Our final two days on the Sicily tour.
Belice, Mt Pispisa, and Segesta
Written by John, edited by Lois
On Tuesday November 14, the weather forecast was for 50 degrees and rain for most of the day. The original schedule called for an all day hike, so our guides put their heads together and came up with another plan. First we went to a former quarry where they found evidence of a civilization that dug a system of aqueducts several thousand years BC! The problem was the area had been in a grass fire a year ago and the trails had never been repaired. A thick cane field had grown over the area we wanted to investigate, so that exploration had to be cut short. At that point the rain moved in, so we drove to a castle/palace/museum in Partanna, where our guides led us on a tour. The most amazing piece was a painting eight feet high and six feet wide which showed the Virgin Mary showing her bare breast to a saint as Jesus looked on (see photo). I couldn’t make this stuff up folks!
Our next stop was a tour of the cellar. The first lower level was used to store barrels of wine, and a “workshop”. The level below that was the dungeon, and the third level down was a secret tunnel that led out of the castle. There were no lights down there, so we explored with the light from a couple of smart phones. That really made it more fun! Afterwards we went to a winery where we had lunch. It stopped raining while we were eating. The main course was a platter of cheese and sausage. They made me some vegie pasta with olive oil. I ate a lot of bread. The guys who ran the place were fun, and they had a couple of friendly dogs and a bunch of cats so we were able to amuse ourselves for much of the afternoon. It really was a beautiful setting. Inland Sicily is the granary of Italy.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to see what used to be the town of Poggioreale. In 1968 the Belice earthquake destroyed the town, and the ruins are still there. All the people were moved to a temporary camp and twenty years later the last of the people moved out. No-one ever cleared the rubble from the old town site; they just put a fence around it. The Italian government’s incompetent response to the disaster - plus corruption - absorbed much of the money that had been set aside to redevelop the city and help the people. The same fate befell the people of Gibellina. However, here someone got the idea to have an artist literally pour cement over the ruins of Gibellina, to make a monument. They spent millions on this ridiculous "art", while the residents were still in temporary camps.
On Wednesday the sun came out and we did an amazing hike climbing Mt. Pispisa, near Segesta. The temperature was in the high 50’s, the sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and the rolling countryside had various crops growing so the fields were different colors. When we got to the top, we could look down on the best preserved Elymian temple in the world which had been built in 390 BC. It was never finished because a war broke out. After an easy walk down, we drove to another winery where we had a pretty good lunch. It started with bread, various cold pickled vegetables, and cold grilled vegetables, which was followed by a course of cheese and sausage. Then we had the usual undercooked pasta with very little sauce. Finally we got the salad course which was a chunk of iceberg lettuce with no dressing, and surprise, a chicken leg! It was the first chicken of the trip, and we all devoured it.
After lunch we drove back to Segesta, the site of the temple. We were met by our history guide, Valentina. She first brought us to a 4,000 seat Greek open-air amphitheater which is still used for plays today. It has a view stretching toward the surrounding hills and the Tyrrhenian Sea at the Gulf of Castellammare. After touring the theater, we walked over to the temple that we had seen from the summit of Mt. Pispisa earlier in the day - see photos.
For two weeks we have been looking at places where civilizations flourished several thousand years ago. These civilizations were as important in their time as ours is now. It brings home the point that we are just a tiny blip in the history of humanity.
Our flights home on Thursday all went smoothly - it was a long trip: Palermo to Rome, to Paris, to Detroit and finally to Traverse City. A good trip!