Rarely could a contrast be more marked than that between the European architecture and atmosphere of Eastern Sicily and the heavy North African influence prevalent in the west.
Agrigento - Caltanissetta - Palermo - Trapani
Rarely could a contrast be more marked than that between the European architecture and atmosphere of the east coast and the heavy North African influence prevalent in the west. Today, the ancient and the modern, the gracious and the ugly stand side by side. The traveller often has to seek out what is to be seen and is richly rewarded upon finding it. Palermo is one of those intriguing cities of extremes. Graceful palazzos and villas from an era long since past contrast dramatically with modern flats and apartments. The Palace of the Normans – an imposing 12th century cathedral, the gardens of Villa Giulia and the superb archaeological museum should not be missed.
The Cathedral of Monreale, built in 1174 by King William II, is the greatest of all the monuments of the Norman kings in northern Sicily. While the outside of the cathedral is predominantly plain, the inside walls are adorned with stunning mosaics – reputedly one of the world’s largest displays of this art.
Cefalù, on Sicily’s scenic north coast, is a charming seaside resort and fishing village. The name, Cefalù, comes from the Greek for head (Cephalus), given to the craggy rock resembling a head that towers over the town. The Norman cathedral, built in the reign of Roger II in 1131, took 100 years to build and contains some fine examples of Byzantine mosaics.
Perched 750 metres above sea level, west of Palermo, is Erice. This well preserved medieval town’s origins are shrouded in mystery, part fantasy and part reality. Surrounded by ancient walls, the town is reserved and quiet with magnificent views over the Egadi Islands. Located on the coast below is the small fishing village of Bonagia in Valderice-Mare, home to an impressive 6th century tower ‘Torre Saracena’ which today houses the Tonnara museum filled with many archeological treasures valued among the richest in Sicily. Close-by is the Zingaro Nature Reserve – one of the most picturesque and untouched places on the island as well as the well preserved archeological site of Segesta.
The towns of Marsala and Mazara del Vallo are located on Sicily’s west coast. Marsala, famed for its sweet desert wine, is an attractive town with arcaded courtyards, high ageing buildings and two excellent museums – Museo Marsala housing archeological finds and Museo degli Arazzi with wonderful hand-stitched wool and silk tapestries depicting the capture of Jerusalem. Whereas the historic centre of Mazara del Vallo, also a major fishing port, houses the Piazza della Repubblica reputed to be one of the most beautiful Baroque squares in Sicily.
Further south is Selinunte (24km), one of the most impressive ancient Greek cities in Sicily since the ruins have never been built over. This ancient site retains an air of tranquility and mystery and is set in rolling countryside, on cliffs above the sea. A popular seaside resort, Selinunte boasts some good stretches of rock and sand beaches.
A visit to the area would not be complete without a trip to see Agrigento’s impressive archeological site ‘The Valley of the Temples’. There are six Greek Temples including the Temple of Concord which is one of the best preserved Doric Temples of the ancient world.