SICILY - A Journey Through History
Posted March 21, 2012, 2:54 p.m.
SICILY – A Journey Through History
By: Francesco Bani
Located in the centre of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea is the island of Sicily, to many an authentic marvel of nature. The dense rich countryside along with its archaeological and architectural history contributes to making this island a one-of-a-kind destination. With over a thousand kilometres of coastline bordering sparkling blue seas, the major sites of interest are close to the coastline and are easily accessible from nearby ports and marinas facilitating the opportunity for crew and guests to experience one while discovering the beautiful hinterlands of the other.
Beginning in the east you will find yourself in an area of the Mediterranean, where in just a few square kilometres, one can experience the essence of the entire territory, in perfect equilibrium between manmade and nature. The sea, ever present as a backdrop, reminds the visitor that they are always present on an island. With Etna in the background and cruising south one leaves the tallest volcano in Europe behind as the Mediterranean opens up in front and it is here, along the coast, that two of the most beautiful cities on the island emerge, Catania and Syracuse. The former characterized by ornately decorated palaces boasts a particularly Scicilian fish market, while the latter is the second most populous on the island.
Syracuse is well known for its historic centre and to its south, the Island of Ortigia (a real life open air museum) which is proud to be home to the largest Greek theatre on the entire island where during the summer months theatrical shows light up the night skies. In just a few minutes by car from Ortigia, passing through fields of olive groves, is a jewel of the Baroque era, Noto. Known worldwide for its extraordinary architecture, the town of Noto was completely re-built in Baroque style after it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1693. Avola famous for its red wines, and the town of Pachino, famous for small farms that produce local jam using sweet tomatoes, are also nearby areas of particular charm.
20 kilometres inland from the sea you will find another enchanting Baroque city, Ragusa, deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, which is easily reachable by yacht thanks to the nearby new Marina of Ragusa. The marina was built to allow sailors access to the beautiful natural beauty of the area and its breathtaking countryside, an area rich with intense aromas from the fields of locally grown produce. The city, of great importance for its architectural beauty, is located in the mountain area of Iblei, which reaches approximately 1000m above sea level and is characterized by its abundance of fertile hills and deep valleys.
The land produces local products of the highest quality, such as its well known olive oil. With its harmonious taste and golden green colour one can use it when savouring the rich flavours of the herbs, green tomatoes and artichokes grown in the area. In this part of the island olives are picked strictly by hand and are grown using traditional methods, testament to this fact are the thousands of hectares of olive groves and hundreds of small mills that extract the juice using centrifuges, or the traditional method of hand pressing.
The historic centre of Ragusa is world renowned for its sculpture and decorative elements which are often made from molten rock, being the most common local stone at the sculptors disposal. The majority of artists that work in the city have Roman training and use as inspiration the masterpieces from the Italian capital and their work is often considered better than the original sculptures. The sculptures, contorted and adapted to the structures they ordain, create a unique decoration in this town, impregnated with exaggerated tendencies that not only influence the architecture, but the entire urban landscape of the city.
The southern part of Sicily is not the only area with a rich heritage. The coast facing Africa is an enchanting area dense with pleasant secrets to discover. Continuing towards Porto Empedocle, located between the most southern part of Sicily and the city of Marsala, one can, in only just a few short minutes by car, visit the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. An archaeological site from the 4th-5th century BC it is a well preserved area comprised of seven temples all in Doric style, surrounded by fertile olive groves. This area of exceptional historic importance was given the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
In this area one also has the possibility to taste exceptional local produce grown by small autonomous farmers who’s smallholdings dot the countryside. The geographic location of this area results in a perfect climate for the production of sweet fruit like its famous oranges and lemons, in addition to a variety of nuts and figs. These fruits feature as centrepieces in local dishes that vary from province to province.
Stopping in Marsala provides an opportunity to visit a local vineyard and taste the wine that was given its name from this area. The strong fortified wine is created through a process of combining two grape varieties, the white Grillo and Izolia. Travelling through the small country roads, bordered by the never ending vineyards and country farms that carpet this wine country, one can view the synergy created by the use of past farming traditions being combined with modern wine making techniques.
Trapani, famous for its salt works, is reached after passing through the straits that divide the western coast from the Egadi islands. The production of artisan marine salt takes place in large pans along the coast which are situated to facilitate the evaporation of sea water. In this area a fascinating collection of mills and tall white pyramids of salt (that take on a rose colour in the sun) provide an important industrial contribution to the economy. Today speciality food stores throughout the world market this prestigious natural salt. In addition the area boasts two splendid protected areas which are the Riserva Naturale Integrale Saline di Trapani e Paceco and the salt works of Stagnone.
The northern coast offers a wide array of towns to visit including Palermo, Cefalu, Lipari, the Eolie islands, Furnari and Milazzo. With regards to the capital of the region, Palermo, there are a multitude of attractions to experience including shows at the Teatro Massimo and visits to historic baroque churches. The fascination with Cefalu comes with its geographic position and marvellous Roman cathedral which is surrounded by a labyrinth of small medieval streets. The city is also one of the 15 Sicilian regions that make up the Parco delle Madonie, famous not only for its natural treasures, but also for its thousands of years of historic importance.
With Milazzo and the Eolie islands, you are sailing between hills cultivating capers and volcanic islands, one concludes our circumnavigation of Sicily. An island famous throughout the world for its archaeology and architecture, it challenges visitors to discover and further their understanding of history, nature and food. Sicily is where one is able to visit Greek ruins, taste one of a kind wine and savour a variety of local foods. Using as a guide the uncontaminated crystal blue waters one only needs to drop anchor, jump in and experience the waters to discover another joy of Sicily.
Luise Associates Sicily is the Sicilian branch of the Luise group and is a leader in yacht agency services on the Island. Its head office is in Riposto with branch offices in Syracuse, Palermo, Lipari and Trapani. For more information visit: www.luisesicily.com. Luise Associates is a member of BWA Yachting. For more information visit: www.bwayachting.com.
Translation with thanks to Anne L. Spyropoulos, BWA Yachting