Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean; it boasts the largest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna and it has been a magnet for invaders ever since the Greeks established settlements on its southern shores from the middle of the 8th century BC. The Carthaginians, the Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Arabs have all left an indelible mark upon the island’s landscape and, as a consequence, Sicily enjoys a varied and quite unique culture. 32 Classics scholars and their teachers enjoyed a wonderful six day tour of the island’s major sites which included the UNESCO World Heritage site of Agrigento (ancient Akragas), the so-called Valley of the Temples. This is something of a misnomer as the seven monumental Greek temples constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC in the Doric style stand atop a ridge! Be that as it may, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek temples anywhere in the Greek world.
The imperial Roman villa at Piazza Armerina generated the most interest amongst the scholars who were staggered by the mosaics which comprise the richest, largest and most complex collection of mosaics anywhere in the Roman world. The so-called “Chamber of the Ten Maidens” contains a world-famous mosaic in which young women wearing bikinis (!) perform various sports including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games.
For me personally it was the cathedral of St Lucy in Syracuse that spoke most eloquently of the island’s rich history. Its baroque exterior (mid -17th century CE) encloses the massive Doric columns of a temple of the early 5th century BC, dedicated to the goddess Athena. As a building that bears witness to the constant remodeling of history in such an impressive manner, it is truly astonishing!
These are just some of the sites that we visited in our whistle-stop tour of Sicily. The culinary delights were almost as good as the cultural ones – pizza, pasta, ice cream, coffee – and , together, made for an unforgettable tour.