Sicily's Top 5 Cultural Delights

"As the British Museum’s Sicily: Culture and Conquest exhibition closes, we take a look at the unique culture of the Mediterranean’s largest island."

August 2016 • Jules Verne

Sicily's Top 5 Cultural Delights

The British Museum notes that Sicily was once the cultural centre of the Ancient and Medieval worlds, and indeed many of these cultural delights remain, accentuated with modern additions asking to be explored.

Here are our top 5 cultural highlights of Sicily:

  1. Two distinct architectural styles in Ragusa

Ragusa is a city with two distinct areas; the lower, older Ragusa Ibla, and Ragusa Superiore, which sits higher up in the hills. The cause of this split was a huge earthquake in 1693, which devastated many of the buildings. Most of the population moved up to a higher position. The two parts of the city are separated by the Valle dei Ponti, a deep ravine crossed by four bridges. The UNESCO listed baroque city boasts two different Domo, or cathedrals, one for each half of the city. The Museo del Duomo contains artefacts from before the earthquake, including a 15th century stone carving of a honey maker complete with honeycomb and jug.

  1. Exceptional Byzantine mosaics in Cefalù

Discover history aplenty in the town of Cefalù, where you will explore the remains of a Saracenic castle dating from the medieval period. Even more impressive though are the extensive Byzantine mosaics in the Cefalù Cathedral. These were completed in the pre-Byzantine period by masters in the art of mosaic-laying, who were specially brought over. The technique is particularly unique as the art had to be adapted to the Norman architecture of the building, which was constructed in the 12th Century. The lustrous tiles in shimmering blue and gold are considered to be the highest quality Byzantine work in Italy.

  1. Traditional Sicilian cuisine in Marsala

One of the best ways of experiencing Sicily’s unique culture is through its food. As might be expected, there are many similarities with Italian food, but there are also Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. This mix reflects the island’s rich culinary history, which spans back to Mithaecus, a 5th Century Greek author credited with writing the earliest known cookbook. The most famous Sicilian creations are the famous Marsala dessert wine and limoncello, although crispy deep fried arancini also hail from its shores. Settle into the Trattoria Garibaldi for some alfresco dining in the traditional Marsala style.

  1. Historic port of Mazaro del Vallo

The fishing port of Mazaro del Vallo has a varied culture, having been founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th Century and subsequently invaded and ruled by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines and Arabs, before forming part of the Norman, Spanish and subsequently Italian empires. This historic port is best known for a sculpture called the Dancing Satyr, thought to have been sculpted by Praxiteles in the 4th Century. This bronze statue is very well preserved, considering it spent several millennia in the sea off the coast of the town.

  1. Greek influences in Syracuse

Syracuse feels truly Greek, and when looking at its history it is easy to see why. Described by Cicero as the “greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all” in the 5th century, it equalled Athens in size. The Greek cultural influences are tangible even now, with tourists still able to take in performances at the ancient Greek theatre, which was one of the largest ever built by the Greeks. For those with a fascination for Greek culture there are a myriad of fascinating archaeological sites to discover, in particular Archimedes’ Tomb, and the Temple of Apollo, as well as the 6th Century Temple of Olympian Zeus, which lies around 2 miles outside of the city.

 

If you have been inspired to visit Sicily, discover this fascinating area for yourself on a Jules Verne tour. Get even more travel inspiration on our blog.