Tag Archives: Sicily

Sicily – Garibaldi in Syracuse

Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.” –  A.J.P. Taylor (English Historian)

Have I mentioned before my personal challenge to find as many statues of Giuseppe Garibaldi that I can? Probably.

It is an easy sort of challenge because almost every town and city in Italy has a statue of the national hero.  It is not like trying to find the Holy Grail or discover the benefits of BREXIT.

After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the country worked hard at making sure that  Garibaldi would remembered in perpetuity and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history.

Interestingly however in a TV poll of 20110 Il più grande italiano di tutti i tempi  (“The greatest Italian of all times”) Garibaldi didn’t even make the top ten, the top three were Leonardo da Vinci, Giuseppe Verdi and two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone  and Paolo Borsellino who challenged the power of the Mafia in Sicily and were murdered for their trouble.

When I visit Italy it has become a sort of challenge for me to find the statue of Garibaldi.  If I went more regularly to Germany then I am sure that I would look for statues of Otto Von Bismarck.

I was especially pleased to find this very fine example in some commemorative gardens in Ortigia.

A few years ago I wrote a post in which I speculated on whether Giuseppe Garibaldi may indeed be the most celebrated secular man ever to be recreated in statue form across the World and survived.

You can read the post here.

Other Garibaldi Statues in Italy…

Sicily – Trouble With Traffic

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

By the third day we had used up the breakfast supplies that we had bought on day one in the street market so we needed more.  Having convinced ourselves that we had paid a premium price at the market and having identified a LIDL supermarket barely two miles away we walked there instead.

This involved crossing the bridge over the water again and venturing once more into the untidy side of the city which involved a very dangerous walk along an abandoned industrial site with crumbling buildings and potholed streets.  An area which once provided employment but now nothing, not even hope.

Road construction in Sicily it seems makes little or no provision for pedestrians and there is an almost complete absence of pavements which requires those on foot to take their chances at the side of the road or in the intermittent cycle lanes which provides little help at all because motorists just drive along them regardless.

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as traffic regulations or a highway code in Italy.

Crossing the road is especially dangerous, there are pedestrian crossings but they haven’t been repainted since Mussolini was in charge and car drivers just ignore them.  Local people seem to have the hang of it, they just step boldly out into the road, look straight ahead and ignore the obvious danger

The only exception to this is nun’s.  Italian drivers will not hit a nun – you see groups of them breezing across eight lane highways with amazing impunity, so if you wish to cross some busy place your only hope is to wait for some nuns to come along and stick to them…” – Bill Bryson

Italy it has to be said has some insanely different driving rules to the rest of Europe and the traffic was murderously busy and dangerously hectic along this stretch of road.

Here is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers –  because, in my opinion,  one of the biggest mistakes in the development of the modern world was to introduce the Italians to the motor car.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, no manners or tolerance; junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are impatient and, show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

Traffic lights are another good example of these different rules because each one resembles the starting grid of a formula one grand prix. 

At an Italian traffic junction there is an intolerant confusion of cars all impatiently throbbing with engines growling, exhaust pipes fuming and clutch plates sizzling whilst behind the wheel the drivers blood pressure reaches somewhere beyond boiling point. 

A regard for the normal habits of road safety is curiously absent so although the traffic light colours are the same as elsewhere they mean completely different things.  Red means slow down, amber means go and green means ‘pedal to the metal‘  At a junction an Italian driver simply points his car at the exit he is aiming for and five seconds before the lights go green he shuts his eyes, presses the accelerator to the floor then races forward and may God have mercy on anything or anyone in his way.

If the normal rules of driving do not apply here then the normal rules associated with parking definitely are completely irrelevant.  But it does look like great fun.  Sometimes there is a small and hopelessly inadequate car park full of impatient drivers looking for non-existing parking spaces, blowing their horns, waving their arms and shouting at each other in that classic Italian driving style.  

More from Bill Bryson…

I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people.  Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof.  Italians park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” 

So, we completed our shopping and as we suspected it was a whole lot cheaper than the street market by as much as 40% in our estimation and we had the bonus of sensibly priced bottles of wine.

But now we had to carefully negotiate our return journey, this time with shopping bags.  We were so glad to cross the bridge and get back to relatively normal traffic conditions and as we passed the cathedral we said a quiet thank you to whoever it was that had been watching over and taking care of us…

 

 

Sicily – The Streets of Ortigia

The streets of Ortigia are a labyrinth of the unexpected and a treasure chest of discovery, something new and exciting at every twist and turn…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery… 

Sicily – I like a Kettle but Kim prefers a Washing Line

When travelling to Europe We have given up on hotels and preferred instead to stay in apartments.  They are generally cheaper, offer more space and are chock full of facilities.

I especially like that they have a separate bedroom from the kitchen and living accommodation because I generally wake first , sometimes over an hour or so before Kim and in a hotel room I am reluctant to get up and make a cup of tea for fear of disturbing here.  Many hotels in Europe don’t even have tea making facilities, so there is another consideration but in an apartment there is always a separate kitchen and a kettle.

The apartment  in Ortigia was brilliant for this even though I felt a little guilty that this was suitable family rooms converted to tourist accommodation.  A different debate that I won’t go into here.

Anyway, to get to the point, Kim especially likes washing machines and if the apartment has one makes a point of washing our clothes and hanging them out to dry in the Mediterranean way even if they don’t really need it.

Sicily – The Unlikely Story of Saint Lucy

The Doumo Square is probably the very best part of Ortigia,  claimed by Sicilians to be one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, the elegant piazza stretches in an oval shape that caresses the Doumo,  dazzling white of alabaster and marble and flanked by grand aristocratic Palaces and the magnificent Cathedral.  Even though I have heard it before I certainly wouldn’t argue with that rather  extravagant claim.

Next to the Duomo is the Palazzo Senatorio, the city hall, built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of an Ionian temple. Opposite stands the Palace Benventano del Bosco, rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century and to the right of the Duomo, the medieval Episcopal Palace.

We found it to be the perfect place to sit in the midday sun with a coffee and a cannoli, admire the architecture and people watch as folk strolled back and forth.

Naturally we visited the Doumo which has a long and complex history. 

The origins of a temple on the site date to prehistory. The great Greek Temple of Athena was built in the fifth century BC. The temple was a Doric edifice with six columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides. 

It probably looked something like this…

The Doric columns are still there because when the first Christian church was built there, the columns were incorporated into the structure, linking the worship of the past with that of the present.

Now it looks like this…

The columns make the Cathedral more interesting than it might otherwise be but most of all  I do like unlikely Saint stories and I was interested in the tale St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) who is the patron saint of Syracuse (St. Agnes is the patron saint of Sicily and St. Francis of Assisi  of all Italy, by the way).  I just mention that in case I get challenged.

Anyway, St. Lucy was a  virgin and a martyr who was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. Because of various traditions associating her name with light (Latin – Lux)  she came to be venerated as the patron of sight and the blind and was depicted by medieval artists carrying a dish containing her eyes.

Gift shops in Syracuse are full of Saint Lucy…

Not to be confused with Aunt Lucy…

Lucy came from a wealthy Sicilian family. Spurning marriage and worldly goods she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor who was rejected  reported her to the local Roman authorities, who sentenced her to be removed to a brothel and forced into prostitution;  Romans were clearly not that tolerant of women’s rights it seems.   

According to legend this worldly order was thwarted by divine intervention.  Lucy became as immovable as a rock and could not be carried away, not even dragged away  by a team of oxen.  So she was next condemned to death by fire, but the wood to make the fire, again by divine intervention would not burn.

Finally, when all else failed she was stabbed in the neck through the jugular (I made that jugular bit up) with a sword and she was dead.  That seemed to work as well it might.  There are clearly limits to the power of divine intervention.

Lucy died in the year 304 at the age of twenty-one and was most likely a victim of the Christian purges carried out under orders of the then Emperor Diocletian,

She is venerated as a saint in the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches. She is one of eight women (including the Virgin Mary) explicitly commemorated by Catholics in the Canon of the Mass.   She is also the patron Saint of virgins.  She is one of the best known virgin martyrs, along with Agatha of Sicily, Agnes of Rome, Cecilia of Rome and Catherine of Alexandria.

The cathedral holds a number of supposed relics of St. Lucy, a number of bone fragments, a robe, a veil, and a pair of shoes.  Twice a year on the first Sunday in May and on 13th December on her feast day, a statue of Saint Lucy is brought out of the cathedral and paraded through the streets. The silver statue incorporates three fragments of her ribs within its chest. 

Rather a shame that we would miss that by just a couple of days.

The cathedral shares the Piazza Duomo with the now deconsecrated Church of Santa Lucia which is used these days for exhibitions and functions but which still resembles a church both inside and out and was well worth a visit so we stopped off there on the way back to the apartment.

In a small room (an ex chapel I guess) was an exhibition of artwork associated with Saint Lucy including a copy of ‘The Burial of Saint Lucy’ by Caravaggio which I am reliably informed is quite famous.

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

St Edmund, the Patron Saint of Pandemics

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck

Saint John of Bridlington

Santa Eulalia and the Thirteen Tortures

Sicily – Saints of Ortigia

After Malta, Romania, Cyprus and Greece, Italy is the 5th most religious country in Europe and within Italy itself belief is strongest in the South.  Approximately 74% of the Italian population identifies as Catholic. Italy has 225 dioceses and archdioceses, more than any other country in the world with the exception of Brazil.  Least religious in Europe is the Czech Republic and then all of the Scandinavian countries and France.

Sicily – Ancient Greece and The Weeping Madonna

Pope Pius XII, in a radio broadcast on October 17, 1954

“. . . we acknowledge the unanimous declaration of the Episcopal Conference held in Sicily on the reality of the event. Will men understand the mysterious language of those tears?

I will come to this later in the post.  It is important…

Anyway, to start the story, from about 54BC Syracuse was developed as a Greek City, the biggest and the most important in the Western Mediterranean 

Two hundred years later under the tyrant Dionysius, Syracuse became the most splendid, most prosperous and the best fortified of all Greek cities.  The thought of tyrants mystifies me, why don’t people challenge them.  In 2023 there are fifty-seven tyrants in charge, mostly in Africa and the Middle East but the worst of all is Vladimir Putin.

Anyway, under Dionysius the naval power of Syracuse was vastly increased until its fleet was the most powerful in all of the Mediterranean.

Not surprising then that there is a lot of architecture to explore and plenty of archaeological ruins to see.

There were some to see in Ortigia but our intention today was to cross the bridge and make our way through the main city area to an archaeological site about a mile and a half away.

Suddenly there was a great contrast.  Ortigia is the historical centre of the city and is generally clean, tidy and well maintained but the street cleaning budget is not so generous once over the water.

We made our way to the site through a web of neglected streets that were untidy and grubby, not really somewhere to dwell, so bad that Kim wasn’t even inclined to linger in the main shopping street of the city and then along a busy road where the pavement was overgrown with weeds and thistles and eventually to the intended destination.

Almost immediately we were less than thrilled and as we walked to the ticket office we looked down on the ruins and were not impressed and over a coffee we debated whether or not to pay the admission price and go inside.  We decided against it for the following reasons…

1   The visitor reviews were mostly negative

2   The staff seemed most unhappy and unhelpful

3   We had to pay to use the toilets

4   Most of it was visible from the roadside anyway, no need to go in

5   It was €10 each admission

6   We had seen Greek ruins before in Sicily which were much better

This is Segesta on the west of the island near Palermo…

Read the Story about Segesta Here…

So, we left the disappointing ruins and made our way back to the city centre and specifically to the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears, I’ll say that again, the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears.  A massive and ugly construction built on the premise of a Marian Apparition*.

Now, this is the very unlikely story…

Sometime ago in Tuscany plaster plaques were  mass-produced and shipped to Syracuse for retail. One of the plaques was purchased as a wedding gift.  After it had hung in the humble home of a local family rather conveniently the image unexpectedly began to  shed tears for four whole days. 

Sent by the Pope himself an ecclesiastical tribunal scrupulously studied the plaque and had the tears scientifically examined and promptly declared it a true miracle.

It has been said that never has a miracle been so thoroughly investigated, nor approved so quickly.  I wonder if they had a structural survey of the house to see if the roof was leaking?

 

In a very short space of time there were reports of almost three hundred miracle healings, three hundred! attributed to the weeping Madonna and the Church and the City were quite clear on this matter and agreed to an appropriate construction to commemorate it.

The rather bizarre shape of the building was designed to represent a tear fallen from heaven and today the church is the destination of many faithful and pilgrims coming from all over the world.  Not many believers there today I have to report.  Actually only one.  We visited it of course (free admission) wandered around, saw the famous icon which wasn’t weeping today as it happened and compared it to the Holy Shrine of Knock in Ireland which is based on a similar unlikely story.

This is the Holy Shrine of Knock…

We were happy to leave the Shrine and the City and make our way back to the island of  Ortigia.  We didn’t like it there especially and wouldn’t be going back unless a miracle occurred.

Very Unlikely.

We crossed back over the bridge and the contrast was immediately there again.  How odd that one hundred yards or so can make such a difference.  We walked around the fishing port where weary fishermen were enjoying a well earned lunch break and ambled our way to the main square of Ortigia under the shadows of the Doumo, found a bar with a table in the sunshine and settled back to enjoy an early afternoon glass of wine.

Later we returned to the apartment, sat on the balcony and had another.

I have more to tell about the Blessed Virgin Mary in a later post coming up soon.

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported

More posts about a Marian Apparition…

Montserrat and the Black Madonna

The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

Fatima in Portugal

The Holy Shrine at Knock

Sicily – Washing Day in Ortigia

Not a bad bit of pegging out there, good effort, nice use of colours, I am very impressed with white, black, blue , white black, blue recurring theme.  Colour coordination of pegs could be better and personally I would have hung the trousers waist band down to assist quicker drying.  The srtiped top hung by the shoulders is a dis-as-ter and lets the whole thing down.  Marks out of 10 for this one  – 8.

Sicily – Papyrus

Apparently the only place it grows in Europe,  Who knows?

Sicily – The Triskelion, The Moor’s Head and the Godfather

First thing in the morning we walked through the maze of streets to the daily market.  I always assume that purchases in a street market are going to be cheaper than going to the shops but this almost never the case.

I estimate that we at paid least double the price for produce than if it had been in a supermarket but if there was one nearby then we didn’t know where it was.  Kim has a theory that there is one price for locals and another for tourists and I think she may well be right.  We bought some cheese, meats, sun dried tomatoes, bread and salad and paid well over the odds but we weren’t unhappy about that and made our way back to the apartment to prepare a late breakfast that we enjoyed on the balcony.

After breakfast we walked back out again.

I had been to Sicily before but hadn’t taken a great deal of notice of the flag of the Italian autonomous region which is a three legged woman very similar to the symbol of the Isle of Man.  This symbol is called the Triskelion and is the head of the  Gorgon Medusa with the three legs that alludes to the triangular shape of the island.

In Ancient Mythology, the Gorgon was a mysterious creature who was one of the three daughters of two Gods of the sea. The Three daughters were Medusa, Stheno and Euryale.  Medusa was mainly known for her ability to turn mortal men to stone with one single gaze but, on a lighter note, was also known for her help to fight the forces of evil. 

So is there a connection between Sicily and the Isle of Man?  Here is a short history lesson that may provide an explanation…

In 1250 Holy Roman Emperor Frederick died after having ruled Sicily for fifty-two years.  Four years later the Pope passed the Sicilian kingship to Edmund Crouchback, the second surviving son of Henry III, King of England  and for about ten years after that  Edmund was King of Sicily.

The wife of Alexander III, King of Scotland, was Margaret of England, a daughter of King Henry III and some historians believe that this connection between the English and Scottish royal families might account for the introduction of the triskeles as a symbol of the Isle of Man and may well be connected with the regime change on the Isle in 1265  to Scottish kings.

There you have it.  History lesson over.

The next Sicilian story that I liked is the grisly tale of the Moor’s head.  The tourist shops are overflowing with souvenir vases depicting the face of a man wearing a turban, depicting the East, and a woman with a crown, representing the west. Both are embellished with jewellery, flowers and citrus fruits. 

Not the sort of thing that I would buy to be honest and they wouldn’t fit in my flight  hand luggage anyway.

There are various stories about the heads but this is my favourite.

The legend says that during the time of the Moor occupation in Sicily there lived an exceptionally  beautiful girl in the Arab quarter of Palermo whose passion was to take care of plants on her balcony. One day she was noticed by a Moor who immediately fell in love with her and she apparently immediately felt the same way and they embarked on a whirlwind romance. When the girl found out that her lover would soon travel back to the East where a wife and children were waiting for him she was overcome with jealousy and grief.

Here are the two star-struck lovers…

I think that she looks rather like Sophia Loren…

Humiliated by the betrayal, in a fit of jealous anger the girl murdered the Moor while he was asleep. She cut off his head and used it as a vase in which she planted a bud of basil (I assume at this point that she scraped the brains out and replaced them with John Innes potting compost number two or something equally suitable).  The girl watered the plant with her tears and, as time went by the basil grew into a luxurious plant. The heady scent of the plant caused the envy of the girl’s neighbours who immediately ordered ceramic vases with the same features as the Moor’s Head to decorate their own balconies and courtyards.

It is similar to the story told by John Keats in his epic poem “Isabella and the Pot of Basil” which also has the unlikely story of the fragrant herb growing in a decapitated head.

Another thing that Syracuse is famous for (as all of Sicily)  is puppets.  This is The Opera dei Pupi where puppets represent Knights from the time of Charlemagne and puppeteers stage elaborate stories and epic battles in puppet theatres.  There was a museum directly opposite our apartment but for some tantalising reason was never open which was a shame.  To compensate it was possible to visit a couple pf workshops where skilled craftsmen were designing and creating the puppets.

Some speculate that the legend of the puppet master is behind the symbolism of the explanation by the logo of the film trilogy “The Godfather”.