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Sicily, a journey through villages and southern icons - part 2

Monday 01 october 2018

A mosaic of sun and gold that illuminates the villages that dot it and brushstrokes of blue sea that laps an exuberant vegetation. An unicum of art and nature, to be discovered

Sicily, a journey through villages and southern icons - part 2

From the capital of the ancient Trinacria the emotion sets off in a succession of archaeological, historical and natural icons, Arab and Norman testimonies, silent temples and Hellenic references, natural reserves and sea beds that enchant in color and transparency. An elixir of Sicily, this itinerary that runs through it to the north, starting from the seaside village of Mondello, enclosed between Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo and dotted with Liberty villas overlooking the promenade.

A village to be known for its famous beach, of course, but also to taste the typical bread with panelle and crocchè, the most renowned gastronomic bulwark of the Sicilian capital. Between Palermo and Mondello stands the sanctuary dedicated to Santa Rosalia - patron of the Sicilian capital - who lived here as a hermit in a cave in the woods: water, channeled from the ceiling of the cave to a large source, seems to have miraculous properties . Inspired by a far more earthly thirst for immortality, William II was the sovereign who commissioned the cathedral of the Arab-Norman village Monreale. It is considered the greatest masterpiece of Norman architecture in Sicily and is also the largest and most complete religious work of the period. Two portals lead inside the cathedral which is one of the highest artistic expressions of the Italian Middle Ages with walls - a total of 6,340 square meters - covered with mosaics with a gold background depicting 42 biblical episodes, chronologically and sublime, is the great mosaic of Christ Pantocrator that adorns the apse.

From the ecclesiastical choreography we head west: between Alcamo and Trapani, inland, rocky hills and lunar landscapes frame the wide plain that, with the salt pans and the endless vineyards, extends towards the sea to Marsala. And a crescent seems to be the design of the Gulf of Castellammare, in which stands Castellammare del Golfo, in whose harbor the remains of a Saracen castle stand out. Also in the Gulf is Scopello, a small fishing village built around a baglio - Sicilian rural construction surrounded by walls and formed by buildings that open onto a large internal courtyard - overlooking the tonnara on the beach below. With its cluster of whitewashed houses and paved streets, the locality recalls the Italian comedies in black and white of the fifties.

From Scopello you can head to the Zingaro Nature Reserve: it was the first protected area established in Sicily and is a refuge for the rare Bonelli's eagle as well as forty other species of birds and seven hundred varieties of Mediterranean plants. All around, carob plants and euphorbia stains cover the sides of the hills. In the Reserve of the Zingaro are also important traces left by man as the cave of Uzzo, the tower of Impiso and the Tonnarella. Long, white, sandy and framed by rocky heights is the beach of San Vito lo Capo, a village that is the protagonist every year in September of the "International Couscous Festival". San Vito Lo Capo, with its clear and crystalline sea, was already an important maritime center in Roman times as evidenced by the remains of tanks for fish farming, which remained at the tonnara.

The port of Trapani is guarded by the legendary Mount Erice, 750 meters above sea level: reachable also by funicular, it is here perched the medieval village of Erice, pervaded with magnetism, with sight as far as the eye can see over the valley below and the sea. Virgilio compared Erice to Mount Athos for the altitude and the spiritual importance it covered and the place still retains a magical aura thanks to the presence of alleys, votive niches and "secret" courtyards. To the south of Trapani there are endless and flat salt flats, with white hills of raw salt and windmills, while on the sea the islands stand out and the faraglioni rise above the sea. The landscape is fascinating and between a village and the other is worth a visit to the salt pans, a journey through tanks, canals, mills, ancient beams: walking along the banks, the sounds that can be perceived belong to the waves of the sea, the wind and to the calls of the seagulls.

From the salt you go to the wine and then to the medieval village of Alcamo and the famous White wine of Alcamo, which also raises the Italian literature with Cielo d'Alcamo: the author of the contrast "Fresh and very juicy rose", gave rise to one of the most ancient documents of Italian literature. And then here is the east: from Palermo the discovery of the northern split that moves east leads first to Capo Tindari and the sanctuary of Tindari, a village protected by the Black Madonna: located right on the promontory, the majestic church - with the dome sparkling under the sun - holds the wooden statue of the Black Madonna, of Byzantine style, while memorable mosaics shine along the walls of the side aisles. From the sanctuary a path leads to the excavations of Tindari, in perfect isolation between prickly pears, olive trees and cypresses, with a Greek theater at the upper end. From Tindari you can see the Aeolian Islands, the seven islands under the aegis of UNESCO, which from a distance look like silver cones suspended over the waters. The breaking of the waves has eroded the soft tuff, while the harder lava has solidified into huge boulders on the coasts.

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