeated Athenians became slaves. They were kept prisoner in a series of quarries where they chiseled and hammered away at the rock. One of the quarries has what is described as an ear shaped entrance called the Ear of Dionysus, which was so named as the quarry has unusual acoustics. It is said that the ruler Dionysus could listen at the top of the quarry and hear what the prisoners were plotting below.

Greek Theater at Syracuse.

Greek Theater in Syracuse.

There is a very fine Greek theater, pictured above, where 15,000 people could and still can watch the performance of a Greek tragedy. The theater was carved out of a rock in a hillside. There is also a Roman theater, seen below,r built by the Ancient Romans after they conquered the Greeks. It was built in about the second century AD. The Roman amphitheater was a place for spectators to watch gladiators and animals in combat.

Roman Theater at Syracuse.

Roman Theater in Syracuse.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna.

Looking up Mount Etna from an elevation of about 6,500 feet (1,981 meters).

Mount Etna is Sicily's highest mountain, and it is both the highest and largest volcano in Europe. It is also one of most active volcanoes in the world. Located 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Taormina, the volcano is approximately 10,900 feet (3,323 meters) high. It is difficult to know the exact height of an active volcano since it keeps changing. You can walk on the hardened lava of recent flows at an observation station which is at an elevation of about 6,500 feet (1,982 meters). Although you can look up the volcano a long ways, at that location it is not possible to see its top. In the picture above looking up Mount Etna there is a person standing on top of the closest peak. If you cannot spot the person that is because the individual is very small compared to the size of the mountain in the picture. A restaurant which is open there was nearly wiped out by an eruption. The flow of molten lava stopped at one side of the building, as can be seen below!

Lava flow from Mount Etna next to restaurant.

Lava flowing from an eruption of Mount Etna just reached the side of this restaurant.

Taormina

Taormina in Sicily.

Taormina.

Taormina, pictured above, was found by Greeks in the sixth century BC. Its lofty location on cliffs provide great views of the sea below and if clear Mount Etna nearby. This is a favorite place for tourists to enjoy the shops and restaurants, as illustrated below, in an attractive setting. Below Taormina the beaches are found at Taormina Mare and Giardini-Naxos.

Shops in Taormina.

Pedestrian street with shops in Taormina.

Southern Italy pages: Rome to Rome

We were on a Globus escorted tour that included Rome and Southern Italy. An overview of the tour is given in the Introduction. The tour started in Romewhere visits included the Coliseum, Vatican, and the Spanish Steps. We then went south to Naples, Sorrento, and the Isle of Capri. The sights seen are described in the page for Southern Italy (mainland). We also toured Pompeii. Although Pompeii is part of Southern Italy, it is important enough to deserve a separate page. From Naples we took an overnight boat to Sicily where sights visited included Palermo, Taormina, and Mount Etna. That part of the tour is described here. From Sicily we went back to Southern Italy (mainland) where we saw the Caves of Castellana and Alberobello. The tour ended in Rome. Contact Us for more information.

Photos by Sunny Breeding. We sell images and prints.