Features & Images » Travel

Travel

In search of Sicily's chapels

by

comment

We travelled by train from Palermo, south to Agrigento. The rugged, even mountainous, interior of Sicily appeared inhospitable, although it's dotted with hilltop towns and, along the slopes, olive groves or citrus farms and the occasional shepherd attending to goats.

An ancient port, Agrigento is best known for a series of Greek Doric temples that run along a ridge above the Mediterranean, a few kilometres from the city.

We took a public bus there and then explored the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi), a series of Greek buildings, in various states of repair, erected circa 500 BC. The best known and most intact is the Concordia Temple, with classic tapering columns and a spectacular outlook over the Mediterranean Sea.

Then we hitchhiked up a hill to the Museo Nationale Archeologico, and reveled in the gorgeous objects found in this region, including amphora, fragments of statues and carved stone sarcophagi.

On our return at night to Palermo, an angry looking young man paced the near-empty railway carriage carrying what we thought was a gun-case. Maybe we were paranoid, but it proved unnerving.

The following afternoon, a Sunday, the Palazzo Normanni was closed. So we hopped a long-distance coach across the island to Catania - through more rugged interior, with some of the farmed valleys crossed by elevated viaduct roadways - then rolled and bumped our suitcases a few blocks to our hotel near the city centre.

The Hotel Villa Romeo came well recommended. This delightfully eccentric "palace" features idiosyncratic art on a Grecian theme, small garden courtyards off some of the rooms, classical music wafting through the halls and breakfast off an open plaza.

We shared an interior garden with a foursome of retired Australians and became friendly with hotel "manager" Romeo, who invited us to step onto a fire escape, then into an adjoining building and his sprawling old-world apartment of sumptuous antiques.

My love for baroque churches - all built after the Sicilian earthquake of 1693 - remained unquenched. I gawked at a few of the many in Catania. And we travelled south to Ragusa, whose lower town (called Ibla) is a miniature realm of ornate baroque.

My favourite spot in Sicily, Ibla is a narrow, terraced old-town of pedestrian alleys, courtyards, wrought-iron detailing and, of course, baroque churches. Several sit high above small piazzas at bends in the road that run down through the enclave. Among them San Giuseppe, with its rounded fa├žade, and San Giorgio, standing like a testament to a brief period in Sicilian architectural history, at the top of the Piazza del Duomo.

Add a comment