Friday, September 28, 2012

Sept. 28, 2012 Western Sicily

The streets of Trapani 

The Palazzo della Giudecca

Trapani, with its narrow peninsular, is the capitol of its eponymous province, the most westerly region in Sicily.  Here, the Arab influence is at its strongest, from couscous to its hybrid architecture and inhabitants.  The narrow network of streets in the old quarter remains a Moorish labyrinth and, as usual, the most attractive buildings are the churches. The Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Chiesa del Collegio dei Gesuiti were both dated back to mid-1600s. 

Trapani is now the base for our stay for the next 5 days while we wait out yet another Scirocco, a strong wind coming from North Africa. The town is oriented around the “train station’.  There is no bus terminal and different bus lines operate from different stops at different locations with no sign to indicate.  The nearby grocery store sells mainly non-perishable products. If you want fruit, produces, meat and/or fish, you need to visit individual vendors. Thankfully, right around the corner near Vento di Maestrale, the marina where we are staying, there is the central fish market, various fruit and produce vendors in their moving vans, the local butcher shop, coffee shop and pastry shop, just to name a few. However, Barcelona it is not.

During our stay, we visited the towns of Erice and Palermo. Erice, founded by the Ancient Elymians, called Aphrodite by the Greeks and then Venus by the Romans, has been called many other names.  It was called Eryx, renamed Gebel-Hamed by the Arabs, Monte San Giuliano under the Normans, and then Erice, in 1934, by Mussolini.

 The mountain village of Erice

The thousand-year old fortress built by King Aragon

The famous pastry and sweets at Erice

Erice, set at the mountaintop, 756M (2,480 ft) from Trapani, was a shrine to Venus, the goddess of love, whose temple was once a famous landmark.  In Greek times, the place was known to mariners.  It is the present site of the Norman castle – Castello di Venere., and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Cap Bon in Tunisia.  On this howling day with wind gusting at 30 knots, we thought we should be able to accomplish that, but the sky looked hazy and instead, we saw a ‘sun dog’, usually indicating bad weather. We still saw lovely views at Giardino del Balio and Castello di Venere, overlooking the rugged turrets and wooded hillsides, and the saltpans of Trapani and the sea.  It was a pleasure to visit this medieval town, with cobbled streets at every twist and turn.  If you have a sweet tooth, you might also want to visit Pasticceria Grammatico, the world famous cafe and pasty shop, where Maria sells frutta di martorana (marzipan fruits), and assortments of biscuits, tarts and other delicacies.

Fontana Pretoria at Palermo, the 'fountain of shame' 

The busy streets of Palermo - Quattro Canti

Il Duomo

Palermo, founded by the Phoenicians and became an important Carthaginian stronghold until the Roman conquered it in 254BC.  Frederick, the Norman ruler, had built many beautiful monuments to his reign.  Later, the Aragons and the Bourbons followed suit and the city was finally liberated by Garibaldi in 1860. 

Nowadays, Palermo is best known for its mafia connection, developed as a result of the cruel State and severe poverty.  By the late 19th century, it had become a criminal organization thriving on property speculation and drug trafficking.  We saw very little mafia activities the day we were there.  The closest was having an afternoon coffee at the Grand Hotel, where in the 1950s, Lucky Luciano-the capo de capi of the Cosa Nostra-notoriously attended a meeting of gangsters. 

Palazzo del Normanni

Cappella Palatina

Having coffee in the Grand Hotel

Mom, let's discover Palermo together

To some, Palermo can be seen as noisy, dirty, and chaotic.  To others, it is a city filled with architecture delight.  Some of the highpoints of our visit were seeing the Palazzo dei Normanii, and the sumptuous interior of the Cappella Palatina, built by Roger II, it blends Byzantine, Islamic and Norman styles, and is lavishly adorned with fine mosaics and marble inlaid with gold.  It was amusing to see the Fontana Pretoria and the story behind how it was dubbed as “the Fountain of Shame” when the nudity of the provocative nymphs proved too much for the Sicilian churchgoers and the local nuns chopped off the protruding bits (and recently restored).  And the Duomo, with its displays of multiple architectural styles, from the Gothic, to the Catalan, Norman and Islamic, was a rival to the cathedral of Monreale, and it was known as ‘the battle of the two cathedrals’.  The city, despite its crumbling appearance, is a treasure trove of Baroque buildings and splendid collection of Arab-Norman buildings.  We were pleased that we had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city, in September, and not in August.

Every time we were back from a trip, the entire 3Rivers would have a fresh coat of sea spray, solidly crested with salt, all over.  The southern wind created a very humid environment and since we were not able to open hatches/windows due to sea spray, we were glad to make use of the AC on the boat.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely place it looks like and i believe that the people are really into dealing with the traditional stuff as i can see that clearly in the images you have shared with us. it was a lovely post.