Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Segesta, Sicily

As you will see, by the time all the different parts of our Tour of Sicily is done, there are plenty of different sides to this one spot in Italy. Touring the ruins of Agrigento, Segesta, Siracusa and Taormina did get to the "ok, you've seen one, you've seen them all" sort of feel for some of our fellow travelers but, for me, I began to look for what made each site very different from the others. It's easy enough to do the "Temple...check", "fallen blocks....check", "columns...check"...sort of list. But here you will find what makes each one different and why I found them to be so very intriguing.

 When arrived at the top of the hill to the spot, where the busses were parked and there was a nice shady patio and a shop to buy food and drink, I turned around and looked at the amazing view! Of course, there is almost nowhere you drive in the Italian countryside that you won't see views like this one. So beautiful!
 We were there in mid May so Spring was in full bloom. I am well aware that some would look at this view and see a broken down building in a weedy field but I find so much beauty here. And it's amazing how, when I am traveling, that I will stop to take photos of the areas not on the "tour", not the "main" attraction, and soon I will notice that other travelers will stop, see what I'm doing and will come join me. Try not to get too focused on the destination and look around during the journey, you won't be disappointed!
 Purple Vetch were scattered all over the hillsides. At times the entire side of a mountain would look a bit bruised but when you got closer you would see that it was just covered with Vetch!
 Mixed with the Vetch at Segesta were Plain Yellow Daisies. We were there rather early in the morning so this was a pop of sunshine for our day!
 Up on the hill behind the shaded patio was the first glimpse of the Temple of Segesta. There was a trail that you could hike up to get to the Temple. Warning, it's very steep so those of you with any mobility issues will want to stay in the shade and have a cold drink instead.
 Built in about 420 BC the temple at Segesta is considered to be unusually well preserved. You can see in this photo how they are using modern braces to keep it safe as well as preserved for those who come to see it.
 We then took a tram to the very top of the hill where we encountered more ruins. We were allowed to wander freely on the paths around these remnants of this indigenous Elymian people and the Greeks.
 There were some portions of intact walls as well as clear signs of where columns and other buildings had once been.
 Wildflowers grabbed hold wherever they could fit themselves. More proof that nature reasserts herself whenever and wherever she can.
 But what I found interesting is that in these ruins were brief glimpses of how ornate they must have been when they stood tall. 
 How these little details could be found even as they were surrounded by crumbling stone and wildflowers all these centuries later for us to see. It made me wonder about the people who had lived here and how this city on the hill looked. I thought about it again when we went to Taorimina, a city still very intact, which is located on a similar hill.
 The views from the top were beautiful. The rolling hills of Sicily, the wildflowers in the grass and the white stone of the ruins made for a gorgeous view.
 We took the trail to the top and started to realize that the views we had below were just the beginning!
 At the entrance to the Amphitheater it felt like you could just step off into nothingness. It made me wonder about the people who attended performances here and if they felt that momentary fear as well.
 The fear was justified! These steps down to the stage level were STEEP! I could easily see how people could tumble to the bottom quickly!
 The more esteemed you were the closer you were to the stage. If you remember the entrance you saw a pathway? That wandered down and around to the bottom to make it easier for those in power to get to their seats. Some of the seats had carvings in them...this was like reserved seating! No doubts on who was supposed to sit where!
 And the views...oh my...the views. It felt like we could see all the way back out to Palermo from there.
 The amphitheater was gigantic. When we were there we saw a group of students who were beginning to work out their performance for that evening, so shows are still held there for the public to come see!
 You could choose to leave the amphitheater from 3 directions. From the bottom and back up the path, from the entrance and the way back down that we had come or you could head up to the ruins of the city at the top. 
 It was quite the climb to the top was not as easy as the original path down but it was interesting. I found even more beautiful wildflowers like these Queen Anne's Lace at the very top.
The only "wild life" we saw were birds and beetles. These beetles loved the Thistle that grew near the ruins.
 It was on the way down from the amphitheater that we got our best views of the Temple of Segesta. The road is a curvy, winding road so you had many views out of the left hand side of the tram to see the Temple. You can see how big the architecture is when you notice how small the people are in the photograph! Don't forget to click on the small photos to see how amazing these locations are in the larger views!
 Sitting up on the slopes of Mt. Barbaro, the temple had a great advantage against marauders. One of the first things you notice is that there is no roof. This isn't from decay. Even in ancient times this temple was never completed. It got to this point and was mysteriously abandoned. However it does leave an interesting detail for the rest of us who come to visit centuries later.

Next week we'll head up to the place where we spent the rest of our day, Erice. This amazing medieval hilltop town is a romantic dream come true. I hope you will join me for this tour next week!
As always, you can find me on Facebook and on Instagram where I post lots of travel and nature photos every single day!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Valley of the Temples ~ Agrigento, Sicily

One of the things on my "Bucket List" was to see a real Greek Temple. I never thought that would happen in Italy! But Sicily has had several different cultures occupy it at one point or another and the Greeks were definitely there. 
 We left Palermo in the early morning and made our way away from the Tyrrhenian Sea coast and cut across the area to the Mediterranean Sea coast and to Agrigento. Along the way are views like this one of the gorgeous countryside, wildflowers and a castle on the hill!
 When we arrived with our Go Ahead Tours guide we drove through the city of Agrigento and out to the bottom of this UNESCO World Heritage site. There we got our tickets and then we drove to the top of the hill. The idea is to start at the Temple of Juno (also called the Temple of Hera), which dates around 460 BC, and walk down the hill to the bottom ruins. 
 The Temple of Juno is magnificent. I'd never seen a temple before, of course, so I was completely breathless. When you stand in front of one it seems truly impossible for it to have been built, with no cranes or other heavy equipment to help the humans, when it was built!
 A little further on is the Temple of Concordia. This is the best preserved of all the temples. It is truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. 
 As impressive as it was comical (a giant with giant junk) this modern art installation, called Fallen Ikarus by Igor Mitoraj, looks like it truly belongs here. 
 The view down the hill was impressive! It does bring up the point that many of these tours require a lot of walking. We averaged about 8 miles a day with some days more like 5 miles and some more like 10 miles, of walking. Invest in a couple of pairs of really good walking shoes and, if you don't walk a lot now, try to get in the habit of walking more before you take the trip.
 Fortunately the tours move at a comfortable pace so you never feel like you have to run to catch up. In fact, due to the fact I was photographing the area, I was often ahead of our tour group and able to sit down, enjoy the view, and wait for them to catch up with me. (yes, the guy in the photo was very cute...nice view indeed!)
 Oddly enough, one of those places I enjoyed just sitting and enjoying the cool breeze was the tomb area. Set up like a city, this was the "cemetery" section. The view down into the valley was beautiful, there were olive trees everywhere and lots of places where you can sit and just enjoy.
 On the other side of the pathway were the catacombs. This area allowed you to actually walk down among the tombs and see how these ancient people were buried.
 Looking out over the catacombs you had this lovely view of Agrigento and the trees that fill up this area. It was really beautiful!
 At the bottom of the hill is the Villa Aurea. This was the home of the last benefactor of this archaeological site and the last home of English Captain Alexander Hardcastle.
 From there we walked down to the Temple of Hercules which is the oldest of the temples. Constructed in the Doric style in the late sixth century BC there is very little of it left to see and yet, it's still just majestic!
 We collect our tickets and other memorabilia from traveling but, in this case, our guide Sylviana had to turn these tickets back into her company. This gave me an opportunity to photograph her while also photographing our tickets! She was a simply wonderful, and fun, guide for our trip!
 It was a very warm day, which is why I enjoyed sitting in the shade and enjoying the breeze from time to time, so a light vegetarian lunch sounded, and tasted like heaven to me! This is something I've made several times since we got home from the trip because it's so light and simple. Pasta, onions, basil, tomatoes and onions tossed with olive oil and paired up with crunchy bread makes for a lovely lunch on a warm day.
 Another modern art installation that seemed to fit right in was this iron Angel in the square near the restaurant and vendors. Of course there are souvenir vendors there with lots of kitschy items for you to take home with you.  I, personally, love these items. Yes, I know they are "junk" and yes, I know that, unless you are very careful, chances are the item was made in China but these magnets and wallets and tote bags are constant reminders for me of our wonderful trip so I will always bring home some small items for myself as well as for my family.
 From there we walked to the area of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Right away you can see evidence of how huge these ruins must have been. 
 We were there in mid May so the wildflowers were everywhere. Solid proof that life goes on and that nature keeps asserting itself.
 Beautiful proof. In California, where we live, Golden Poppies are normal in Spring but I'd never seen red poppies before visiting Italy. They are so gorgeous and they fill the fields here in the same way their golden cousins do in California. 
 This area is more lush to walk through and you will find lots of different trees and plants here. That included a distant cousin to the asparagus! In fact, as you can see, it really looks like an asparagus plant...from "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids"! 
Being from a place where we see the asparagus fields this was truly hysterical to us. 
This "giant" was actually one of the corners of a temple. It use to hold up a roof with 3 others. Now it's been reassembled flat so it's not only easier to see but safer too! 
If you look closely at the first photo of the "giant" you will notice that there is a "guest" on his thigh. This Sicilian Wall Lizard was just hanging out in the warm sun. I seem to find lizards and cats everywhere I travel and I love it!

Remember to click on the small photos to see the larger versions! The views are worth it!

Off to another wonderful area next week when we visit Segesta and the temples and amphitheater there! As always, you can find me on Facebook and on Instagram where I post lots of travel and nature photos every single day!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cappella Palatina ~ The Palatine Chapel, Sicily

The last of the churches we toured while in Palermo, Sicily was the Palatine Chapel, or the Cappella Palatina. Located just blocks from the Palermo Cathedral this beautiful church makes this area a Must See part of your visit to Sicily. 

Referred as the Palace Church or Palace Chapel, it is located next to the Norman Palace which is a tourist destination in it's own right. It was constructed in the early part of the 12th Century and is another case of Byzantine architecture.
You arrive at the bottom of a hill, where the ticket kiosk is located, and as you walk up the ramp to the buildings at the top you will notice the thorn trees on your left. It's been said that these were planted here to discourage monkeys from climbing up to the churches and wreaking havoc. I'm not sure I really believe that but the trees are really something to see and a very real reminder that we are very close to Africa here!
 As we got to the upper courtyard we could see the palace to our left but in front of us was this very plain facade. You would never, ever, guess what was behind these walls.
 In fact, the only indication that this has anything to do with a church at all is the metal cross on the outside of the part of the building where the entry door is located.
 Everything we had been told about this chapel before arriving was how ornate it was and how, like Monreale Cathedral, it was filled with gold and over the top ornate details. But as you enter the front doorway the only thing that is ornate is the wall sconces!
 High Italian arches give the stairway an open, airy feel to the journey up to the top of the staircase. But we were all still very puzzled about the rather austere architecture style.
 At the entry way on the chapel level you will see the stairs continuing up to the administration offices.
 In front of you will be a gate. This is how they control the queue so it doesn't get too crowded inside the chapel. This is where little details begin to emerge.
Above your head, while you are waiting, you can see the beautiful arched corridors of the central courtyard.
 Once they let you through the gate your waiting isn't over. You still have another queue to wait through so it's great that you have such beauty to enjoy while waiting. We ended up waiting about 30 minutes in all. 
The most interesting touch, and a reminder that this area has seen many cultures in it's history, was the Hohenstaufen eagle coat and arms!
 As you get to the end of your wait you will start to see the elegance that is apparent in all of the churches and chapels of this area. The delicate ironwork of this gate is very elegant and charming.
 From the tawny colored arches to brick arches, this is where you finally see what you had expected from the beginning. The beautiful mosaics, which is what has made this chapel world famous, begin here.
 This is the entrance wall to the Chapel and, if you look closely, you can see that it undulates slightly. A reminder that this architecture is really old and has withstood lots of pressures.
 But the outside mosaics can not begin to prepare you for what awaits inside. Just inside the entryway is this amazing altar. The level of intricate tiling will just sweep you away.
 The most surprising part of the chapel was the ceiling. Made up of carved wood with painted details, it is definitely unexpected. Unfortunately I noticed that many were so caught up by the walls and mosaics that they were missing this amazing detail. Always remember, no matter where you visit, to look UP! 
 Normal scenes are depicted on the walls of the chapel and you will find numerous saints. Fortunately they have added the names to many of these portraits so you know that you are looking at Saint Leo or Saint Peter!
 The grandeur of this chapel is immediately apparent. As it was with Monreale Chapel, there are so many details here that a brief visit can not possibly give you enough time to take it all in. For me, the answer is to take as many photos as possible in a short amount of time so I can study these lovely details later on but then put down my camera and enjoy the visit for a few minutes after.
 After you enter the chapel you will see, directly on the right, this ceiling. At first glance it seems to be overshadowed by the ornate arches but if you look closely you suddenly notice lots of little heads. Yes, I said heads. It puts such a bizarre twist on this place that you can't help but stare!
The Byzantine touch is everywhere. The chapel glows. Many of the tiles are gold backed or silver which is what picks up the light from the few arched windows and the candelabras inside the chapel and bounces it from area to area. It still has a "dark" feel to it but a warm and comforting feel to it as well. 

There is a lot to see in this area of Palermo so plan on spending a lot of time exploring. As for today make sure to click on the small photos so you can really see the details in a larger format. 

Next week we'll move on with our tour of Sicily and out into the beautiful countryside to the The UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Valley of the Temples. A very different look at Sicilian history! You can see more of my work every day on Instagram and on Facebook. If you stop by make sure to say HI!