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.

To the Valley of the Temples

On the way, a stop at Enna

Kristin's rolling us down the autostrada direction-Catania, and we're pleased to get out on the open road, especially since this part of the highway system is toll-free.

Enna appears in the distance. The Lombard Castle dominates the ridge on the left.

And we're here. Enna, perched on a nearly-inaccessible plateau in the centre of Sicily, was inhabited neolithically from the 14th century B.C., and an 11th century B.C. settlement of the indigenous Sicels has been located within the historic city walls above the cliffs. From the first coming of the Greeks to Sicily, Enna was famously associated with the mystic cults of the ancient agrarian goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone (or Proserpina), who was kidnapped by Hades (Pluto) and spends half of every year as "Queen of the Underworld", returning in the springtime to renew vegetation in the upper world. Many classical writers located the site of her abduction at the Lake of Pergusa, a few kilometres south of Enna.

Through the first walls of the castle, poised for the second. Enna's called 'Castrogiovanni' in Sicilian, a corruption via Arabic of the Latin Castrum Henna, something like "John's Fort" (Mussolini settled on "Enna" in 1927). Because of its strategic position and useful impregnability, Enna was kicked back and forth among the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans, and during the Second Punic War, in 214 B.C., the Roman governor Pinarius, anxious lest the citizens might emulate other cities in turning against their Roman overlords, ordered every man, woman, and child massacred. Pax Romana.

We're in the Second Court, or Cortile San Nicolò; there was a church here dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra (a.k.a. Santa Claus), who was the patron saint of the Hauteville Norman family (lots of his body was stolen from Myra in Turkey and brought to the Norman centre of Bari in Apulia in 1087 by some returning soldiers (Venetian sailors nicked the rest of him and installed that at a church on the Lido a few years after that (Turkey is trying to get it all back even now))).

So after the Normans captured Enna from the Arabs in 1087 and reinforced the fortress, St Nicholas was a natural for ensuring the spiritual side of the defensive architecture.

The Torre Pisana, the Norman donjon or keep. The site of the Castello di Lombardia, on the crags dominating the valleys below, was fortified from Day One through to the Byzantine Greeks, but the present structures were built by the Saracens, or Arabs, elaborated by the Normans, and refined by Frederick II, 'Stupor Mundi', the Hohenstaufen Emperor. The common name derives from Frederick's time, when he garrisoned the place with a squad of Lombard mercenaries from Calabria.

Our eccentrically charming guide is leading us up the Torre Pisana at a blistering pace, discoursing freely about the history of the fortress and the sorry state of Italian politics today.

The view from the tower: another hilltop town just across the little valley, Calascibetta.

More hilltop towns stretching eastward, and the slopes of Etna looming up on the right

Enna Alta, the upper town, stretched out along the top of the plateau

Enna Bassa, the lower town a few hundred meters below, apparently distinguished only by having Enna Alta to look up at. Upper Enna was captured in 859 by the Saracens (desperate after a long unsuccessful siege, they sneaked in single-file through the sewer system), then by the Normans, inherited by the Hohenstaufens, and served as a stronghold of local resistance in the War of the Sicilian Vespers against the Angevin French, in the 1280s, that brought in the Aragonese Spanish era for Sicily.

The St Nicholas courtyard below the Pisana tower

Ceres' Rock, the Rocca di Cerere (the harvest goddess Demeter in the Greek) -- there was a temple of Demeter there, built in 480 B.C. by the tyrant Gelon of Syracuse. The nice little hacienda alongside it, according to our guide, is owned by a family that moved to Argentina a generation or two ago, and (says he) Italy has no legal remedies for unpaid property taxes; in fact (says he) no property taxes.

More hilltop towns in the neighborhood (probably Leonforte across the Lago Nicoletti)

A last look at Enna. The Duomo is said to be visitworthy but we're on a mission and bound for the south.

Our guide shuffles us back out through the Fourth Court, the Cortile San Martino, with its Arab and Greek necropolis, a small theatre, and the remains of a harem, oh my.

An affable older local gentleman who really likes talking Italian politics with Kristin

The Castello di Lombardia, as we leave Enna largely unexplored otherwise. Back up the autostrada to the interchange near Caltanissetta, then down the provincial road to Agrigento.


This is the Room with a View (the Camera con Vista, a "relais de charme"), an inexpensive and friendly B+B run by two gentlemen within an easy walk up to the Valley of the Temples.

And that's the view from our room-with-a-view. Let's be up-front about everything: 1) we're not here for Agrigento and didn't even enter the town per se, we're here for the Valle dei Templi, the Valley of the Temples, and 2) the Valley of the Temples isn't a valley, it's a ridge.

The Temple of Concordia with the zoom lens on, a lot of the old city walls stretching along the crest of the ridge.

It's all a UNESCO World Heritage site, so let's go.

Kristin assaults what's left of the main southern gate through the city walls. Akragas was officially founded c.580 B.C. by Greek colonists from the colony of Gela down the coast a ways. A century later, the city was running a bit of an empire throughout Sicily (said to have been the fourth largest city in the classical world), but after being sacked by the Carthaginians in 406 B.C., Akragas became a strategic piñata and was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 210 B.C.

That's modern Agrigento, and it's as close we got to it. From the 7th century A.D. onwards, the city declined and shrank -- the area between our Sacred Valley (ridge) of Temples, facing the sea, and the modern city was originally densely populated by the worthy citizens of Akragas. They retreated back up the next hill under threat of Saracen pirate raids in the middle ages.

Kristin leaps onto the sacred ridge -- it's got the remains of seven Doric temples along the length of it, but three stand out today (the rest are in jumbles).

First, the Temple of Herakles (or Hercules), evidently the earliest of them all, dating from the late 6th century B.C.

The cult of Hercules was ubiquitous in the central and western Mediterranean, aided by his identification with the Carthaginian god Melqart of Tyre, and many cities dated their founding to Hercules' legendary wandering through Spain and Italy (R. Miles, Carthage must be destroyed: the rise and fall of an ancient civilization, 2010).

The modern city of Akragas is peeking through on the horizon

An early Christian necropolis along the sacred way atop the ridge, dating from the 3rd to the 6th century

This is the Temple of Concordia, so-called -- the identifications of all of the temple remains are traditional and suppositious; in this case, from a nearby unrelated inscription to harmony amongst the population.

The Temple of Concordia is in the Doric style of the second half of the 5th century, the "Classical Age" for Greece and the early years of the long Peloponnesian War that devastated much of Hellenic civilization at the time.

Agrigento in late afternoon

The Temple of Concordia is the best preserved of all the temples here, and for good reason: Near the end of the 6th century A.D., Bishop Gregory, requiring a new church and impecunious, commandeered this place, expelled the pagan demons Eber and Raps, and consecrated it as a basilica for Saints Peter and Paul.

The Christian trappings were removed in the 18th century, and the European Union has been seeing to ensuring that it doesn't suddenly fall over.

A pause to catch up with the audio-guide.

At the far end of the sacred way, some 2km long, stands the Temple of Juno (the Greek Hera). So-called.

The temple, which was not dedicated to Juno at all, but to whom then? dates from about 450 B.C. and shows signs of having been burnt by the Carthaginian evildoers when they captured the city in 406 B.C.

Cactus graffiti

Views of the so-called Temple of Juno

The defensive walls of the city, from the 6th century B.C., lay just beyond the temple at the end of the ridge, and a 4th century B.C. defensive tower still stands proudly as a big heap of stones.

But now it's time for dinner.

Next day, 13 December, a look in at the 13th century church of St Nicholas, within the grounds of the excellent archaeological museum.

Very nice

The Museo Archeologico, and in front of it, the open-air public meeting place, the ekklesasterion, a vital part of city politics in the 3rd century

The museum, combining old and new building parts

The piéce de resistance, the big Telamon -- friend of Heracles, father of Ajax, etc., etc., legendary Telamon became the model for giant male figures used as architectural columns (analogous to female caryatids), perhaps meant to represent defeated enemies or something.

Inspector Montalbano

With all the Magna Graecia stuff out of the way, we can now get down to the business of tracking Montalbano. Should there still be anyone who doesn't know about Montalbano, he's the irascible and endearing Sicilian gourmet and police chief of the fictional city of Vigata. Inspector (or Commissario) Salvo Montalbano exists in two forms, complementary and both necessary: 1) the noted author Andrea Camilleri's engrossing and hilarious detective novels beginning in 1994 and still on, deftly translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli (14 in English so far) and 2) the RAI film versions, beginning in 1999, starring the brilliant Luca Zingaretti and a great cast, subtitled into English and broadcast throughout 2012 by the BBC, 22 so far (all of the novels so far and six more scripted from Camilleri's short stories).

This is not just crime fiction -- this is a cult.

And an update, 2018: There are now 32 Montalbano films in the can, the last few still awaiting their English subtitles, and they're still being filmed by RAI, with mostly the same key cast members, at two more per year. In addition, in 2013-2016 BBC was broadcasting twelve films with English subtitles of the prequel spinoff 'Young Montalbano', starring Michele Riondino, very nearly as fabulous as its parent series, and there are rumors that more are on the way. Most of the plots are built not-very-seamlessly out of two of Camilleri's Montalbano short stories.

Porto Empedocle

The pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles, who gave us the medieval and Renaissance theory of the four elements of nature -- earth, air, fire, and water -- lived in Akragas in the early 5th century, and Andrea Camilleri hails from the Agrigento suburb of Porto Empedocle on the coast. Many of the scenes and features of the novels can be associated with the local geography: Porto Empedocle is the fictional Vigata, Agrigento is the fictional district capital "Montelusa", named for a local mountain, the abandoned factories, the lighthouse to which Salvo walks after a large lunch, and so on.

And that's meant to be Montalbano. Ha ha.

Kristin's pleased to be photographed with Commissario Montalbano.

But I don't think that this is really Montalbano. The hair, the moustache, it's all wrong.

Montalbano is Luca Zingaretti, and this is NOT.

THIS is Montalbano.

This, too, is not Montalbano. This is Pirandello, born here in 1867, Nobel Prize in 1934. (I taught the absurdist Six characters in search of an author with US college students and got lots of happy puzzled laughter.)

This is the St Calogero fish market (Salvo had a special table at Calogero's trattoria until the owner's retirement, when he adopted Enzo's instead).

The Café Vigata -- doubtless inspired by Camilleri's fictional name for the town

The inspirations for the author's conceptions are one thing, all quite notional and indistinct -- what I care about is the Reality, that is to say, where the movies were made. So we're off now for the southeastern part of the island.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 23 January 2013, 25 April 2018.