I blinked, and it is now finals week at Temple Rome! I am taking a breather halfway through my exams.
One of my favorite ways to recharge after a big test is to look at pictures of my favorite things. After some thought, I’ve decided to share some photos from one of my favorite adventures in Italy: my trip to Sicily during Fall Break.
I spent three days on the east coast of the island, which was only a short flight away from Rome. I started in Catania, the destination of my flight. I met a friend at the airport and we went to the center of the city together. We saw the Piazza del Duomo, a large space with churches, statues, and bubbles.
I was intrigued to read that Sicily was once settled by the ancients Greeks and Romans, and I saw clear evidence of this at the Roman Theater in the city! My friend and I explored the ruins of the structure, which dates back to 300 B.C.E. What I found most interesting was the fact that this space was once an ancient Greek theater. The Romans built on top of it later on. It was quite an experience, knowing that I was sitting where people from different civilizations across time sat to enjoy plays in the city.
I was also very happy to make a new friend in the theater: an adorable cat I saw wandering the ruins! It turns out that the ladies at the front desk have two cats that like to walk around the place. I really missed my own cat at home, so it was nice to pet a feline friend in Catania.
We stopped by a local pastry shop to try a Sicilian specialy: a cannolo! Yes, I mean cannolo: the term “cannoli” I hear in the United States is actually the plural form! Cannolo is the singular! I got one with ricotta cheese and pistachios! Yum!
We went back to the Piazza to look at a few churches. We stopped at the Chiesa della Badi di Sant’Agata, which had rooftop access for a small fee. I climbed up so many stair that day. The view was worth the climb! (This is why you don’t skip leg day!)
For dinner, we found an interesting restaurant that had underground seating near a creek! You bet we got seats there! I read in a book I bought as a souvenir that the east coast of Sicily was thought to be where the cyclopes, the one-eyed giants of Greek mythology, lived in their caves.
How fitting that we were dining in a cave of sorts like the cyclopes did! Although I know that the cyclopes wouldn’t have had the same taste for fresh seafood and Sicilian chinotto, a carbonated beverage made from a local type of citrus, that I had developed. I am also not a one-eyed giant.
My friend and I tried more Sicilian food the next morning, when we tried arancini (plural for arancino). I was curious about how it was possible to deep-fry a mixture of rice, cheese, and other fillings to an iconic golden-orange. (The word “arancino” is related to “arancione,” the Italian word for orange.) Arancini are everywhere in Sicily, and it wasn’t hard to find them in stores.
Our next stop was Taormina, an hour away north of Catania. The small town is very high in the mountanious Sicilian terrain, at a lofty 204 m (670 feet) above sea level. It is famous for its massive Greek Theater. It was much bigger than the Roman theater we saw in Catania, and it had a much better view of the coastline.
My friend and I also bought tickets for an unlimited hop-on-hop-off bus in Taormina. What an amazing view as we went further up the mountain!
We stopped at Castelmola, which was an area 529 meters (a whopping 1,736 feet!) above sea level. It was a quaint little place full of artisan shops. There was a lot of handmade jewelry on sale, a lot which was made with volcanic rock from the Mt. Etna, which is a popular souvenir in the area.
After lunch at Castelmola, we rode the bus along the shore. We passed through a region called Naxos Giardini, which was an early Greek settlement. I had fun reading some ancient Greek in the massive sign that said “ΝΑΞΟΣ” (“NAXOS” in the Roman alphabet). I enjoyed the sea breeze blowing on my face and through my hair as I took in all the sights and smells of the Sicilian shore. How it reminds me of Santa Marinella!
I also caught a glimpse of the sunset on the way back to the bus stop. What a breathtaking view to end the day in Taormina!
Our last stop in our three-day trip was the city of Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), which was an hour’s bus ride to the south of Catania. We started our adventure there in the southern part of the city, the island of Ortygia. The name is Greek, and there are signs of ancient Greek settlement there. We saw the massive ruins of the Temple of Apollo just across the bridge. According to the sign, it was built in the 6th century B.C.E. It was a lot to take in!
We headed toward a new yet familiar sight: another Piazza Duomo! This is the second one we’ve seen in Sicily, the first one being in Catania. We looked inside the old churches and even caught a glimpse of some Carvaggio paintings displayed there for special exhibits!
After lunch, we headed back north and walked to the Archaeological Park of Neapolis (Parco Archaeologico della Neapolis). There were even more ancient ruins there. I got to walk the same paths as ancient figures such as the Syracusan general Hiero II did; I saw his famous altar in the park.
We saw not one, but two more ancient theaters in Syracuse! There is a Greek theater on a hill with all of its seats and foundations still intact, and the Roman theatre on the other side of the park is overrun with grass.
The most interesting sight of the day had to be a cave called “Orecchio di Dionisio,” or “the Ear of Dionysius.” I read that Dionysius of Syracuse was a tyrant who was fond of keeping his prisoners trapped in the cave, where he could hear every word they said as the sound echoed against their stone surroundings. Every step I took echoed through the entire cave, and I could hear other people speaking from further inside. Eerie!
We went to the famous Museo Archaeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, one of the most important archaeological museums in Europe! We walked through a garden of sculptures to get to the entrance, which seems unassumming at first, but houses an incredibly large collection of Sicilian artifacts inside.
I was taken aback by the sheer number of items on display inside the museum. There were remains of ancient flora and fauna from prehistoric times and remnants of the earliest human settlers in Sicily in the exhibits! The collection of Greek and Roman artifacts was impressive as well. So much in one place!
I learned a lot about Sicily through the interactive screens in the exhibits. I got to look at different maps that showed the history of the island. It’s amazing how much happened in just one city like Catania or Syracuse over centuries. Sicily was colonized by different ancient civilizations, with ancient Greece being one of the earliest. It was also a place of conflict between powers, such as during the Punic Wars, when ancient Rome fought against Carthage in north Africa for control over strategic areas of the island. Fascinating how so many civilizations impacted the development of the place! The plethora of artifacts in the museum spans across all the different cultural influences in ancient Sicily.
Before I headed back to Rome the next day, I stopped by a small café at the airport to try one last Sicilian specialty: cassata! I’ve never tried a cake with ricotta cheese before, and I was surprised at how crunchy the slice was! I’m used to soft icing in the United States, so the unexpected crunch of the sweet shell on top was amusing.
I did some reading about Sicilian food while waiting for my flight, and it turns out that a lot of traditional Sicilian pastries and sweets originated from elsewhere! Cassata became popular under the Muslim era of Sicily in the beginning of the first millenium C.E. Cannoli may also have been from this time as well. Fascinating to see how different cultural influences melded into one cuisine in modern Sicily!
Finally, I boarded my plane back to Rome. I took one last glance of the Sicilian landscape below and then saw the beginnings of mainland Italy. Ciao, Sicilia! It was a pleasure visiting over fall break. You were one of my favorite trips abroad. I miss your warm weather.