Discover the Mediterranean jewel, the island of Sicily

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By Abdulaziz Hammad

Saudi Gazette

PALERMO —
Sicily, the fascinating southern isolated island from the Italian mainland, glamorous in every aspect is strategically positioned in the Mediterranean sea. Mentioned by many historians and poets for its dynamic history, cultural diversity and romantic atmosphere, Sicily is rich in both culture and nature and the real beauty of the port city is within the people and their unique characteristics and diversity.

Throughout time many civilizations lived in Sicily, each one left its own touches, in the streets of Palermo the visitor will be astonished from the beauty of the Arab-Norman architecture, the cities of Agrigento and Segesta hosts some of the greatest ancient Greek temples, Siracusa & Catania are filled with historical monuments, Trapani & Cefalu are famous for their calm romantic beaches, the medieval cloud city Erice, astonishing in every small detail positioned above the skies on the high Sicilian mountains in front of the fascinating coast, the whole island is filled with middle ages cathedrals, castles, palaces & amazing nature, in this report, we will showcase three of the unique cities of Sicily.

Palermo, the Sicilian capital:

The first thing will face the visitor in the Metropolitan City of Palermo is the friendly, welcoming people, secondly, the unique diversified Sicilian cuisine from the sweet Cassata to the Sicilian Cannolo from the savory Arancina to the delicious Parmigiana, the Sicilian kitchen is filled with amazing plates made by passion. Aside from cuisine, Palermo is a marvelous city, rich in culture‍, the city witnessed many civilizations, each one put its own touches making it the Italian capital of culture, & a melting pot of diversified cultures.

Palermo has a long history of Bezuntenium, Arab, Norman & French rule, the city is filled with distinctive architecture making it an astonishing point of different cultures meeting on the same spot at the heart of the Mediterranean, in the upcoming part, we will showcase some of the amazing sites of Palermo:

The Cathedral of Palermo:

Now it’s a church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo, from the exterior part the beautiful Arab-Norman architecture is visible, with its distinctive designs, the church was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo. By all accounts this earlier church was founded by Pope Gregory I and was later turned into a mosque by the Saracens after their conquest of the city in the 9th century, that’s why it has recitals from the holy Quran written on one of the frontal columns.

Teatro Massimo:

The biggest Opera theater in the whole of Italy & the third biggest in Europe, this iconic theater stands as one of the majestic monuments of Sicily located on Piazza Verdi in Palermo. It was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II the founder of Italy. To make this place extra unique the final scene of The Godfather movie part III starring Al Pacino was filmed on the stairs of this theater.

San Giovanni degli eremiti church:

The church goes back to the 6th century & after the Islamic rule of Sicily, it was converted into a mosque that’s why it has the Arabic style in the exterior Architecture, Later on, when the Normans conquered Sicily, it was returned to the Christians as a church by King Roger II of Sicily in the 11th century. The church was extensively modified during the following centuries, having a very distinctive multicultural architecture.

Norman palace (Palazzo dei Normanni):

It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterward as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. Since 1946 it has been the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly, also it’s filled with amazing arts & unique artifacts from the past visible for all visitors. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe. The original building was built by the Arabs & it was called al-Qasr, the establishment started in the 9th century by the Emir of Palermo, but then when the Normans took Sicily it was modified & new parts were built. Parts of the early Arab building are still visible in the foundations and in the basements, where typical Arabian vaults are present.

Quattro canti:

Known as Piazza Vigliena, is a Baroque square in Palermo. It was laid out on the orders of the Viceroys between 1608-1620 by Giulio Lasso and Mariano Smiriglio at the crossing of the two major streets of Palermo, Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Quattro Canti area is filled with traditional shops & Sicilian restaurants, the zone is an amazing place of nightlife it has the perfect Sicilian atmosphere.

Mondello beach & Mount Pellegrino:

Mondello is the biggest beach in Palermo filled with white soft sands, the perfect summer destination of tourists staying in Palermo, the beach zone is surrounded by several mountains most prominent is mount Pellegrino, the best spot for hiking & adventure lovers, once the visitor reaches the top, he can observe a panoramic view for the whole city of Palermo & Mondello beach, mount Pellegrino is home to the distinctive Santuario di Santa Rosalia church, which was built inside the mountain.

Segesta

The second destination in our Sicilian trip will be the city of Segesta, one of the major cities of the Elymians, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily, located in the northwestern part of Sicily, in the province of Trapani. This fascinating city showcases the beauty of the Sicilian countryside especially in the archeological area of Segesta hosting ruins of the Roman empire, the Greek civilization & the Arab era! This area is home to the Greek Doric temple of Segesta that goes back to the year 420 BC! It was built by an Athenian architect, this astonishing temple stands in the heart of Sicily as a gate through time that sends the visitor back to the ancient times, the archeological area also hosts the remnants of a mosque that goes back to the Arab times, as well as the ruins of a Greek theater.

Erice:

The medieval cloud city of Sicily, standing above the skies, this unique town is located on top of Mount Erice, at around 750 meters above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani & the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic scenery on top of the city is simply amazing, having medieval era castles stationed above the clouds upon the great mountain, no other place in the world can match this charming view.

The history of Erice:

The city was founded by the Phoenicians, then the ancient Greek took the city & called it Eryx. It was destroyed in the First Punic War by the Carthaginians. The city of Erice was conquered by the Arabs exactly Aghlebids in 831 and was renamed as Cabel Hamid (in Western sources Gebel Hamed, meaning (Mountain of Hamid). It was ruled by the Arabs until the Norman conquest. In 1167 the Normans renamed it Monte San Giuliano, a name maintained until 1934.


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