Friday, June 29, 2007

May 2007 - Marsala, Sicily - Wine & Windmills

From Erice, we drove down the western coast of Sicily to Marsala - the western-most point on the island, known for its eponymous wine and ancient salt marshes and windmills. Today, Marsala is Sicily's largest wine-producing center. In the 19th Century, Marsala, together with Trapani and Stagno (also on Sicily's west coast), was the largest producer of salt in Europe, exporting it as far away as Norway. Historically speaking, Marsala is important as the point where Garibaldi began his campaign, on behalf of the House of Savoy, to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (which comprised Sicily and the lower portion of the boot up to Naples) and create the unified Italy (1871) that we have today. But the city's history goes back a lot further than that. In fact, Marsala was founded in 397 BC by the colonists from Mozia, the small island off the coast of Marsala, who survived its destruction by Dionysius of Syracuse (not the Greek God). Thereafter, Marsala became a major Carthaginian city, but in the 3rd Century BC it was conquered by the Romans, who made it their main Mediterranean naval base.
As we drove into Marsala, we saw the famous salt marshes. Above, you can see the mindmills in the distance and a pile of unrefined salt in the foreground. We visited the salt marshes, during sunset, after we explored the town and took some amazing pictures (see below).
Our apartment was in the dead center of the old town, behind this elegant church (above) which had a dome and the beautiful baroque facade behind Casandra.
It was tremendous, with more rooms than we knew what to do with: 3 bedrooms, living room, den, full kitchen, bathroom, and outdoor veranda terrace.

Here's the terrace with a view of the characteristic rooftops of the old town.
The current plan of the old town is the Roman plan, but other quarters were added by the Arabs, who conquered the city in 830 A.D. and made it a flourishing trade center. The old town was originally completely surrounded by walls with gates, which were later redesigned in the Sicilain Baroque style. Above is a view of the gate facing the sea from inside the city walls.
And here's a shot of that same gate from outside the walls. Through the gate, you can see how pretty the old town is.
Above, Casandra stands on the town's main east-west thoroughfare. The buildings of the old town are really pretty and the streets are immaculate.

That main street leads to town's main square, containing the Cathedral and Town Hall. Here's Casandra in its center with the Town Hall behind her and part of the facade of the Cathedral on the right.

Here's the Sicilian Baroque facade of the Cathedral, which was founded by the Normans in the middle ages but wasn't completed until the 1900s, when it was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. The consistent use of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture makes Marsala a quaint and characteristic Sicilian town worthy of at least a one-day visit.
And here we're still in the main square but facing the other direction, with the dome in the background on the left that caps the church behind our apartment and the majolica-tiled pyramid-like roof of the building, on the right, that we can see from our apartment's terrace.

After strolling through the quaint streets for ahile, we visited this small park (above) within the city walls. This impressive fountain was surrounded by 4 amazing ficus trees.

Here you can see how the trees' roots wrap around their trunks.
Around the corner from the park is another city gate connected to another domed church with a Sicilian Baroque facade. Notice the colorful flowers on the lightpost and hanging off the balconies.
That whole street is lined with flowers. Casandra is stading further up the street with that city gate in the distance. Here you can see the flowers hanging from each lightpost.

And here's a shot of that same gate from the outside that Casandra took as we drove to Marsala's famous salt marshes.

The salt marshes comprise several pools containing sea water of varying depth which evaporate and leave behind the raw salt. The windmills, like this one above, pull the water from the sea into and between the different pools.

The marshes and windmills, two of which are behind Casandra above, are currently being restored, in an effort to bring the salt output back up to their historical height, while preserving the ancient method of production.

Here we both are with those same two windmills with the distance. We moved closer to watch the sun set behind them and the many pools.

We found a nice bar overlooking the marshes and a small marina. As we had a drink and waited for the sun to set, we were thoroughly entertained by the Italian wedding party who stopped by to take sunset pictures and do what appeared to be a pre-reception traditional wedding dance.

At dusk, the whole area began to turn a pale gold.

It was stunning and got more beautiful literally by the minute.

Here are the newlyweds.

And here they set up to take one last phote in front of the windmills, marshes and salt piles.

Here's the windmill closest to our bar. We enjoyed a light, crisp glass of white Sicilian wine while looking at this view.

As the sun dropped closer to one of the Egadi islands off the west coast of Sicily, the sky turned an orangy-pink.

At the perfect moment, Casandra jumped in front of yet another set of newlyweds jockeying for a position in front of the windmill at sunset.

And of course I joined her for one of our best self photos yet.

May 2007 - Erice, Sicily - Medieval Mountaintop Town of Ancient Origins

After Segesta, we continued west towards the coast to visit the little town of Erice, perched atop Monte San Giuliano on the northwest coast of Sicily. Erice, whose name is derived from the goddess of fertility, Venus Erycina, has very ancient origins and its architecture dates back to the Phoenician period, before the Greeks arrived on the island during the 8th century BC and well before the Romans conquered it in the 3rd century BC.

You can see Erice on top of the mountain in this picture above, which I took while driving, as we approached the town from below.

And here's a picture of Erice's view of the coast below.

While most of its ancient structures and ruins serve as the foundations for later structures, the town's medieval buildings, constructed under Norman and Spanish rule during the middle ages and early Renaissance, are well-preserved.
The ancient Phoenician city was completely surrounded by the Cyclopean wall. Two thousand years later, during the middle ages, the Normans rebuilt and extended that wall and added a series of gates to access the city. The remaining portion of the wall and city gates extend for over almost 2300 feet on the northern side of town. You can still see the wall's lower megalithic stone blocks placed by the Phoenicians and the upper smaller stones placed by the Normans.

The streets of Erice are beautifully paved in various geometric paterns.
The town is lined with medieval stone houses with elaborately decorated doorways.

There are many small squares enclosed by elegant Renaissance buildings . . .

. . . and others fronted by medieval churches.

Here we are in front of that same church (San Giuliano) during the day.

And here's Casandra in front of the main church in town, Chiesa Matrice, built in 1314.
Despite its austere exterior with pointed-arched portico, rose window, medieval crenellations along the roofline, . . .
. . . and unattached bell/lookout tower with double-lancel windows and crenellated battlements, . . .
the interior, which was drastically remodeled in 1865, is delicate and detailed.
The intricately carved white ceiling appeared lace-like.
And the pointed arches and vaults and double-lancet windows that projected light across the nave, and the rose-marble columns created an elegant, ethereal atmosphere.
Hoping to get a bird's eye view of the town, we decided to climb the bell/lookout tower. Here you can see most of the towns rooftops, including that of the church, revealing its latin-cross design.
And here we are standing under the tower's main bell with the city behind us.
In the distance, between and on either side of those medieval battlements, is the Mediterranean. The views from up here were simply stunning!
After soaking up the views for a while, we headed down the winding staircase, . . .

. . . took one last look at the church's facade, . . .
. . . and went for a bite to eat.
The next day, seeing from our balcony what a beautiful day it was, . . .
. . . we decided to take a cable car down to the city of Trapani to get a closer look at the Mediterranean and the the main city on the west coast of Sicily.
On our way down, we spotted what appeared to be 3 wild horses.
When we went back up to Erice, and walked ovwe to our hotel, we were greeted by those same horses, which turned out to not be wild at all.
In fact, they were quite friendly, . . .

. . . and while those two on the left were entertaining each other, the one on the right wanted to make friends.
So, he followed us to our car, Casandra scrambled for the crackers, . . .
and I fed him.
Half a box of crackers and one happy horse later, . . .
We said our farewells and I walk him back over to his friends.
But he wasn't quite ready to say goodbye.
Nevertheless, as it was time for us to continue our journey around Sicily, we carefully backed up the car, . . .
Snapped one last shot at our new friend, . . .
and drove through this great tree-covered street and out of town.

As we started down the mountain, we cought one last glimpse of Erice's spectacular view of the coast below.