2 to 19 December 2018
Making full use of our hire car and in spite of Sicily’s terrible roads, in December we took a weekly day trip away from Licata to explore as much of the southern part of the island as we could.
2 December 2018
We had as good an excuse as we needed to head east to Ragusa where our friends from SV Off Course were wintering. Before we headed for our reunion at the marina we stopped at the ancient inland city. We focused our explorations around lofty Ragusa Ibla, the old town inhabited since the 3rd century BC.
Stuffed full of baroque churches and Neo-Classical buildings,
all was very quiet on the streets. So quiet that the Carabineri and Polizia Locale had nothing better to do than stop and have a chat through their car windows whilst Stefan looked on. Although December it was still warm enough for us to enjoy a snack of arancini with our coffee outside.
The locals all paraded passed in their Sunday best so we followed them down to the tip of the city on the rock and into Giardino Ibleo. Its palm trees and fountains made for a very tranquil wander.
Just outside we bumped into St George killing the dragon again in relief on the earthquake ravaged Poratale di San Giorgio. Again we pondered at his being such a symbol of Englishness when he’s equally revered throughout Europe. And wasn’t he actually born in Turkey?!
Taking the road towards the coast we found our way to Marina di Ragusa and our reunion with our favourite boat boy, Jasper. He had grown up a lot since our week Off Course in Turkey and took us to his favourite gelateria for a treat! And not just that, we also got to have dinner with our German friends from last winter in Agios Nikolaos, Jenny and Robert.
9 December 2019
Our second day trip into southern Sicily got off to an inauspicious start. Just outside Licata our hire car succumbed to the island’s terrible roads and got a flat tyre. But we weren’t going to let those roads get in our way of our exploring so Stefan swiftly changed the tyre and we were back on our way up into the interior
and up to the hill town of Butera. We had seen it from the road whilst passing and been intrigued by its lofty position. High up on its perch the town offered spectacular views across Sicily’s incredible landscape. It is no wonder the roads have so many twists and turns and need so many bridges.
Late morning on a Sunday in Butera was a very sleepy affair. Other than the old men congregating around the cafes of Piazza Dante we met few residents along the cobbled streets.
At the top of the town we found the sparse remains of the Norman castle now subsumed in a housing estate and just outside the local church a lovely statue of St Francis of Assisi. These seemed the extent of the town’s sights and, it being Sunday, nothing except the cafes and pasticcerie doing a swift trade in espresso and trays of sweet cakes were open.
As in Vittorio Veneto our favourite interaction in Butera came because of a beautiful old car, this time a Fiat 500 lovingly owned and cared for by the man on the right and who, despite us not really understanding him, insisted on telling us all about it. I really need to improve my motoring vocabulary so that we can properly engage in these conversations!
19 December 2019
So, after Selinute, I had promised Stefan no more ruins and I really had meant it. Even I was feeling a little archeologically fatigued. But there was just one more place that I harboured a desire to see whilst we were in Sicily. Images of mosaics at the Villa Romana at Piazza Armerina are seen on postcards and posters every on the island. It had been tempting me since our first visit to the island in 2017 when we didn’t quite get to visit it and it was just temptation too much. Somehow I managed to persuade Stefan that these really would be the last ruins and he agreed to the hour and a half’s drive back into the hinterland.
Happily for me, the boasts about the mosaics were right, even understated, and even Stefan had to admit they are a must see. Perfectly protected under a 12th century mud slide and not uncovered again until the 19th century, this sprawling 3rd century villa is carpeted in every room with vibrant mosaics telling stories of myths and everyday life in Roman times.
Human figures depicted include the owner of the villa and his family and the vibrant colours showed that the clothing of the Romans was so much more colourful than the white toga we often have in our minds.
Wild beasts in the form of tigers, elephants and rhinos represented just how far the Roman empire spread into India and Africa.
It just wouldn’t be Roman without a good smattering of gods and mythical creatures and so of course we found Ulysses (disembowelling a ram), Cupid (fishing) and Pan and Eros (fighting) amongst others.
But the piece de resistance, and perhaps the most photographed of the mosaics, are the Girls in Bikinis, showing women engaged in different sporting activities and at the awards ceremony. Things had clearly moved on since Greek times when women were not even allowed to watch sport let alone take part. And who would have thought the Romans introduced the bikini?
The mosaics just kept on coming, in every room, even the circular spaces and so perfectly preserved that it was hard to imagine just how old they are. We were definitely glad not to have missed them.
If Stefan’s patience had not been tested by all of Southern Sicily’s ancient sights, his nerves had definitely been frayed by driving its roads and he sighed an enormous sigh of relief when we dropped the car back at Catania airport. Even after hitting the roads of Albania nothing quite prepared us for the hazards of driving in Sicily…