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5 (more) reasons to visit Sicily

News of a potential government-subsidised getaway is quite enticing, but whatever the reality is post-COVID, paying this Italian island a visit is well worth your money. Author Jeremy Dummett shares why...

The Cathedral of Cefalù (Shutterstock)

Take advantage of the Sicilian government’s incentives to encourage visitors to the island this autumn. Their plan is to offer subsidies on airfares and hotel costs, plus free entry to museums and archaeological sites.

Full details are expected shortly. For now, here are a few more reasons to visit Sicily, during any season... 

1. The Greek temple at Segesta

The Greek temple in Segesta, Sicily (Shutterstock)

The Greek temple in Segesta, Sicily (Shutterstock)

Standing on a hill, with a full view for miles around, the Doric temple at Segesta is one of the most memorable sights of Sicily. It is an exceptionally fine construction, built between 430 to 415 BC, and designed by an unknown architect expert in the techniques of Greek temple building. Travellers like Goethe and Maupassant were fascinated by it.

Capital of a small state in western Sicily, Segesta was once home to the Elymians, people who arrived on the island before the Greeks. The temple, which was never completed, probably served the political purpose of demonstrating a short-lived alliance with Athens. The remains of the ancient city can be seen across the valley on Mount Barbaro. 

2. The Baroque hill town of Modica

Modica, Sicily (Shutterstock)

Modica, Sicily (Shutterstock)

Modica is a superb example of the hill towns of south-eastern Sicily, which were rebuilt in the late Baroque style following the earthquake of 1693. The two parts of the town, Modica Alta and Modica Bassa, with their cupolas (domes) and campaniles (bell towers), sit astride peaks in the rocky landscape divided by a steep valley. The social centre is Corso Umberto, a wide street containing several fine palaces.

The Cathedral of San Giorgio is a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque, which stands at the top of a flight of 250 steps. Richly decorated with its curved facade and belfry tower, a design originated by famed architect Rosario Gagliardi, it offers a panoramic view of the town from its entrance. 

3. The Norman cathedral at Cefalù

The Cathedral of Cefalù (Shutterstock)

The Cathedral of Cefalù (Shutterstock)

This is one of the great Norman monuments of Sicily. It occupies a dramatic position overlooking a colourful piazza and backing onto the face of a huge rock formation.

Two towers, subtly different in design, rise on either side of the facade, the sand-coloured stone glowing in the sunlight. The cathedral, founded in 1131 by King Roger II, contains a blend of Norman, Arab and Byzantine influences.

The mosaics of the interior, which contain a variety of figures against a golden background, are the building’s crowning glory, the work of master-craftsmen from Byzantium. Dominating the mosaics is the impressive image of Christ Pantocrator (the Almighty), who looks down, his right hand raised in blessing.

4. The Beach at Marinella di Selinunte

Waterfront in Marinella, Sicily (Shutterstock)

Waterfront in Marinella, Sicily (Shutterstock)

The village of Marinella lies on the south coast directly below the archaeological park of Selinunte, the site of Selinus, an ancient Greek city. Here, a long stretch of sandy beach, offering ideal swimming conditions, ends in a rocky point above which stand a few columns of a Greek temple.

On the beach, visitors can base themselves at the Lido Bar Zabbara, which offers beach umbrellas, sun loungers and showers. A bar service runs through the day while for lunch there is grilled fish and a generous selection of salads and Sicilian specialities. Marinella is both an excellent place to spend a few days and a convenient stopover for travellers heading down the coast to Agrigento.

5. The Roman Villa del Casale

Villa del Casale (Shutterstock)

Villa del Casale (Shutterstock)

This is the most important Roman monument in Sicily. It consists of the remains of a luxury villa famous for its mosaics, built in 300 to 325 AD during the late Empire. The villa is situated in the centre of the island near the town of Piazza Armerina.

The mosaics are striking with their brilliant designs covering 3,500 sq m of flooring. A diverse range of scenes includes a chariot race, a hunt for exotic wild animals, women in bikini-like costumes taking part in gymnastics and tales from mythology. Domestic scenes provide an insight into the daily lives of aristocratic Romans. The creators of the mosaics, who probably came from North Africa, were masters of their craft.

Sicily: Island of Beauty and Conflict

Sicily: Island of Beauty and Conflict (Tauris Parke) is available to buy now. He is also the author of Syracuse, City of Legends: A Glory of Sicily (I.B. Tauris).

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