Friday, June 29, 2007

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.

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