When you come from a country which numbers its history in centuries, it's easy to be in awe of those nations which count theirs in millennia.
Sicily, of course, is one of those nations. With a complex history of rule by various other nations through its history, Sicily is an interesting mix of culture, architecture and traditions. Our recent trip showed that history in vivid detail.
From Taormina, we set out on a three-hour bus trip to Agrigento for our fist stop at the Valle dei Templi, or the Valley of the Temples. This UNESCO World Heritage Site highlights the art and architecture of the Greeks who colonized the island in the 8th Century BC. The numerous temples are incredible examples of Greek buildings and represent a portion of Sicilian history. The scope of the temples, even those mostly in ruin, is impressive and makes one wonder how magnificent they would have been when just built.
About 90 minutes by bus away was Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Amerina. Here at this yet another USESCO World Heritage Site, is the villa of an influential Roman dating to about the early 4th Century AD. It is known worldwide for its collection of mosaics that fill the villa. From animals, to lavish scenes of battle, to scenes from sea-related scenes, the mosaics reflect that culture and the beliefs of the villa's owner and the Roman people.
While some are merely little more than fragments, the larger pieces that exist tell a tale of grandeur. Even today, some of the colors remain vibrant and makes one able, with a good imagination, to envision them in their full beauty. I do admit, however, that some of the tableaus make me think the artist, or probably multiple artists, might have had a bit to drink while working on the themes.
From history to the table
Acre after acre of wheat spread across the fields we rush by on our bus back to Taormina. While making us think of the acreage and output of the breadbasket states of the Midwest U.S., there is a major difference: This land is far from flat.
On topography more suited for skiing than sowing, the Sicilians feed themselves. As our tour guide noted, this is where the best wheat comes from that makes the best pizza and bread.
Looking at the terrain’s slope you have to wonder: How do they do it? The grade is so steep and it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, that any farm machinery has enough horsepower or mechanical advantage to till, sow and then harvest without tipping over.
No terraces. No switchbacks. Just up and up.
For Sicilian farmers, the land and the work are what the have always been...their lives.
From history to homes
From the continuous winding mountain roads, picturesque and stereotypical Sicilian towns and villages nestle in every nook and cranny filling any empty space with life.
The backs of rows of buildings jut from every vertical or flat spot. As precarious as the siting appears, many look as if they have stood for decades providing homes for generations of their owners. To many Americans, they only know about such areas trough film, and probably Godfather II some of which was filmed in various locations in Sicily. Some of the most popular and widely advertised tours are the ones that take visitors to the numerous sites where the movie was filmed.
Like American cities, each is a mix of property ranging from well-kept to unkempt. Homes mix with shops which mix with vacant properties which mix with mere shells of a building. It is odd to see a nice home next to what is basically a ruined building with no roof and missing several walls.
No, this is not right
I understand that there are cultural differences throughout the countries of the world. But, sometimes, it gets carried too far. On the way to the Valley of the Temples we made the obligatory food/drink/restroom break. The store along the highway sold not only local items but internationally known products, one of which was Pringles. Ketchup flavored Pringles. Culture aside: That’s just wrong!