We’ll be back in time- treasures of Sicily (Palermo)

Palermo

Palermo

The route from Selinunte to Palermo takes you past the turn off to my ancestral town of Partanna. I looked twice at the sign as we went by, as if to verify that it in fact exists and my past in part lies here. After that you drive past large and steep mountains along the coast, near the airport and elsewhere. Flat areas lead up to them so you get great views of their breadth and number, not just the height.

The first time I drove in Palermo was back in the 90’s. We rented a car in Luxembourg, driving south to Genoa. I think by then I’d learned that Colombus was actually Colombo, born in this very coastal city, and not Spanish. We went through the Alps to get there, descending to the city through long tunnels on well engineered highways. The Italians do know a lot about road building. We descended to the port to take the ferry to Sicily. We passed Corsica and Sardinia along the way, the latter far off the starboard, and then some coastal islands on the Sicilian coast. I imagined seeing Ulysses float by, tied to the mast. There was no Ulysses on this drive, but a Garibaldi or two instead, with notes of The Leopard floating around there somewhere. Sicily rolls out before us, changed much yet there is much the same.

Castellomare di Golfo, Sicily
We stopped in Castellomare di Golfo for lunch, with wonderful views of the coast

Once in town we easily found our apartment, right across from Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, home of the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, which played in the plaza across the street the next evening. The apartment is in an old building – there are many thousands of those in Palermo. We had a code to get in the main entrance, where we retrieved the key. The apartment is just a floor or two up. There’s an old elevator that stopped a half floor above the apartment door. Once inside we could see that the apartment was built in two buildings, unless strange layouts and a living room on a lower level are somehow typical. The kitchen is one butt wide, stuck in a closet along the hallway.

There’s a bronze four horse chariot at the Teatro entrance, and three bass reliefs. The huge plaza in front affords a broad view of the impressive structure. Cross it and you are on Liberta, the main drag that’s now a pedestrian zone. It has many posh shops and eateries galore. In this area you find several churches that house amazing works of art. You come to Cuatro Canti – Four Corners. Up the hill is the Cathedral with its impressive mosaics.

Perhaps the most impressive art is to be found in Chiesa Gesu ( Gesu means Jesuit), and not just impressive compared to other churches, but it holds its own to any other structure anywhere, even St Peter’s in Rome. Innumerable Ph.D. dissertations are packed into this Baroque structure completed in 1636, measuring a mere 72.10 m compared to St. Peter’s 212m in length.

Gesu, Palermo
Gesu’s amazing decor

It suddenly struck me as equally astounding as the art in Gesu is the complexity of these constructions projects. You have building materials to collect, stone workers to organize, artists to hire and train as well as their materials to find and transport. All of this has to be financed, with monies collected and disbursed. No doubt there were lots of problems, some imposed by nature and others by clever crooks, but here it is today still with us, as astounding as ever.

An example of the exquisite sculpture in Gesu, Palermo
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Gesu has putti galore

Santa Caterina is a veritable art museum for Baroque painters as well as sculptors, and a great bakery to boot, as you find out as you wait in the cloister for the numbers of visitors to subside to safe levels. Lots of pistachio based goodies.

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Hold onto your jaw when you enter Gesu
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Santa Caterina has many paintings and some sculptures, fewer than Gesu.
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Santa Caterina ceiling painting

While our friends were still with us we had some delightful meals as well as some less so. We went to one of our favorite local places. It had declined compared to two years. The same with another we went to after it was just the two of us left. Similarly the famous street market, the Mercato della Vucciria, is all but gone, a victim of the pandemic.

By that time we were tiring of Sicilian food, which had become repetitive. We found a Roman restaurant, named Cacio and Pepe. Cacio and pepe is one of the four truly Roman pasta dishes, served in almost every restaurant in its home city. The food and service at Cacio and Pepe was so good we returned for the final night out for the six of us. Antipasto came out but we had to wait for the wine, which was white and still very warm. They offered to chill it at the table. I turned down the bottle. On a warm night like this one it would probably take 20 minutes to chill a bottle of very warm wine and in the meantime we already had our antipasti. I had them bring another. It was well chilled. Otherwise it was a delightful experience, outdoors in an attractive setting on a side street off Liberta.

The next day our friends departed by train and plane. After checking into a strange little basement apartment we went to the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonino Salinas. We went there in 2019 during our month long sojourn. Immediately I regretted not taking our friends, for it contains many superb items collected from Selinunte.

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Some of the metope from Selinunte
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museo Archeologico

My second regret was not taking them to see more of Serpotta. You can not see his work elsewhere. See some of his superb sculptures, mostly in plaster, see photos and video on my post: https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/the-heights-of-serpotas-art-the-oratorio-santissimo-rosario-in-santa-cita/

We’ll be back in time- treasures of Sicily (Selinunte)

From the Valli dei Templi we drove to the town of Marinella di Selinunte. The town as well as the archaeological site on its door step sit on the coast. We were looking for a B and B called Arcos. After a few hours drive from Agrigento through some lovely scenery we found the street but were unable to find the house. We called while idling in the parking lot at the hotel at the end of the road. I spoke to him but had a hard time understanding. He may have a heavy Sicilian accent, to which I am not accustomed, or he was speaking Sicilian, which even some native Italians have trouble deciphering. We retraced our steps and when we got to the stop light, I told him we were at the ‘semaforo.’ That’s Spanish for stop light. Perhaps it is Italian or Sicilian as well as he then knew where we were, and said he’d come out to the street. We turned around again. There he was a few hundred meters away. We saw that the house had no number, that there is indeed an arch, albeit to nowhere, but it sits behind the gate, invisible from the road. So how are you supposed to find the place? Why would he not resolve the problem- could it have something to do with legal requirements? Italians are notable for the ways in which they avoid taxation, so I would not be surprised that this was exactly the case, as later he refused to provide a receipt for the night.

It’s a lovely place our elderly host has although there’s just one bathroom for the 7 of us. He had to use the same one, thus 7 and not 6, unless he had a facility aside from the one in the house.

As we were unloading our bags in the rooms he told me that he could not find one of the remote control for the air conditioning in one of the rooms. We decided to take that room. I thought that by nightfall it would be cool enough. That proved to be true. Also this way we would not worry about our friends being unable to sleep.

He continued looking around for the remote control. In the process he came back into the room. He asked to enter but before I could say no, he came in. I had no clothes on. Not a huge deal. But a minute later he came in again, without even knocking. I was rather miffed. Then not but five minutes later one of our friends walked in without knocking, as the door was open to allow some air to circulate. I was starting to have a difficult day.

Dinner that night was in town. There were more challenges to come. We managed to drive in the wrong way on a one way street, turned around by people sitting on their front porch facing the port. Then we managed to park too far from the port, where we had just been while going the wrong way, forcing our somewhat hobbled compatriot to walk much farther than necessary. At least it was downhill.

The streets along the way were hacked into the hillside in a maze-like fashion. The route to the sea was not marked. We had to ask a woman who was sitting with neighbors outside in the evening’s cool. She gave us perfect instructions. Keep going down.

We settled on a restaurant in the public square when we finally got there, eating and drinking for an hour or so. As we sat there a priest started to conduct a mass nearby, outdoors and in front of a sort of manger. A small crowd gathered. Perhaps it was a blessing of the fish or some such rather than an ordinary ‘culto.’ At any rate what he was doing could serve for any run of the mill hocus pocus.

Afterwards we went to a nearby restaurant run by a local. His family has had this place for years. He’d spent some time in Australia, spoking English quite well. Good typical Sicilian dishes on a lovely Sicilian coast line night that cooled nicely as the sun set.

The next morning we came to a breakfast table set just outside the ample kitchen. There was coffee – the Italian version, not the American, our host pointed out. It’s a difficult adjustment for people accustomed to a beverage that has a lot more water in it and is not roasted to such a black color. As happened the day before each person had a pastry stuffed with ricotta, a very Sicilian breakfast. Its a far cry from, say, a Dutch breakfast, with hearty bread and slices of cheese and various meats.

The archaeological park is just a few minutes drive. It’s large. On our last visit we were deterred from a complete visit by the distances, so we all selected to take the transportation on offer. You have to walk to the small museum to board, passing by Temple E, one of five temples here. The museum does not have much to offer as almost all the goodies are in the The Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum in Palermo, of which more anon. On our last visit, just two years ago, there was an excellent video that played upon the Greek columns they erected in the large hall, and on the wall behind. This was no longer available, a major disappointment.

Selinunte was an ancient Greek city. There were some 30,000 people at its peak around 490 BCE. There were also Phonecians and native Sicilians in the area.  We know quite a bit of its history. Check out the wiki at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selinunte

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Temple E, its columns now standing upright after spending many centuries on the ground

The Acropolis is at the far side of the park overlooking the sea, a gorgeous location for a temple or any other structure.

The Acropolis in Selinunte
The Acropolis in Selinunte, watercolor
Selinunte Beach at the Acropolis
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The Acropolis

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Sanctuary of Hera
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Perseo e la Medusa, Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum

Our next stop was Palermo. We have a place near one of the main music halls. It’s a beautiful ride. Our place was very easy to find.

I dropped the car off at the rental agency and returned to explore our abode for the next few days. Apparently it stretched between two buildings judging by all the ups and downs in such a comparatively small space. The kitchen is in what must have been a closet. It might have been an afterthought. Other than a microwave it had all the basics. The basics were not in great shape. The moca pot’s handle was broken. The teflon on the pan had been scratched off. These and a few other things would be inexpensive improvements yet our friendly host hadn’t bothered. Soon we were out and about in this busy, friendly and down in the heels ancient city on the sea.

Selinunte, Greek era temples

Selinunte, Sicily

Selinunte is my favorite site for Greek temples, in large measure because of the setting. It overlooks the Med. The Acropolis in Athens and i Valli dei Tempi in Agrigento are a very close second, especially the former for its dramatic views from a distance. Watercolor sketch about 4.5 x 5.75″ , 10 x 15 cm. Fits in a pocket so good for on the spot work.

My grandparents were born nearby. In fact Selinunte was fed by an aqueduct that originated in Partanna.

I will write about our travels in Sicily, including our visit to Selinunte and Agrigento.

The Greek Temples of Selinunte

March 31, 2019

 

On the coast just 20km from my ancestral town of Partanna and 50km from the port of  Marsala you find the archaeological area called Selinunte.  http://selinunte.gov.it/ It dates from 450 BCE.  It has some of the finest Greek ruins anywhere. 

 

Temple E

Temple F, sitting right on the coast

 

 

Selinunte was a moderately-sized town, surprising given the scale of construction they undertook.  The Greeks founded it in the seventh century BCE,  locating it on the coast.  In 409 BCE Carthaginians sacked Selinunte, then earthquakes in the middle ages damaged or toppled the remaining structures.  English archaeologists began excavations in the late 1800’s.  Excavation continues.  Sculpture panels from a temple frieze are in the archaeological museum in Palermo.

 

Temple E as it likely was. Much of the building had no roof, an interior temple housed the worshiped gods

The angora, market area

Temple d

 

 

Plan of Selinunte

 

There is an excellent museum which contains well translated exhibits as well as various remnants including a pediment atop tall columns.  Upon this structure they project a slide show.  It is superbly done and the highlight of our visit.  We videoed part of the show.  The handheld camera  can not duplicate the experience for you but at least gives you some idea of what it’s like.

 

 

 

There is an extensive wiki on the town https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selinunte

 

If you want to thoroughly explore the site you need 3-4 hours if you walk.  There is a motorized vehicle if you prefer, with a taped tour.