1- The Cathedral of Monreale
The cathedral of Monreale reflects at once the politics, religion, and artistic heights of Sicily under the Normans. And in doing so, it also achieved a place in the art history of Europe, all the more remarkable because it remains today almost exactly as it was built in the 1100s. Its architecture represents the move away from Eastern Byzantine forms, but its decoration with dazzling mosaics - considered the church's magnificent highlight -- keep it firmly in the Byzantine traditions. Artistically, the cloister ranks right alongside the mosaics, a masterpiece of 228 double columns, with intricately carved capitals, surrounding a garden with a lovely fountain in one corner.
Address: Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Monreale
2- The Valley of Temples in Agrigento:
The large complex of temples and tombs in Agrigento dates as far back as 500 BC and includes Sicily's best preserved Doric temple -- Tempio di Concordia -- one of the most perfect to survive anywhere. Along with it in the eastern group is the Tempio di Juno Lacinia, almost as large, and in the western group is Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the largest of them at 40 meters but toppled by an earthquake. The circular Doric Tempio di Heracles, also in the western group, was destroyed by the Carthaginians and rebuilt by the Romans, only to be partially destroyed in an earthquake. The entire group is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: Valle dei Templi, Agrigento
3-Church Mosaics in Palermo
Two of Palermo's three major churches, the Cappella Palatina and Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, better known as La Martorana, are famed for their mosaics. Those in the chancel of the Normans' court church, Cappella Palatina, are thought to be from 1143 and the mosaic of Christ between Peter and Paul from about 1350. Other highlights of the church are the Arabic stalactite ceiling, the pulpit on carved and inlaid pillars, and the tall candelabra. The third church, the cathedral, is worth visiting for its 1453 Gothic-Catalan portico, monumental Norman tombs, and jewel-encrusted crown of Constance of Aragon in the cathedral treasury.
4-Eastern Temples at Selinunte
One of the largest and most significant of Sicily's ancient sites, Selinunte has eight Greek temples dating as far back as the fifth century BC, plus the nearby Temple of Demeter. The most important are those known as the Eastern Group, labeled by letter: Temple G for its impressive size and Temple E for its architectural grandeur, considered the highpoint of the Classical period.
Etna is an enigma; even its height is never certain as it changes with each new eruption. But at more than 3,000 meters, it rules the skyline with its often-smoking cone. Volcanic vents, fumaroles, hot springs, and lava flows add to its changing landscape, much of which you can explore (although not too close to the central crater) on foot or in all-terrain vehicles designed for traction in the volcanic surface.
Along Mount Etna's northern side, the Alcantara River has cut a spectacular gorge through a long-ago lava flow to create the Gole dell'Alcántara (Alcantara Gorge).
6-Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, Syracuse
One of the largest theaters in the ancient Greek Empire is a good reason to visit the archaeological park in Syracuse. The massive Altar of Hiero II dates from the third century BC, a century later than the 15,000-spectator Greek Theater. The Roman Amphitheater is from the third century AD, and is partly hewn from the bedrock. An interesting feature of this archaeological park is the opportunity to see the quarries where the building stone was cut on site for the various structures. One of the underground galleries has such perfect acoustics that it is known as l'Orecchio di Dionisio, the Ear of Dionysius.
These seven islands, all of volcanic origin and some still active, lie off the north coast of Sicily and are easily reached by boat from Messina or Milazzo. The best known is perhaps Stromboli, whose pyrotechnics light the sky each night, much to the delight of passengers on cruise ships, which time their departures for the display. The volcanic activity has created beautiful coastlines of rough, craggy rocks, as well as natural attractions -- fumaroles and thermal and sulfur springs - to visit.
8-Ragusa and Modica
The earthquake of 1693 leveled much of the southern tip of Sicily, including the neighboring towns of Ragusa and Modica. Both towns were rebuilt in the then-current Baroque style, with local interpretations that became known as Sicilian Baroque. Along with six others, Ragusa and Modica were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the "culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe." Ragusa built a new town on a hill above the old one, but enough buildings were left in the old town for it to remain active, with new Baroque buildings replacing fallen ones.
One of Sicily's most interesting medieval buildings, the imposing cathedral was built, so legend has it, by the Norman King Roger II as a votive offering for surviving a storm at sea. The cathedral is a Sicilian history book, with architecture and decorations reflecting almost every wave of conquest in the island's history. Look for Arab, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Norman elements. The semi-circular dome of the apse is filled by a mosaic of Christ by Byzantine artists, among the best-preserved mosaics in Sicily.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Cefalù
Perched 750 m above sea level and towering over the west of Sicily, Erice is an enchanting medieval mountain top town, featuring fountains, gorgeous views, cobblestone streets, Arab patios, palazzos, a palpable sense of history, and in winter quite often its own personal cloud. Ancient “Eryx” was dedicated to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. The Normans built a castle (another one….) on Monte San Giuliano, where today there is a beautiful public park, offering stunning vistas of the Egadi Islands, Trapani and, on a very clear day, of the Tunisian coast.
Erice is called the “City of Sciences”. It hosts important scientific meetings at the Ettore Majorana Foudnation and Centre for Scientific Culture, named after the Sicilian physicist who could have been the new Archimedes or Galileo of the 20th Century, if he wouldn’t have died at the age of 32.
It is a picturesque and romantic town. You may get a little light headed before you get there as the road zigzags up to the peak, but once you're there and you walk up to the Cathedrals bell tower, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in Sicily, stretching from the Gulf of Trapani and beyond to the Egadi Islands.
Things to see in Erice
Castello di Venere & Torre di PepoliThe Castle of Venus was built during the Normans period on the ruins of the Temple of Venus and overlooks the city of Trapani with its salt marshes and the Egadi Islands The Tower of Pepoli was originally built by the Saracens. rebuilt by Conte Agostino Pepoli and is now owned by the city of Erice. Pepoli Towers hosted scholars, scientists and other artists, invited by the count to lodge in the tranquillity of the mountain.
Balio TowersThe Balio Towers once were connected to the Castle of Venus by a drawbridge. They date back to the Middle Ages, when they were built as an outpost of the military fortress. It is possible to access them by going up a flight of steps, from which you reach a doorway with an arch, where a plaque is affixed, bearing the emblem of the Habsburg dynasty of Spain.
Balio GardensThe Balio Gardens around the Castle of Venus were made in true English style by Conte Pepoli. From these gardens you can admire a breathtaking view of the Egadi archipelago, the coast of Marsala and the salt pans of Trapani. The vegetation consists mainly of Mediterranean species such as ash, oak, almond, cypress and pine.
Chiesa Madre di EriceErice is quite small, but features 60 (in words: sixty!) churches. The most interesting are the Gothic “Chiesa Madre”, built 1314 and the Medieval “Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista”. The Mother Church was built in Gothic style with decorative frescoes and mosaics by King Frederick of Aragon, originally for defensive purposes.
Museo CordiciHoused in the Municipal Palace, the Cordici City Museum consists of small archaeological finds from prehistoric to Roman times as well as a very interesting coin collection.
Useful Touristic LinksSicily (general)