Our largest and longest trip this semester was Sicily. The week-long trek to all three corners of the island was exhaustive and exhausting in the same right. The trip revolved around three main cities where we lodged: Palermo in the North, Agrigento in the South and Siracusa in the East. To get to Sicily, we took a night train that departed form Rome, broke apart and loaded onto a boat at the Messina Straight and then was put back together in Sicily. This was an interesting sight to wake up to – to say the least – but boarding the boat was nice, and provided a beautiful view as an entrance to Sicily.
Once in Palermo, we threw our belongings in the hotel, which was as large as an apartment and had a kitchen, and began touring the city. We started with three beautiful churches all around the same courtyard. Two were of Norman heritage – think middle eastern style for Christian churches – and the other was an excessive baroque masterpiece: every wall was covered with colored marbles, friezes, statues and chandeliers. After this we headed over to Palazzo Abatellis, which was, a private palazzo turned into a museum, designed by Carlo Scarpa. I really enjoyed this museum. Scarpa is a master at details and his work here revolves mostly around small connections and frames that allow the work to be viewed more interestingly or in a different way than normal. We spent the rest of the day walking around Palermo and on the coast.
The next day we began with a trip up the slope to the town of Monreale. Monreale has a very famous cathedral complex and cloisters that we spent most of the morning exploring. The entire inside of the medieval church is covered in dense, beautiful mosaic. There is a sequence of most of the book of genesis that covers the interior of the church. I overheard one of the many tour guides inside that there is at least 40kg of gold alone in these mosaics. After the church we spent some time in the cloisters, which were full of more mosaics, but this time geometrically inset into the columns. From Monreale we set off to our first ancient site. Segesta is the remains of a Greek town on a hill overlooking the coast of northern Sicily. Among the remains are an almost completely preserved temple and the town’s amphitheater. The temple, for being one of the best preserved, was actually never completed so the columns were never fluted and the cella never constructed. The amphitheater was a long and arduous trek up a hillside but afforded beautiful views and remarkable acoustics – you could hear someone ripping paper in the center all the way from the last seat.