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 (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
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.
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. 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.
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.
Sites visited in Sicily.
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.
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
Walking around the perimeter of Erice, wandering through the town square and visiting the castles make Erice a great stop.
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 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.
Sites visited in 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 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.
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.
Chiesa Madre di Caccamo.
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.
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:
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.
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.
“Fountain of Shame” – Fontana Pretoria
Quattro Canti intersection – Palermo (fashion district, dates from 1600’s)