Born in the Bay dominated by Monte Pellegrino, Palermo has a rich past and was once the confluence of the European and Arab civilizations, of which it still preserves valuable evidence. Indeed, the city is rich with many monuments, such as the Palace of the Normans, with the Platina Chapel and the Cathedral, with the Tombs of the Norman Kings and the Swabian Emperors.
In Monreale, once may admire the Cathedral mosaics, masterpieces of Norman art.
And it is the beauty of the coast with its fantastic colours that strikes the eye, ranging from the sea’s deep blue to the vegetation’s green to the rocks’ dark colours or the white of the sandy beaches.
Among the most popular seaside resorts the most notable are Mondello, the Isola delle Femmine (Island of the Females) and Cefalu that combines monuments to cosy beaches and the ancient Sferracavallo village.
Located off the coast of Palermo, Ustica Island, rich in archaeological and natural beauty, is witness to the considerable volcanic activity that used to characterize the area.
The territory of the province of Palermo is mostly mountainous and includes the Madonie group, with spectacular views and a wide landscape variety. The historic villas that grace the area of Bagheria, culinary delights, folklore, characteristic seaside resorts.
Ancient Greek colony, Agrigento overlooks the Mediterranean and the famous Valley of the Temples.
Here was once Akragas, birthplace of the philosopher Empedocles, with its five fifth century B.C. Doric sanctuaries. Here, the Archaeological Museum exhibits items of immense value, such as as telamons (atlas) of the temple of Jupiter. Here, in front, Greek-Roman neighbourhood houses guard frescoes and mosaics.
Instead, the Old part of Agrigento extends into the upper part of the city. Santa Maria dei Greci is a Norman church with wooden ceiling and Byzantine mosaics. The Cathedral stands out for the painted beams in the aisle, the Baroque stuccos and a Madonna attributed to Guido Reni in the sacristy.
A short distance from Agrigento is Chaos, the birthplace of Luigi Pirandello, leading figure in the drama world, transformed into a museum.
Etna Alcantara e Taormina
A little symbol and a little nightmare, it is certain that the Etna ties its fame to Sicily.
Like the latter ties it to the volcano. In a tangle of destinies difficult to explain. Etna is still the fifth highest mountain in Italy, but with a variable height from eruption to eruption. Its appearance over the Gulf of Catania and its proximity to the sea make it look even more impressive and fascinating, and it annually attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe. The fictional image of a volcano suggests hostile environments devoid of vegetation. However, these conditions are found only above 2000-2500 meters on Mount Etna. In the intermediate layers of the volcano one can find a healthy environment with rich vegetation that allows for wonderful excursions.
The Alcantara Gorge, a few meters wide, but over 20m deep, originates from the waters of the Alcantara River, through two magnificent walls of basaltic prisms variously shaped.
One of the most beautiful segments of the entire complex can be climbed with the proper equipment for a distance of circa 150m. True canyons of basaltic lava, fruits of eruptions of Etna’s peripheral craters and shaped by water of the river over thousands of years.
Taormina is situated midway between Messina and Catania, in a landscaped area that is among the most beautiful and charming of the world. It is an artistic and sea town among the most beautiful and famous of the world.
It has a rich artistic and architectural heritage, which is identified in the Greek-Roman remains of the Ancient Theatre, place of incomparable scenic beauty where one can admire the mass of the Etna and Ionian Sea.
But Taormina is the triumph of nature, with wide and gentle coves and typical Mediterranean vegetation. From Taormina, with a cable car, one can reach Mazzarò where the beautiful island of Isola Bella stands, connected to the mainland by a strip of sand which houses a nature Museum. Beaches, cliffs, caves and charming bays form the clear, transparent and unforgettable sea of Taormina. But the whole coast, from the Giardini Naxos to Letojanni, knows how to give emotions and beauty to the eyes.
During the Norman domination it grew in splendour, thanks to the expanding urban structure and the construction of the cathedral commissioned by King Ruggero II. Erected in 1131 by Ruggero II, it is one of the finest examples of Norman art and architecture in Sicily.
The imposing but refined thirteenth century facade, the three-aisle interior and mosaics on gold background are notorious all over the world.
Other interesting buildings are Palazzo Piraino, Palazzo Maria, Palazzo Vescovile and other religious buildings (Chiesa del Purgatorio, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Catena).
The Mandralisca Municipal Museum also deserves great attention: it is characterized by the presence of a well-stocked library, which comprises books dating back to the sixteenth century and two incunabula.
The most famous work preserved here and deservedly remembered and quoted everywhere is a painting by Antonello da Messina, denominated "Portrait of an Unknown Man" (Ritratto d’ Ignoto). Remarkable, just outside of Cefalù, is the Gibilmanna Sanctuary, containing a Byzantine fresco dedicated to the "Madonna with Child".
Ragusa - Ibla
It has been called "the island in the island" or "the other Sicily": indeed, it presents a history and a socio-economic context very different from that of the rest of the island.
It is divided into two major parts, Ragusa Superiore, on the plateau, and Ragusa Ibla, built on the ruins of the ancient city. The historic centre is located in Ibla, rich with more than fifty churches, with the splendid Cathedral of St. George and many palaces. A relaxing stroll in the beautiful Iblean garden of the Villa Comunale is a must. We recommend that you try at least one dish made of Ragusa caciocavallo cheese and not miss a characteristic dessert like the biancomangiare.
Nearby, the Donnafugata Castle deserves a mention, 20km from Ragusa: a majestic building with Renaissance loggias and in Venetian-Gothic style, 122 rooms, a huge rooftop terrace and as many as eight acres of parkland.
But the real gem is Scicli: in a landscape stained by Carsen caves, Scicli is characterized by a rich and strong past, during both Arabic and Norman times. It is, however, with the triumph of the Baroque style that Scicli produced its best fruits, to the point of being registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the other towns in the Val di Noto. Among the civilian architecture, Palazzo Beneventano, Palazzo Fava (with balconies decorated with griffins and monsters) and the Palazzo Spadaro deserve special attention. The Church of St. Bartholomew Apostle is a real treasure, starting from the facade up to the single-aisle interior and a precious cycle of stuccos. Instead, the Church of St. John Evangelist is the ultimate celebration of forms, lines, empty and full surfaces, in an exciting game of lights, shadows and reflections.
Greek city dating back to 734 B.C., Syracuse managed to become one of the greatest ancient powers.
Threatening the greatness of Athens itself. It attracted renowned individuals like Plato or Archimedes, before losing prestige and becoming a Roman colony at the beginning of the third century B.C. Heart of Syracuse is the Island of Ortigia, with medieval buildings interspersed with Baroque churches and palaces. Remains of ancient splendour are the Fountain of Arethusa, the Greek Theatre carved into rock, the Roman Amphitheatre and the Ear of Dionysius. Worth a mention are also the San Giovanni Catacombs, underground necropolis built around the tomb of St. Marciano.
On a plateau of the Hyblaean Mountains, Pantalica retains a necropolis of about 5,000 graves, dug along rock walls, in the area where the inhabitants took refuge when under attack of the Sicilian and Italian populations in the thirteenth century B.C.
Atop the hill is the Anaktoron (Palace of the Prince), imposing as a Mycenaean palace.
Some tombs were reused during the Byzantine era and transformed into monastic retreats or in churches (Cave of the Cross, Church of St. Micidiario, Church of St. Nicolicchio) whose walls still retain traces of frescoes. The beauty of Pantalica also lies in the particularly unique natural environment, with flora (anemones, orchids, oriental oleander plane and carobs) and animal species, such as the peregrine falcon, fox, and river crabs. Pantalica is one the sites recognized by UNESCO.