This year marks a momentous occasion, as this year it will have been a whole decade (I can barely believe it) since I first moved to Sicily. In that time I have done more things than I anticipated, seen more beauty than I thought possible, and stayed a hell of lot longer than I EVER intended.
You see, I moved to Sicily fresh out of university and attaining my TEFL certificate. I came here on a temporary 8 month contract with no intention of staying any longer.
My twenty-two year-old self was going to teach English here for eight months and then head off somewhere else. It was entirely by chance that I ended up in Sicily anyway; I wanted to go to Padua, where I spent a year of my degree studying, but somehow (and to this day I’m really not at all sure how, seeing as the job I applied for was in Padua) I was offered a job in Sicily. Anyway, I figured I could last anywhere for 8 months. So I packed up my suitcase and arrived all alone on a flight. A taxi service met me at the airport to take me to my destination, and it was there that my whirlwind delivery into Sicilian life began.
To be frank, it’s criminal that I’ve waited this long before starting this blog. Sicily has so much to offer and yet if people visit Italy from abroad it is inevitably Rome, and Florence, and Venice that they visit. But as Goethe once said
To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.
In my opinion, he could not have been more right. Sicily is truly a product of its history and its conquests— its very many conquests. It unites the history of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, Arab and Spanish legacies, and it is as much Italian as it is not.
Unfortunately for this beautiful isle, its reputation to the outsider is marred by misconception. As a result many people overlook visiting this island, and they are missing out on a real gem. So, without further ado here are
7 Unusual Things to Visit When Seeing Sicily
- Paleolithic engravings and Neolithic cave paintings. Yep, that’s right — you can get up close with prehistoric engravings and cave paintings which were only discovered in 1949. If you want to see them, then you need to head over to the smallest of the Egadi islands, Levanzo, off the coast of Trapani. They are in the Grotta del Genovese and you do need to book as the visit to the cave is by guided tour only.
While the operator will offer you the chance to arrive at the Grotta by boat (weather permitting) or in 4×4, there is another option open to you (which costs less). Book your tour time and then walk through the pleasant Levanzo flora to reach the cave. Even if you book the boat or 4×4, the most tiring part of the journey still has to be completed on foot, so be warned.
- Dead people. It’s true that this one might not be for everyone, but it is fascinating and creepy in equal measure. If you want an afternoon of alternative fun then head to Palermo’s catacombs (that’s right it’s not just Rome that has them). You’ll be greeted by a monk at the door before heading down into the catacombs where skeletons of Palermo’s gentry reside. There is even the body of a young girl so perfectly preserved that she looks as though she is sleeping. Unluckily (or luckily depending on your opinion) the doctor who pioneered that technique took his secret to the grave (ironically).
- Windmills. No, I’m not joking. Sicily, you might be surprised to know, has a number of very beautiful, old windmills. The reason for this is the island’s salt industry. As you travel down the coast you’ll meet with a number of salt pans harvesting salt from sea water. The salt water is transferred from one basin to another using an Archimedes screw. Nowadays of course it is all mechanized, but in the past those screws were powered by…yep, you’ve guessed it— windmills!
- A Greco-Roman battleground. Visit the site of one of the most hotly contested areas of Sicily during the Punic Wars— Mozia. When those pesky Romans were intent on increasing their empire one of their greatest problems was Carthage. Mozia was a thriving Carthaginian settlement and held out for the longest, in large part to its strategic lagoon location. It in turn provided protection to another large Carthaginian settlement Lilybaeum— modern day Marsala. Today you can take a boat ride over to the island and visit the remains of the ancient settlement there. Or if it’s summer and you don’t mind an extreme paddle, you can walk the ancient causeway. Be aware that the island is owned and operated by the Whitaker Foundation and there is an entry fee.
- Ancient Bikinis. Sicily is home to some of the earliest visual representations of the bikini. You can see the bikini girls at Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina. The over 3,500 square metres of mosaic flooring exhibits a number of depictions of hunting and fishing as well as the 10 bikini girls. It is the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world and is a designated UNESCO world heritage site.
- Ghost Towns. Sicily’s mountainous landscape is a result of volcanic activity. This seismic nature has caused many an earthquake over Sicily’s history. The result of these earthquakes has in turn led to several towns being deserted. They have then been rebuilt in more secure locations nearby. The ruins of the original town have been left where they collapsed, resulting in ghost towns like old Poggioreale.
- A Cyclops throwing his toys out of the pram. Ok, obviously you can’t actually see a cyclops. You can see one of the locations attributed to his Greek legend, though. If you know Homer’s story of Odysseus and the Cyclops, then you’ll know that Odysseus blinded the cyclops Polyphemus in order to escape his cave and prevent himself from being eaten. Outwitting the beast by proclaiming his name as ‘Nobody’ when Polyphemus called out in pain his neighbours did not come to his aid as he was attacked by ‘Nobody’. As Odysseus set sail once more, he could not resist goading Polyphemus by telling him his real name and in anger Polyphemus began throwing rocks at Odysseus’ ship. These rocks are what form the Riviera dei Ciclopi (the Cyclops Riviera) the coastline between Acireale and Aci Castello. The rocks themselves are actually bodies of solidified lava. This area of coastline is extremely beautiful and littered with grottoes and other dramatic coastal features.