Our first few minutes in Sicily were spent navigating the streets of Messina, after having arrived on a ferry from the Italian mainland. Honking cars, crazy motorbikes and messy urban lawlessness, it was an immediate taste of the chaos which would accompany our 91 days in Palermo; an antipasto to the capital’s main course of noisy pandemonium. By the time we had gotten through Messina and onto the highway, my nerves were frayed and patience spent, but the wonder and excitement of finally being in Sicily remained intact.
On the last day of our final road-trip through Sicily, we drove a few kilometers up the coast from Catania to Taormina, the island’s most popular beach resort. Word of its charm had reached our ears from just about everyone we’d come in contact with: friends, strangers in bars, neighbors, Twitter acquaintances. Even my grandmother called to say that we should really visit Taormina. She’s never even been to Sicily and she’s been dead for ten years! Phone calls from beyond the grave are pretty persuasive: we had to go.
The world’s most comprehensive and exquisite set of Roman mosaics is found in the middle of Sicily, at the archaeological site known as Villa Romana del Casale. The specifics of the villa’s history are largely lost to history, but experts have dated its origin to around the 4th century AD. It’s believed to have been the hunting lodge for Roman aristocrats, possibly owned by Emperor Maximianus Herculius. But there aren’t enough clues to say for certain.
A sense of faded grandeur permeates Palermo. The stately old palaces which occupy nearly every corner are usually shuttered up, damaged beyond repair, or have been converted for use as art galleries. The Palermitano aristocracy must surely have resided in splendor, but they’ve long since left the scene, removing all trace of their easy wealth. Today, in this chaotic and messy city, it’s almost impossible to imagine what life must have been like for them.
For those of us born and raised in northern climes, celebrating Christmas without a thick layer of snow on the ground is a bit disheartening. Santa and his reindeer, sleigh and poofy red costume would look ridiculous cruising around Palermo. But there’s no doubt that Christmas in Sicily is every bit the festive season that we enjoy back home.
If you’re an adult human living in the 21st century, you have at some point in your life suffered a catastrophic computer crash. You’ve been faced with the choice of whether to try and recover your system, or just start fresh with a clean install. And you’ve probably learned that, almost always, the best option is to start clean and reinstall from scratch. Restorations rarely work and, even if you’re able to cobble your computer back to a semi-functional state, there are usually problems. No, it’s best to bite the bullet, lose some work, and start over. For metaphorical proof from history, just look at the Sicilian city of Noto.
The city of Syracuse is packed with beautiful baroque churches and stunning Greek monuments, still standing in defiance of the centuries. But the building which dominates the city’s skyline was built just seventeen years ago. Say hello to the Santuario della Madonna delle Lácrime. Sigh. They just don’t build them like they used to.
Before we moved to Palermo, we had the great fortune of making contact with the guys behind Visit Palermo. They helped us find an apartment, gave us a ton of advice, and have assisted our stay in the city in too many ways to count. And not only are they incredibly helpful; they’re about the coolest people you could hope for.
La Zisa was built as a summer retreat by Arab architects in the 12th century for the reigning Norman Kings of Sicily. Its name comes from the Arabic al-Azîz, for “glorious” or “noble”. Set in the middle of gardens with the Monte Captuo serving as a backdrop, the Zisa still basically serves its original purpose, providing a nice escape for the residents of Palermo, if not for royalty.
Palermo’s football team plays in the top flight of one of the world’s best leagues, Italy’s Serie A. In the last few years, U.S. Città di Palermo has become one of the more feared sides in the country. This season, they had won all five games at home, in the Stadio Renzo Barbera. We went to a Sunday afternoon match against Fiorentina to see if they could continue the streak.