Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sicilian History and Beaches

We just spent a week in Sicily -- without much internet access. We visited several historic monuments in Palermo, and then spent a few days at a beach resort, where Lenny attended a conference. Our arrival was hectic: after an hour of waiting at the carousels, we spent another hour in a long line to report two missing bags. They finally caught up with us at the second hotel. Fortunately our Palermo hotel was in a shopping district -- so we each have a few new clothes. And luckily, a bookstore in the area had a pile of the new Harry Potter, which was released on the second day of our trip. We've now both finished reading it.

During the trip, I also read two relevant books: Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler between East and West by Hubert Houben and The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Roger II, king of Sicily in the 12th century, and his immediate successors built some of the beautiful churches we visited, so it was interesting to learn about that era. The first photo at left shows a mosaic of the coronation of Roger, which we saw in La Martorana church. The book explains the iconic significance of this image, which may not be a portrait in the modern sense, but symbolizes Roger's kingship in several ways. For example, his clothing is the regal garb of a Byzantine emperor. Roger's high official, George of Antioch, a Syrian Christian, built La Martorana.

La Martorana stands beside San Cataldo church, which has Arab-style domes. The second photo shows the exteriors of the two churches. As illustrated by just these two buildings, Sicily was at the intersection of three cultures: Western European Catholic (Roger held his kingship as a vassal of the Pope), Byzantine, and Arab.

The Leopard was especially enjoyable to read in context. In the first scene, the main character (a Sicilian prince living just before the reunification and democratization of Italy) goes from his palace on a hill down into the center of Palermo: just where we had been walking. Throughout the book, I was delighted with descriptions of the environment where I was reading: the rugged landscape, the dry heat, and the blazing sun.

I'll be posting more of my photos of the landscape, the food, the streets of Palermo, and my favorites of ancient Greek artifacts from the archaeology museum.

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