Sicilia Sconosciuto (Undiscoverd), April 10 - 22, 2019
with Jeremy Woodhouse
Sicily was inhabited 10,000 years ago. Its strategic location at the centre of the Mediterranean has made the island a crossroads of history, a pawn of conquest and empire, and a melting pot for a dozen or more ethnic groups whose warriors or merchants sought its shores.
At the coming of the Greeks, three peoples occupied Sicily: in the east the Siculi, or Sicels, who gave their name to the island but were reputed to be latecomers from Italy; to the west of the Gelas River, the Sicani; and in the extreme west the Elymians, a people to whom a Trojan origin was assigned, with their chief centres at Segesta and at Eryx (Erice). The Siculi spoke an Indo-European language; there are no remains of the languages of the other peoples. There were also Phoenician settlements on the island. The Greeks settled Sicilian towns between the 8th and 6th centuries bce. The mountainous centre remained in the hands of Siculi and Sicani, who were increasingly Hellenized in ideas and material culture.
The island is mostly mountainous, and seismic and volcanic activity is quite intense. Europe’s highest active volcano is Mount Etna (10,900 feet [3,220 metres]). The only wide valley is the fertile Plain of Catania in the east. The climate is subtropical and Mediterranean. Annual precipitation on the plains is 16–24 inches (400–600 mm), and in the mountains 47–55 inches (1,200–1,400 mm). Underground water and springs are plentiful. The natural vegetation of Sicily has been greatly reduced by human influence, and forests occupy only 4 percent of the territory.
Sicilians are a diverse people, having had contact with a great variety of ethnicities and physical types through the centuries. Despite its position at the crossroads of many Mediterranean civilizations, it retains many characteristics of more rural regions bred of its isolation and distance from mainland Italy. One peculiar feature of the separateness of Sicilian life is the persistence of the Mafia, an organization dating from the Middle Ages that gradually evolved into a paralegal criminal brotherhood. It gives certain parts of the island virtually a dual government, standard of conduct, and system of enforcement—one is the legitimate regime and the other a shadow, but a pervasive social, economic, and political network maintaining its powers through violence.
Sicily’s strong cultural traditions can be seen in the development of Italian lyrical poetry as well as in the works of modern writers such as Giovanni Verga, Luigi Pirandello, and Leonardo Sciascia. Several examples of folk art—such as embroidery, painting, and puppetry—and popular religious festivals also mark Sicily’s contribution to Italian culture.
The island’s economy has remained relatively underdeveloped, but heavy industrial activity, based on the oil-refining and chemical industries, expanded markedly in the latter decades of the 20th century. Large quantities of natural gas and sulfur are produced, although the latter has been declining. Other industries include food processing, salt extraction, wine making, textiles, and shipbuilding. The region is mainly agricultural. Wheat, barley, corn (maize), olives, citrus fruit, almonds, wine grapes, and some cotton are produced, and cattle, mules, donkeys, and sheep are raised.
Day 1: Wed, April 10 Arrive in Palermo
O/N Ambasciatori Hotel (D)
Day 2: Thu, April 11 Palermo - Castelbuono
The charming capital of the Madonie is set amid ancient manna ash and chestnut forests, Castelbuono owes much of its building stock and character to the Ventimiglias, a powerful noble family who ruled the town between the 14th and 16th centuries. Easily navigable and unpretentious, it is also an art town, with 15th-century frescoes in the crypt of the church Matrice Vecchia; in the castle is a chapel encrusted with the giddily over-the-top Baroque decorations of the sculptor Giacomo Serpotta.
O/N Abbazia Santa Anastasia (B,L,D)
Day 3: Fri, April 12 Castelbuono/Gangi
Gangi— This town lies on the south western slope of Monte Marine, facing the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains. The birthplace of painters Gaspare Vazano and Giuseppe Salerno has retained its medieval character with winding streets and steps connecting the different levels. The towering Chiesa Madre has a 14th century bell tower and a lovely Last Judgement by Salerno, inspired by Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel
O/N Abbazia Santa Anastasia (B,L,D)
Day 4: Sat, April 13 Castelbuono/Caronia/Tripi/Montalbano Elicona
Caronia is a medieval hill town standing below a Norman castle near the coast of north-eastern Sicily. The structure of the medieval town is clearly visible even today in the old town which, in spite of the inevitable modernization over the centuries, still retains the original layout in some small alleys and narrow winding streets.
Tripi—The village of Tripi was founded in 1061 by Roberto il Guiscardo on the wonderful ruins of Abacaenum, an ancient Greek City. Later the feudal town was ruled by some of the most notable families in Sicily such as Lancia, Partori, Alagona, Villarant, Gaetano and Marini. The most important holy places of the village are the Church of San Biagio; the Mother Church, dedicated to S. Vincenzo Martire di Spagna; the Church of SS.Trinità and Rosario which includes impressive works of art dating back to the 16th century and the Church of Annunziata, built in the 17th century. Among its impressive old town centre it is possible to visit the Santi Furnari Archaeological Museum where you can admire a permanent collection of funerary objects found in the necropolis of the ancient city of Abakainon located in the Cardusa district and the Castle, built in 1154 as a stronghold.
Montalbano Elicona—The village of Montalbano Elicona is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, and it has been nominated as “The most beautiful Village of 2015”. The tiny houses, characterised by a medieval imprint, are built on a big rock creating a complex labyrinth of beautiful alleys that surround the majestic Svevian-Aragonese Palace, the churches and the other location of the town. The origins of this charming village are dating back to the eleventh century, and the feudal town was ruled by many important Sicilian family such as the Lancia in 1396, and the Colonna and Bonanno in 1587.
O/N Montalbano Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 5: Sun, April 14 Montalbano Elicona
O/N Montalbano Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 6: Mon, April 15 Montalbano Elicona/Randazzo/Acrireale/Novara di Sicilia
Randazzo, 754 meters above sea level, is a small town on the northern slopes of Mount Etna which dominates the Alcantara Valley. It is strategically located at the centre of three major provinces: Catania, Messina and Enna. Thanks to its beautiful natural environment, its fascinating ancient works of art, churches, museums and archaeological remains, Randazzo is considered a gem of its province. Nestled in the heart of a unique territory it is made even more precious by the presence of three protected areas: the Regional Park of Etna, the Nebrodi and Alcantara River Park.
The most important cultural attractions of the village are the Archaeological Museum; the Sicilian Pupi Museum; the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta which includes a collection of artwork made between the 13th and the 19th century; the Church of San Martino, built in the 13th century; the Gelo Cave which originated by the cooling of a lava flow after an eruption began in July 1614 and lasted for over ten years.
Acireale sits amid a clutter of rocky pinnacles and lush lemon groves. The craggy coast is known as the Riviera dei Ciclopi, after the legend narrated in the Odyssey in which the blinded Cyclops Polyphemus hurled boulders at the retreating Ulysses, thus creating spires of rock, or faraglioni (pillars of rock rising dramatically out of the sea). Tourism has barely taken off here, so it's a good destination if you feel the need to put some distance between yourself and the busloads of tourists in Taormina. And though the beaches are rocky, there's good swimming here, too. Acireale has a long tradition of puppet theatre and you can learn all about it at Teatro-Museo dell'Opera dei Pupi. Guided tours of the museum are in Italian, although English-language information is available on request. From July to September, it also runs twice-weekly puppet shows (Thursday and Sunday), with tickets costing between €5 and €15. If you don't have your own wheels and wish to visit the museum, you can request a pick-up from Acireale train station (charged separately).
Novara di Sicilia—The village of Novara di Sicilia was founded and inhabited by Greeks and later by Romans and Arabs. Later it was conquered by Normans and Roger I built many majestic monasteries to spread the Catholicism over the area. Thank to its wild and prominent natural environment Emperor Frederick II established in the ancient feudal town his private hunting reserve.
The most important monuments of the village are the Church of San Giorgio which includes the ruins of the Norman Castle. Today this church hosts the main cultural events of the village; the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, erected in the 15th century, has a majestic facade; the Church of San Francesco built in the 16th century; the Church of San Nicolò, crested in the 17th century; the Museo Territoriale displays a collection of scientific, artistic and historical documents about the territory of the village.
O/N Sganga Kondè King (B,L,D)
Day 7: Tue, April 16—Novara di Sicilia/Sciacca
Sciacca—Famous for its historic spas and flamboyant carnival celebrations, Sciacca was founded in the 5th century BC as a thermal resort for nearby Selinunte. It later flourished under the Saracens, who arrived in the 9th century and named it Xacca (meaning 'water' in Arabic), and the Normans.
Until 2015, when financial woes forced the spa to shut down indefinitely, Sciacca's healing waters continued to be the big drawcard, attracting coachloads of Italian tourists who came to treat their ailments in the sulphurous vapours and mineral-rich mud.
Spas and thermal cures apart, Sciacca remains a laid-back town with an attractive medieval core and some excellent seafood restaurants. The city retains its original layout, with neighbourhoods built on strips of rock descending towards the sea. The historic centre revolves around its main thoroughfare, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and the vast square Piazza Scandaliato, where views (and staircases) extend to the fishing harbour below.
O/N Domus Maris Boutique Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 8: Wed, April 17—Sciacca/Trapani
Hugging the harbour where Peter of Aragon landed in 1282 to begin the Spanish occupation of Sicily, the sickle-shaped spit of land occupied by Trapani's old town once sat at the heart of a powerful trading network that stretched from Carthage to Venice. Traditionally the town thrived on coral and tuna fishing, with some salt and wine production. These days, Trapani's port buzzes with ferry traffic to the Egadi Islands and Pantelleria, and the adjacent historic centre is a popular place to stroll, for both locals and travellers awaiting their next boat.
O/N Zibibbo Rooms (B,L,D)
Day 9: Thu, April 18—Marsala
Maundy Thursday Marsala—A kilometer of masked figures
O/N Zibibbo Rooms (B,L,D)
Day 10: Fri, April 19—Trapani
Festa di SS Crocifisso, Calatafimi, Trapani https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBJFQ2grShY
Il Cristo Morto, Partanna, Trapani—Enactment of the Crucifixion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A77m21jrfuc
Processione di Misteri, Trapani—Sicily participates in Easter festivities with rites that derive from local customs and strongly-rooted traditions. Pilgrimages and processions parade through the Sicilian city’s streets, with an enormous following by the people, excited to witness up close the holy portrayals. Particularly special are the rites dating back to the time of Spanish domination; for instance, the Processione di Misteri (“Mysteries”) in Trapani is the longest religious display in Italy (lasting 24 hours) and among the oldest (repeated year after year for 400 years).
The “Mysteries” are 20 artistic representations of the Passion and Death of Christ: 18 statue groups, as well as two simulacrums of Mary, who weeps over the body of Christ.
The Mysteries proceed through much of the City of Trapani, putting on a show of lights, sounds, colors and emotions. The statues of the Mysteries stand on a wooden base (vara), with fixtures attaching them to the parade floats or carts, so that they gently bob and sway during the procession. The vara is supported by a sort of wooden tripod covered with black cloth (manta).
The statue groups are embellished with precious silver ornamentation and floral decor, and are illuminated in such a way as to exhibit certain facial expressions and movements of sadness and suffering. Each group, then, is carried on the shoulders of ten men (the massari) that move to the music of the band leading the procession, with a particular step called the annaccata.
The Mysteries are protected in the Baroque Church of Anime Sante del Purgatorio, where the procession begins at 2 PM on Good Friday. The long cortege, after the parade and all-night festivities, concludes with a return to the church at 2 PM on Black Saturday.
O/N Zibibbo Rooms (B,L,D)
Day 11: Sat, April 20—Trapani/Palermo
O/N Ambasciatori Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 12: Sun, April 21—Palermo
Ballo dei Diavolo, Prezzi, Palermo—Masked men perform “the devil’s dance” which symbolizes the struggle between good and evil.
O/N Ambasciatori Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 13: Mon, April 22—Depart Palermo
Arrival & Departure
Arrival & Meeting Place
The weather gradually begins to improve in Sicily in April when spring arrives. Temperatures can reach up to 64°F during the warmest part of the day, which is perfect for strolling around the streets and admiring the views. The evenings can still get cold, with temperatures dropping to around 52°F after dark.
Tour dates: April 10 - 22, 2019
Single Supplement: $850
Max Group Size: 6
2 SPOTS OPEN
Photographer: Jeremy Woodhouse
Paying by check
If you would like to pay your deposit and/or balance with a check, please make the check payable to: Pixelchrome, Inc and mail it to:
605 Rouen Drive,
McKinney TX 75070
Paying by Wire Transfer
Bank: Wells Fargo Bank, NA
Account #: 4428-000051
Routing #: 121000248
Swift #: WFBIUS6S
Wells Fargo Bank, NA
2851 South Ridge Road
McKinney, TX 75070
Phone: (972) 439-3416
A well-appointed, comfortable minibuses with plenty of luggage space.