Dwight Peck's personal website

Sicily in December 2012

On the track of the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, Italians and Commissario Montalbano

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

More Erice. More Palermo. The ferry again, the Mont Blanc tunnel, and home

We're passing Erice's Chiesa San Giuliano again, determined to get into the Norman Castle this time.

Another view of Trapani down the hill

The Castello di Venere, or Venus Castle, out on the point

It's Saturday morning, so 2 euros for Kristin and we're in.

The view back along the side of the hill -- Count Pepoli's weird hunting lodge just below, and the so-called Spanish Quarter farther along

From the Norman Castle, this is a view back at the Balio Towers, an orginally Arab-built precursor to the Norman edifice that was incorporated into the fortifications, joined to the citadel by a drawbridge -- it was restored by the Count Agostino Pepoli in the 1870s and turned into a luxury hotel of seven rooms, called the Torri Pepoli, in 2005.

The view northward to Monte Cofano and the peninsula of San Vito lo Capo

The Spanish Quarter

In the Norman Castle

It's great; now we're en route.

Leaving the Norman Castle

The Norman Castle or Castle of Venus

Trapani on the coast

The Torretta Pepoli, the count's neo-Gothic hunting lodge, precariously perched

The San Giuliano campanile

The Chiesa San Francesco

The whole Erice cityscape from the Balio Gardens

If you'd like to read the English commentary, please look for the French flag. But if you'd like French commentary, select the Union Jack!

Packed up and sadly leaving the Pietre Antiche apartments

Below the town is the Punic Wall (i.e., original Phoenician structures) and the 12th century Porta Spada, or Gate of the Sword, so-called because the French Angevin garrison was slaughtered here during the Sicilian Vespers (1282). It's said that this may have been the city's main gate, way back when.

We're through the gate, and this is part of the Spanish Quarter, presumably where the Aragonese garrison was lodged back in the day.

A last look around

Ancient Phoenician picnic tables

Back to Palermo

Now we're back on the autostrada, bound for Palermo. A lot of the cliffs along the highways here have "NO MAFIA" painted in large letters.

We've got a late afternoon to kill in Palermo, and here's the Santa Maria della Catena church (1490).

Santa Maria della Catena at the port

The wonderful Chiesa di S. Caterina, in the Piazza Bellini near the Four Corners, Quattro Canti, of downtown Palermo

Kristin lent assistance to a young art student who couldn't make the right change for getting in, and got reimbursed with first-class commentary.

Baroque is baroque, but this must be one of the most overdone baroque churches anywhere -- built in the late 16th century, with extra marble laid on in the 18th. The church was hooked up with a convent, and the dedicated ladies could participate in the religious rituals as long as they stayed in their cages.

Cages for the nuns

A fabulous interior

Santa Caterina

More moldering bodies (perhaps Santa Caterina) with über-ornate decoration all round them

Moldering, but happy

More nun cages

Just across the Bellini Square, the church of La Martorana, and off on the right, San Cataldo, are closed for renovation. Kristin's heart has been broken.

Around the rump side of Santa Caterina church is the Piazza Pretoria, with its very weird fountain.

We're told that the convent attached to Santa Caterina looked out of the building only over this square, and since it's got so many nudies in it, the windows were blocked up to save the devoted nuns from having to go to Hell.

The bizarre and very rude Fontana Pretoria was designed in the 1550s for a Tuscan villa but bought up by the city of Palermo in 1573 in order to evoke envy from all round Italy, particularly from Messina ('keeping up with the Jones'). Either because nearby patrician churchgoers were offended or the nuns up in the caged windows might be led astray by all the nude nymphets and river gods with enormous scrota, the edifice has always been called the Fontana della vergogna, or Fountain of Shame.

Classical themes

The grumpy old silenus

Surely it was all meant as a joke

A last gesture: "Please don't be offended. We're not all like that."

Too right!

The austerity storm is brewing.

We thought it was a threatened riot or demonstration, but it was just the daily late afternoon police blockade to convert the main street into an evening pedestrian promenade. The Quattro Canti or Four Corners of the old town.

Coming over to Sicily we dined (alone) in the ferry's large and rather pretentious restaurant, so this time we're filling up on pizzas before sailing time.

A convivial little pizza place, which in addition to good pizza could rustle us up some pizza bread without anything on it to get us through the boat ride.

T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, uno spettacolo di Claudio Collovà

Our ferry has arrived, the Supremo!, and we're dutifully on line and, like nearly everyone else on line, with a portable DVD player propped up on the dashboard. (We're rewatching Fargo.)

It's two days before Christmas, and off-loading the inbound passengers took about 45 minutes, more than 2,800 Sicilians home for the holidays.

We're the first ones here; save us a stool at the bar please.

The same room we had before (but then it was on the sister boat, the Superba)

We're passing Elba, the inhospitable end of it.

And Cap Corse, the north end of Corsica, a lovely place despite a few unfortunate memories from a few years back.

Desperate to escape the chaos of Genoa traffic in the dark, Kristin booked us a room in Sant'olcese near Comago north of the city, and we had a horrible time finding it. It was fine, though the restaurant was closed, in fact every restaurant in the region was closed, but a young couple running a pizza takeaway shop took pity on us and let us sit in the kitchen and eat a bunch of pizzas.

The Villa Serra, a restored villa now operating as an executive conference centre.

Our hotel, the Locanda del Cigno Nero, under the same management

Kristin loves nothing so much as geese. Except marmots, and photographs of polar bears. And kitty cats, of course, and Monsieur Le Renard.

The Villa Serra

A refuge from the exuberant geese

Through the Mont Blanc tunnel (not cheap!), and home on Christmas Eve.


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