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Impressions of Sicilia, Italy

Sicily is a special version of Italy. Islands usually distinguish themselves anyway from 'their' mainland, but this is particularly true here in the case of Sicily. It is not a pure coincidence that the island's history is a melting pot of peoples and cultures which have come in ancient times from all directions: Phoenicians from the Orient, Carthaginians from the North African coast, Greeks from across the Ionian Sea. Overwhelming influences, to the extent that hardly anybody knows that the native Italic population of Sicily were called 'Elymians'. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks are long gone, they too overwhelmed by other colonisers, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish, but Sicily has remained that crossroads where Western Europe, North Africa and the East meet and blend. Baroque architecture is nowhere in Europe as exuberant and omnipresent as in Sicily, and on a piazza, in the shade of one of those tall overly decorated Baroque church facades, you sit down at a trattoria and order the traditional 'cuscusu di pesce', as if this were Tunisia. In fact, it ought to be hardly surprising; after all, Tunisia is only 140 kilometres away from the Sicilian coast.

And then, there is this other thing which makes Sicily so unique. Where else has Zeus buried a terrible monster under a thick layer of earth? While we are at it, Zeus did not do his mythological job right, because his monster roars quite often and violently, as anybody living close to the Etna will confirm. By far the most active volcano in Europe, the cones are even visible from Central Sicily, and so are the fumes of steam and debris. I'm not sorry that on my Sicilian itinerary I missed out on the spectacle of ashes covering Taormina and Syracusa, and streams of lava swallowing the streets of Catania: it has happened and it will happen again. But Sicilians have learned to live with the threat. No, I'm not going to dwell on that other threat, the one of crime and maffia. Maffia is surely at work on the island, but one can perfectly well travel in Sicily in safety, enjoy the great things of culture and nature this island has on offer, if one has in mind the golden rule that the best way not to get in trouble is not to go and look for it. Enjoy Sicily.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

Settled in a former Convent, the museum harbours archaeological artefacts of Sis, so named and founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians, later Hellenised as Panormos. But the main treasures are the friezes and steles originating from temples in Selinunte, as well as lion head gutters from a temple at Hymera, and colossal statues of Zeus from Solunto and Tindari, respectively of the 1st century BC and AD.

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