Monday, September 18th, 2017
Sicily is a rugged yet attractive archipelago south of Italy. It owes much of its beauty to Mother Nature with sights like Mt. Etna and gorgeous beaches.
But if it weren’t for a troubled past, Sicily wouldn’t be as interesting at it is today.
A long history of conquest under Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs, and the Aragonese gave the island its unique blend of cultural influences on food, language, and architecture, among a few. And a great way to experience them is to immerse yourself in the best things to do in Sicily.
Valle dei Templi is an impressive archeological site featuring some of the world’s finest examples of Greater Greece art and Doric architecture. Situated in the city of Agrigento, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has seven temples dedicated to deities of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon including Juno, Heracles, Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan, Concordia, and Aesclepius.
The temples were built in different years between 480 and 6th century BC. Most of them are unfortunately in ruins with only their edifices, columns, or foundations left standing. The Temple of Concordia is exceptional, however. It may not be the oldest, but since its construction in 430 BC, it has remained almost completely intact – even after it was converted into a church during 6th century AD.
There are other Greek temples throughout Sicily such as the ruins of Selinunte and the temple of Segesta which dates back to the 5th century and features a similar Doric architecture.
Mt. Etna is the most iconic natural landmark in Sicily. According to ancient folklore, it was used as a forge by Vulcan, Roman god of fire and metalwork. These legends may be lost in history but Mt. Etna continues to live on as one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Cable cars and Unimog buses take wide-eyed tourists up and down its slopes, allowing access to numerous trails which lead further up the volcanic crater or to nearby attractions.
One such place is the Alcantara Gorge on the northern slope. It was formed when lava from Mt. Etna flowed into the Alcantara River and cooled rapidly, creating the 50-meter ballast rock columns seen today.
Outdoor enthusiasts have plenty to look forward to in these islands. They offer a unique opportunity to explore them with a sea kayak or paddle board – which are some of the best things to do in Sicily. Rental equipment is available for anyone who wants to venture out on their own, while beginners can hire guides or take lessons in canoeing, sea kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Vulcano should be the main highlight your trip to Aeolian islands. It boasts hidden caves, hot springs, natural pools, and the Great Crater. History buffs will likewise enjoy a trip to Lipari. The island is home to the Castle of Lipari, a 15th century fortress now used as the Regional Archeological Museum, along with a handful of historical landmarks from different eras. These include prehistoric huts from the Bronze Age, and structures belonging to ancient Greece and Rome.
Before its conversion to the University of Catania, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was Europe’s second largest Benedictine monastery. Beyond these titles, however, it serves as a testament to Sicily’s resilience. The monastery was first built in the 16th century and was reconstructed twice after being damaged by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It combines original architecture with the extravagant Baroque style of renowned architect Giovanni Vaccarini. Among its most impressive features are the marble cloisters, the frescoed ceilings the library, and the large organ in the church. Don’t miss the artwork in the chapels, the ornate kitchen, and the museum.
Lampedusa is the sort of place you go to for an escapade. After all, the southernmost island of Sicily is famous for its beaches. But when you get there, you will soon find that most of them are too crowded. Thankfully, Spiagga dei Conigli is just a short boat ride away and offers respite for the weary traveler.
Spiagga dei Conigli or “Rabbit Island” is a small uninhabited island near Lampedusa. Here, you can enjoy a relaxing swim away from prying eyes. It boasts crystal clear waters and thriving marine life, which makes it perfect for snorkeling. A true paradise, no wonder it’s listed as one of the best beaches in Europe!
Palermo is a well-known food destination. From traditional Italian cooking to foods that have been influenced by Jewish, Arab, and Spanish cuisine, a myriad of rich tastes await you in this part of Sicily. You can do it on your own, but if you’re in a rush one of the best things to do in Sicily is hire a food guide. The guide will accommodate you to the best food spots in Palermo, which are usually found at inns and humble food stalls by the market and square. Food tours usually last 4 hours and include a tasting of home-grown wines.
In addition to its thriving food culture, Palermo is a major hub for art and architecture. The 12th century and Norman-era mosaics in La Martorana Church, Capella Palatina, and Montreale Cathedral are not to be missed. So are the Baroque churches in the district of Kalsa. Finish off your trip with a refreshing stopover to Palazzo Riso, a contemporary art gallery featuring up and rising artists from all over Italy.
Syracuse had been the center of development since ancient times, larger than both Athens and Corinth. Because of this, no other place best captures the island’s history across the centuries. The ancient ruins of Parco Archeologico della Neapolis are some of the most noteworthy attractions in Syracuse. Ancient Greek plays are still performed at the 5th century theatre during summer.
The Duomo Cathedral in Ortygia is a living example of the island’s historical transition. Originally, it was the site of an ancient Greek Temple of Athena. The 5th century temple and its Doric columns were later incorporated into a cathedral built in the 7th century. Since then, it was converted into a mosque in 878, reinstated into a cathedral by 1085, and underwent several reconstructions centuries later. Due to its long history, the cathedral combines ancient Greek features with Norman details and High Sicilian Baroque architecture.
Leslie writes on his site about travel, life, and fun.