Italy

Ferrara, A Non-Touristy Gem in Italy

Located in northern Italy only 112 km (70 miles) south of Venice or 108 km southeast of Verona is the “undiscovered gem” of Ferrara. This town isn’t really on the tourist map and is one of those places I love finding and exploring. The vibe in Ferrara felt “authentic”, with just a handful of tourists and primarily locals going about their daily business. It is a compact old city, easy to explore in one day.

Ferrara, Italy

A view of central Ferrara from a tower of Estense Castle.

The two main sights in Ferrara are Estense Castle and the Duomo, both adjacent to the main piazza (town square). In addition to these sights, we enjoyed wandering the back alleys, which felt like they had not changed much in a few hundred years.

Estense Castle

Ferrara is home to one of the great castles in Italy, right in the heart of the town.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Street view of Estense Castle.

The castle was constructed in 1385, and although it has undergone many remodels since, it has the classic features that one would expect in a medieval castle–moat, dungeons, kitchens, halls and courtyards.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Moat around Estense Castle.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

One of the castle’s halls. The mirrors on the main floor allow the visitor to get a closer look at the marvelous ceiling paintings.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Stone cannon balls in the castle courtyard.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Entrance to one of the dungeons in Estense Castle.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Prisoner graffiti in one of the castle’s dungeons. One prisoner spent 43 years here, and when he left he was proudly wearing clothes that were 43 years out of fashion!

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

The castle’s kitchen, with room for the fires below and the big pots above on the counter.

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Two levels of dungeon doors, you didn’t want to get on the bad side of the d’Este family!

Estense Castle, Ferrara, Italy

Another view of the castle, with draw bridges – a difficult place to attack!

The d’Este family, who ruled Ferrara hundreds of years, built this castle and imprisoned their political enemies here. There were also at least two executions.

ferrara estense castle11

Illustrated bible of the d’Este family. The family, although ruthless, was a great patron of the arts.

Ferrara Duomo (Cathedral)
Unfortunately the 12th century Duomo exterior and interior were undergoing restoration work during our visit, but we were still able to see the interior.

Ferrara Duomo, Ferrara, Italy

Interior view of the Ferrara Duomo.

Ferrara Duomo, Ferrara, Italy

One of the chapels in the Duomo.

ferrara cathedral 3

Interesting display in the Duomo. Note the diversity of figures all working together on restoring the church.

The facade of the Duomo is one of the great architectural achievements of early renaissance Italy and I wish it would have been visible! Look it up.

Piazza Municipale and Surrounding Area

This is the central town square and like most in Italy, it is beautiful, with the Duomo on one side and the Palazzo del Commune (palace) on another side.

Piazza Municipale, Ferrara, Italy

Piazza Municipale, Ferrara. The Duomo is on the right. The Palazzo del Comune is straight ahead. Note the old medieval shops nestled right next to the Duomo.

Ferrara, Italy

A shopping street in Ferrara.

Ferrara, Italy.

One of many quiet alleyways in Ferrara.

Ferrara, Italy

Ferrara has an interesting feel to it, with the quiet cobblestone streets and old brick buildings.

Practical Matters

We stayed in a 15th century apartment (Nel cuore di Ferrara, you can find it on various accommodation booking sites), located about 5-10 minutes walking from the main piazza. What a quaint setting it was, in an old house with an enclosed courtyard and exposed ancient wood beams.

ferrara apartmentjpg

Our apartment in Ferrara.

ferrara famous bread

This bread is a trademark of Ferrara, but we didn’t find it all that great, kind of dry, more like a cracker!

Ferrara, Italy

Another delicious Italian meal in Ferrara!

Like many Italian cities, Ferrara has a ZTL (zone of limited traffic) which means that you must park outside the city walls and walk to the center of town (only 10-15 minutes). I am glad Italy has created the ZTL’s, they remove noise, pollution and traffic from the city centers. But be careful, unless you have a pass, you will get a steep fine if you drive in the ZTL area.

We made Ferrara our home base for a couple of days, visiting Bologna (only 50 km or 31 miles) from here, which also is not overrun with tourists – this will be my next post. We like staying in smaller towns which are easy to get in and out of. Ferrara is also close to Modena, home of Ferrari’s and Maserati’s, if you’re an Italian car enthusiast.

Padova – Home of the Scrovegni Chapel and Other Treasures

With Verona, Italy as a home base, we drove to Padua (also spelled Padova), which is 82 km or 51 miles from Verona or 40 km (25 miles) from Venice (which is another option for a home base).

Padova General

A view of the more modern part of Padua, with its exclusive shops.

The town of Padua is home to a few world-class sights, one of the most famous being the Scrovegni Chapel.

Scrovegni Chapel

This private Chapel of the Scrovegni family (the only structure remaining of the 13th century family palace) is one of the great historical gems of Europe. The family hired Giotto to paint the interior between 1303 – 1305, and he, with his assistants created a masterpiece. (The featured image of this post shows the Scrovegni Chapel altar alcove).

Scrovegni Chapel

A view of the interior of the Scrovegni Chapel. The far end of the Chapel contains scenes from the Last Judgment.

Scrovegni Chapel, Padova, Italy

A few of the panels showing scenes from the New Testament.

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

A close-up of the betrayal of Christ scene.

We are fortunate that the Chapel is still standing to this day. The paintings represented a breakthrough for their time with the use of color and perspective (3-D-like). Within the Chapel’s walls are numerous biblical scenes, in chronological order. To allow for preservation of these 700 year-old frescoes, there are significant restrictions on the number of visitors allowed each day, so you need to plan ahead.

Note: You must purchase your tickets in advance. Once you know your itinerary, go to this website to purchase your tickets, which you then print and bring with you to the visitors center. You must arrive early enough to go through the dehumidifying chamber that helps protect the Chapel’s environment and frescoes.

Padova Scrovegni Chapel and Museum33

The dehumidifying room next to the Scrovegni Chapel. They show a video of the history of the Chapel while you wait (about 15 minutes).

During the busy summer months, I am sure tours book quickly (we visited in May, and I made our reservations in March). As I recall, you are allowed about 15 minutes for your visit, in groups of 25 or so. Pictures are allowed without flash. The Chapel is on the outskirts of the old center of Padua, and you can walk to the center of the old town in about 10 minutes. We used a car park just two blocks from the Chapel, not far from the train station.

Other Sights in Padova

Adjacent to the Scrovegni Chapel is the 13th century Church of the Eremitani, definitely worth a stop even though it’s largely ignored by tourists. This church reminded me of ancient Roman basilicas, with its austere rectangular shape.

Church of the Eremitani, Padua, Italy

Interior of the Church of the Eremitani. It has an unusual “boat like” wooden 14th century ceiling and remnants of frescoes, which were unfortunately damaged in World War II.

Padova Chiesa Eremitani 7

Some of the surviving frescoes in the Chiesa Eremitani.

Padova University

We lucked out and were just in time to take a tour of one of the oldest and most famous universities in Europe, founded in 1222. The university is in the heart of the old town. Tours are the only way to see the university’s primary historical sights including Galileo’s pulpit and lecture hall (he was on the faculty here for 18 years) and the anatomy theater. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside.

Padova University2

Coats of Arms of some of the alumni of Padua University.

Padova University, Padova, Italy

Within this building are the anatomy theater and the hall where Galileo taught, with his original podium. Hard to get a decent photo of the University – it’s completely surrounded by other buildings.

The anatomy theater, where students would stand in narrow concentric rows above a cadaver table is small, and you are only allowed to view up into the theater from below the cadaver’s point of view. The theater was built in 1594 and is the oldest surviving medical lecture theater in the world.

Théâtre-anatomique-Padoue

This photo, courtesy of Wikipedia, provides a view of the anatomy theater in Padua University. The tourist is only allowed a view up through the center of the main floor table area.

Duomo (Cathedral) Baptistery

The 13th century baptistery is beautiful, and should be a definite stop on your visit to Padua. The frescoes date from 1378. The good news is that although an entrance fee is required, a visit is not time restricted, nor are reservations needed.

Padua Duomo and Baptistery, Padua, Italy

An exterior view of Padua’s Cathedral, the baptistery is the circular building on the right.

Interior of Padua's Duomo Baptistery

A view inside Padua’s Duomo baptistery.

Padua Duomo Baptistery.

A view of the dome of the baptistery. How hard would it be to paint this ceiling and keep any perspective!

Padua’s Palazzos and Piazzas

One of Padua’s main piazzas (Piazza delle Erbe) features a large, magnificent 13th century hall adjacent to the piazza. This building is used for various art exhibits. The entry fees are fairly expensive, so we did not go inside.

Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, Italy

A view of the Palazzo della Ragione, a 13th century great hall that housed medieval law courts, located in the center of Padua.

Plazzo del Capitanio, Padua, Italy

The Palazzo del Capitanio is located on Piazza dei Signori. It was built between 1599 and 1605, for the head of the city’s militia. A large astronomical clock is located on the front tower.

Vincenza

On our way back to Verona, we stopped briefly in Vincenza, a town that would be worth exploring a bit more. This city is known for its great architecture. We saw students studying and drawing several buildings. We walked around for about an hour before returning to Verona.

Vincenza, Italy

Vincenza’s southern gated entrance.

Vincenza, Piazza dei Signori, Italy

Vincenza’s main piazza, Piazza dei Signori. The tower, Torre di Piazza, was built in the 12th century (my wide angle lens makes it look like it’s leaning, but in reality it’s still standing straight up!).

Vincenza Duomo, Vincenza, Italy

Vincenza’s Duomo (Cathedral).

 

Verona – Beyond Romeo and Juliet

Located about halfway between Milan and Venice in northern Italy, Verona can be visited as a day trip from those locations, but this magical city deserves more time than just a day trip.

Verona, Italy

Street scene in Verona

Although Verona is most famous for being the setting of the story of Romeo and Juliet (Giulietta in Italian), the city has much more to offer, like all of Italy.

Roman Verona

Of course there are reminders of Roman times, including a huge arena which is still in use, a bridge, a gate, and walls and foundations underneath the streets and churches.

Roman Amphitheater, Verona, Italy

Verona is home to the third largest amphitheater in the Roman world. It dates from the 1st century C.E. It is located in the spacious Piazza Bra, near the old city walls.

Old city walls, Verona, Italy

Part of the old city walls, near the Roman Amphitheater.

Roman ruins, Verona, Italy

Roman foundations below the current street level.

Roman gate, Verona, Italy

Roman gate in Verona.

Verona, Italy

The bridge in the foreground is of Roman origin, it was partially destroyed in World War II and subsequently rebuilt. Verona’s Cathedral (Duomo) stands out with its tower.

It is easy to see why the Romans chose this spot – Verona sits on a u-shaped bend of the Adige River, providing a natural defensive setting, an ample supply of water and a central location that would become a hub for major trade routes across northern Italy, through the Alps and into the rest of Europe.

Map of Verona, Italy

Old map of Verona, showing its defensive position along the Adige River.

Other Sights

The only tourist sight that was crowded in Verona was the (supposed) house of Juliet, with its famous balcony (O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?). There is no confirmed link between this building and the story of the two doomed lovers.

Juliet's home, Verona, Italy.

The courtyard of Juliet’s “home” which was a 13th century inn.

Verona House of Juliet0

Graffiti on the walls from zillions of tourists passing by, with their stories and symbols of love, leading into Juliet’s courtyard. The panels are changed twice a year to allow more room for memories. The panels keep tourists from writing on Juliet’s house itself.

The rest of this city with its multiple treasures was pretty quiet. In Verona, one can find beautiful piazzas, interesting churches, a castle and huge city walls, along with the magnificent natural setting.

Pizza Erbe, Verona, Italy

Verona’s Piazza Erbe has been a center of activity going back to Roman times.

Sant'Anastasia, Verona, Italy

In the 13th century church of Sant’Anastasia we find this beggar figure supporting the holy water stoup, carved in 1495.

San Zeno bronze door panels, Vernona, Italy

The 12th century church of San Zeno, just outside the old city, houses many treasures including these 11th and 12th century bronze door panels containing biblical scenes.

Verona Duomo San Giovanni, Italy

In Verona’s Duomo (cathedral) complex, there is an 8th century baptistry, carved with biblical scenes.

Piazza Signori, Verona, Italy

Another of Verona’s Piazzas, Piazza Signori. The crenellated brick building was the 13th century Scaligeri family residence, the ruling aristocrats of Verona.

Castelvecchio, Verona, Italy

Verona’s medieval castle (Castelvecchio) is now an art museum. At Castelvecchio, a passageway leads to a pedestrian bridge over the Adige River, heading west out of the old city.

Verona Castelvecchio37

The Castelvecchio Bridge.

Of course you can find fantastic gelato and even British-like chips (french fries). Just about everything a tourist could want!

Verona Chips2

Hard to pass up those almost British chips in Verona!

Finding spots with fewer tourists was part of our quest on this most recent trip to northern Italy. Most tourists concentrate their time in Rome, Florence and Venice, and while I understand why those spots are popular, there is so much more to see in this stunning country. In future posts, I will share some additional less-visited gems, all hiding in plain sight.

Put Verona on your list of places to see in Italy, it is just 115 km (or 71 miles) west of Venice or 156 km (or 97 miles) east of Milan.

Caltabellotta Sicily Italy

Tour of Sicily: Overview

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

We visited Sicily in late April. This is a great time of year to visit, due to the pleasant temperature (low 80’s F), spring flowers and the green landscape. The only downside we could find with this time of year is all the elementary age school children visiting many of the tourist sites—it must be the time of year for school field trips. Sicily has a little different feel than other parts of Italy. The architectural style of many buildings is Baroque, built following a devastating earthquake in the late 1600’s. Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy, and appears to be a little poorer economically than northern Italy. The island has been conquered by many different nationalities over the centuries. For a good short overview of the history of this strategic island, I recommend the book:  Sicily: Three Thousands Years of Human History, by Sandra Benjamin.

Given the range of history, the sights are quite varied—from beautiful natural scenery, Greek Temples and Roman ruins, to medieval towns, churches and grand Baroque architecture.

Hotel Bel 3 Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Hotel Bel 3 Palermo.

Since Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, we flew in to Catania on the eastern coast, and flew out of Palermo (northwest coast), so we could make a counterclockwise tour of the island. Other options to get to the island include a train to Messina (via a short ferry ride) or a ferry from Naples. We rented a car at the Catania airport through Europe By Car. The roads are in good condition and it was easy to navigate to all the sites. There were very few toll roads (Catania-Taormina and Palermo-Cefalù were the only ones we encountered) or major highways, most roads are two lane. I expected to encounter a lot of slow truck traffic and was pleasantly surprised to find very little traffic in general. Most visitors to Sicily travel by tour bus. We did our best to visit sites at hours that would avoid the tourist busloads.

B&B Piazza Armerina, Sicily Italy

B&B private rooms in Piazza Armerina

There are relatively few hotels on the island, so we stayed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodations, allowing us to meet local families and get a flavor for life in Sicily. We used BBPlanet.com and Venere.com to arrange the B&B’s. We loved most of the B&B rooms and locations. The Sicilian people are very warm and helpful.  We spent about 10 days on Sicily, which allowed us to cover the island’s main sights and a few less visited sights. We also spent two nights on Malta, taking the ferry from Pozzallo (near Ragusa). See our post on Malta for more information.

Caltabellotta Sicily Italy

The hilltop town of Caltabellotta in southwest Sicily

Although we had read that English was less widely spoken here, we didn’t have any problem communicating. Occasionally in restaurants ordering food was a challenge given our lack of Italian language skills, although knowing some Spanish certainly helped with understanding Italian vocabulary and in communicating. Plan on putting on some calories since good gelato can be found almost everywhere!

Greek Theater, Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Tour of Sicily: Taormina and Syracuse (Siracusa)

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

Taormina

Our first stop was Taormina, about 45 minutes north of Catania. Taormina is compact town wedged between high cliffs and the sea. It was an easily defensible position anciently and in medieval times.

Greek Theater, Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Greek Theater, Taormina.

Roads and buildings seemed to be right on top of each other. Our B&B was on the north side of Taormina, right near the tram that takes visitors down to the beach area. We were within a 10 minute walk to the town. The main sight in Taormina is the Greek Amphitheater, rebuilt by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D.

The setting of this theater is one of the most spectacular in all of Europe, overlooking the town, sea and Mt. Etna.

Taormina Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Taormina Duomo (Cathedral).

After visiting Taormina we drove up to the village of Castelmola. Set in the cliffs just above Taormina it provides a panoramic view of the whole area. Castelmola is a small village and there is a car park right off the road before entering the village. We hiked up to the castle ruins at the top of the village for a great view.

Castlemola, Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Taormina (with Castlemola at top of hill).

From Taormina, we drove south to Syracuse (about 2 hours), with a quick stop in Motta Sant’Anastasia (picture below-left), just to the southwest of Catania. The Norman tower (“Tower of Motta”), built around 1070, was not open. The town built on a rock outcropping above the plain is quite a sight.

Motta Sant'Anastasia, Sicily, Italy

Motta Sant’Anastasia

 Syracuse (Siracusa)

Our B&B in Syracuse was situated in an apartment building about halfway between the old part of the city (the island of Ortygia) and the Archeological Park Neapolis. Parking is limited in Syracuse-we had to find parking on the streets wherever we could. Once we found a spot, we tried not to move the car and walked around town for most of our stay. Ortygia is a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is full of narrow alleyways, stately buildings and a very interesting Duomo (Cathedral-below) that incorporates the columns of a 5th century B.C. Greek temple and has a beautiful baroque facade. The Piazza del Duomo is quite beautiful as well. There is a good laundromat on Corso Umberto I just a few blocks from the bridge to Ortygia.

Syracuse Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Syracuse Cathedral-Ortygia.

The next day we walked to the Archeological Park Neapolis which contains a number of old Greek and Roman ruins. We got there early to beat the tour buses.  The street signs are clear and point the way to the Neapolis area. There is one entry fee (about €10) that provides access to the entire historical area.   Sights include the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, Greek Theater (which workers were preparing for performances, held every two years), a votive area behind the theatre, the huge Altar of Heron where hundreds of animal sacrifices occurred, and the Quarry area including the cavernous Ear of Dionysius, where stone for the many monuments of Syracuse came from.

Altar of Heron, Sicily, Italy

Altar of Heron.

Ear of Dionysius, Sicily, Italy

Ear of Dionysius.

One of the other things we did that was very worthwhile was visiting the Catacombe di San Giovanni (Catacombs of St. John), which date from at least 300 B.C. There are at least 10,000 burial spots here.

San Giovanni Church, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy

San Giovanni Church.

It is located in the heart of modern Syracuse, close to the Neapolis. The church above ground is in ruins, but the catacombs below are quite well preserved. The only way to visit is with a guided tour. There are several tours each day, and we happened to arrive just as a tour was starting. The cost was about €4. The tour starts in the underground Cripta di San Marciano which is in the form of a Greek cross and includes some frescoes. The tour then proceeds through sections of the massive catacombs.

Catacombs of San Giovanni, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy

Catacombs di San Giovanni.

 

 

 

 

 

Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, Italy.

Tour of Sicily: Noto, Ragusa Ibla and Piazza Armerina

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

From Syracuse we drove to Noto, only about 45 minutes by car. Noto is a UNESCO Word Heritage site, with several stately streets, churches and palaces.

Cathedral of San Nicolo, Noto, Sicily, Italy

Cathedral of San Nicolo.

One of the more interesting things we noticed was that as we were driving into town, a convoy of 16 Ferraris passed us. After we found a place to park, we walked into the center of town and noticed all the Ferraris had parked in a row right in front of the town hall (Palazzo Ducezio) apparently for a meeting. A convention of Ferrari owners? Sicily is known as the home of the Mafia, and this was as close as we came to seeing any signs of it.

We climbed the bell tower of San Carlo al Corso church for a good view of the city.

San Carlo al Corso Church, Noto, Sicily, Italy

View from San Carlo al Corso Church Bell Tower.

From Noto we drove to Ragusa, another UNESCO World Heritage site (less than 60 minutes’ drive), and specifically to Ragusa Ibla, the old part of the city set on a hill top.

Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, Italy.

View of Ragusa Ibla (old city).

The drive itself is scenic, over the deep valleys on high modern bridges climbing the hilly countryside of this part of Sicily. There was a large car park just below Ragusa Ibla, which is separated from the newer part of the city by 340 steps. It is worth the climb up these stairs for a good view of Ragusa Ibla. We then went into Ibla, walking to the Duomo (San Giorgio), and then down to the town square, and out to Giardino Ibleo (gardens) overlooking the valley. Ragusa Ibla is a classic baroque town of the 1700’s.

San Giorgio Cathedral, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy

San Giorgio Cathedral

From Ragusa, we drove to Pozzallo and caught the night ferry to Malta (see Malta blog post).

Upon our return to Pozzallo from Malta, we drove up to Piazza Armerina (about a 2.5 hour drive), to visit the world famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, which is just a few kilometers outside the town.

Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Italy

Villa Romana del Casale, near Piazza Armerina

I was surprised that the entry fee was only €3, and discovered the reason was due to the closure of part of the site due to restoration. Most of the site is covered by a glass structure, like a greenhouse. The Villa is large, with many rooms. The floor mosaics are in excellent condition due to their being covered by mud since the 12th century. The original owner must have been very wealthy to decorate the Villa so lavishly.

Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Italy

Piazza Armerina.

 

The town of Piazza Armerina is bypassed by most tour buses and tourists, and gave us a feel for a “real” Sicilian town. We wandered up and down a few streets and to the Duomo (Cathedral) for a good view of the surrounding countryside.

The next morning we drove northwest about 30 minutes to visit the ruins of Morgantina, originally inhabited around 1000 B.C. There are great views of the countryside and Mt. Etna in the distance. We found very few tourists at this site, making it a pleasant stop without crowds.

Morgantina, Sicily, Italy

Ruins in Morgantina

Temple of Castor and Pollux, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy

Tour of Sicily: Agrigento, Selinunte, and Segesta

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

These three locations are the main Greek Temple sites in Sicily. From Piazza Armerina we drove through Barrafranca and Pietraperzia on our way to Agrigento. The springtime clear air and verdant green hills made this 2.5 hour drive very enjoyable.

Temple of Castor and Pollux, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy

Temple of Castor and Pollux (city of Agrigento in background).

We had heard that the scenic aspects of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento was somewhat spoiled by the city being so close to the site. We were pleasantly surprised that the view is still quite beautiful, and the Temples sit on a wooded ridge between Agrigento and the sea. The site is large, so plan on a good walk to see the various temples. We visited in the afternoon and the light was perfect since the sun was setting over the Mediterranean.

Temple of Concord, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy

Temple of Concord

 Our B&B was in the center of the old part of Agrigento high up on the hill, and had a fantastic view of the Valley of the Temples.  Several of the streets were just wide enough for a small car to pass with about 1-2 inches to spare on each side. Most tour buses go directly to the temples and do not go into Agrigento. We would recommend a visit to the old part of the city. We found a good restaurant and enjoyed climbing stairs between the levels of the old streets. We stopped at the Convento di Santo Spirito and just peeked in since it was getting ready to close. The nuns saw us and invited us in for a look and in Italian did their best to explain to us the various features of the historic abbey-very friendly people.

Temple E, Selinunte, Sicily, Italy

Temple E, Selinunte.

The next morning we drove to Selinunte (northwest along the southern coast), with a short detour through the hill top town of Caltabellotta. Of the three temple sites, Selinunte was probably the least interesting, although it has a great setting on the coastline. The site is very spread out—it is about a 15-20 minute walk between the two main temple areas (the Acropolis and the Eastern hill). If one is rushed for time, be sure to visit Temple E (490 BC) on the Eastern hill, which is closest to the main parking. The main thing I enjoyed was hiking around the ruins of Temple G (Eastern hill) with the tumbled columns and being struck by the size of the blocks for the columns.  How did they erect and assemble such huge stones for these temples? Amazing.

Segesta Temple, Sicily, Italy

Segesta Temple.

Segesta. Don’t miss Segesta. It is about 40 miles north of Selinunte, not too far off the road on the way to Palermo. This temple is in the countryside, and in a very peaceful setting. The temple was never finished. The car park is close to the temple. On the hill just to the east of the temple there is a 3rd century BC Greek Theater and the ruins of the ancient town of Segesta.

Segesta Theater, Sicily, Italy

Segesta Theater.

The view of the valley and temple of Segesta is incredible from the Theater. There are buses every 30 minutes that take visitors up to the Theater, or it can be walked.  I wish we had walked down to the car park rather than taken the bus given the picturesque views of the temple.

 

 

Monreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Tour of Sicily: Erice and Monreale

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

Erice, Sicily, Italy

Street Scene-Erice

Erice is a well-preserved medieval town dramatically set on a high peak southwest of Palermo, and a good overnight stop between Segesta and Palermo. The views of the coast and the surrounding valleys are well worth the steep drive up the hill.

Erice, Sicily, Italy

Our B&B-Il Carmine, former monastery

Our B&B in Erice was an old monastery right inside the walls of the town. It was a great location, but the beds were hard! Our stay gave us an appreciation for the austerity the monks must have endured.

Norman Castle, Erice, Sicily

Norman Castle, Erice

Walking around the perimeter of Erice, wandering through the town square and visiting the castles make Erice a great stop. 

Monreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Monreale Cathedral Interior

From Erice we drove to Monreale. The interior of the Monreale Cathedral (dating from 1172) has some of the finest gold mosaic biblical scenes in all of Europe, and I marveled at the effort and expense required to create these mosaics. Monreale is just a few miles from Palermo, so don’t miss it.

Monreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Monreale Cathedral Apse Exterior

There is a convenient bus and car park just below the Cathedral. Like many churches and other sites in Sicily, Monreale cathedral closes in the middle of the day for a couple hours, so get there in the morning or the later afternoon

 

 

 

Caccomo, Sicily, Italy

Tour of Sicily: Cefalù and Caccamo

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

Cefalu, Sicily, Italy

Cefalu, Sicily

Cefalù is on the northern coast of Sicily, about 40 miles east of Palermo. We made a stop here on a day trip from Palermo. It’s fast road between the two cities, and we paid a couple small tolls as we got closer to Cefalù. The old town and Duomo are set below the rock cliffs (La Rocca) and the sea.

Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

Cefalu Cathedral and Square.

La Rocca can be hiked, leading to some prehistoric ruins (Tempio di Diana) and 12th century castle ruins. If we had allowed more time, I would have loved to hike up La Rocca.  The Duomo of Cefalù is one of the great Norman Cathedrals of Sicily, and dates from 1131. There is a pleasant piazza right in front of the Duomo that is good for a relaxing meal. There is also a beach near the town, but it was cloudy and the sea was rough on the day we were there.

Caccomo, Sicily, Italy

Caccomo, Sicily

While in Cefalù, I saw a picture of the small town of Caccamo, and decided to take a side trip to this town on our way back to Palermo, and I’m glad we did. It was just about 6 miles off the Palermo-Cefalù highway. Caccamo is a quiet little town set on a hillside overlooking a valley. We went through the Norman castle at the west end of town (not too much to see, it is undergoing renovation), and then wandered the streets down to Chiesa Madre di Caccamo. Drive to the eastern side of the town for a great view of the town and valley.

Caccomo, Sicily, Italy

Chiesa Madre di Caccamo.

 

Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Tour of Sicily: Palermo

Sicily Italy Map

Sites visited in Sicily.

Of all the locations we visited in Sicily, Palermo was probably our least favorite. It has some interesting sights (shown below), but lacks much open space in the central area, and with a few exceptions, lacks any real grand attractions. There is a lot of trash everywhere, so it feels somewhat dirty, run down and overcrowded. Hey, this is Italy. In these regards, it is similar to Naples. We spent a day and a half in Palermo (including Monreale) and felt satisfied with what we saw in that time.

Cripta dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Sicily

Skeletons in the burial dress in Cripta dei Cappuccini

Our first stop was the Cripta dei Cappuccini, in Convento dei Cappuccini. Seeing all the remains of men, women and children still dressed in their finest clothes of the period and displayed in standing form on the walls from the 1600’s to 1800’s was a sight I will never forget. The Convent is in the proximity of the main road from Monreale into Palermo.

Other sights in Palermo:

Palermo Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily

Palermo Cathedral.

The Palermo Cathedral is big, but more interesting from the outside than inside. It was rebuilt many times over the centuries, and like a number of churches in Palermo has Arabic as well as Norman influences. The exterior architecture has interesting features from the 1400’s-in particular the Portico and Towers.

Cappella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily

The mosaics of Cappella Palatina

The Cappella Palatina. Part of the Norman Palace in Palermo. This is the most stunning sight in Palermo, and almost equal to Monreale Cathedral. Founded in 1132. It has stunning gold mosaics and also intricate carved wood ceiling.

Palermo, Sicily, Italy

“Fountain of Shame” – Fontana Pretoria

Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Quattro Canti intersection – Palermo (fashion district, dates from 1600’s)