From Messina to Randazzo, Enna, Piazza Armerina, and Cefalú
On the ferry I decided that we would spend a day in Taormina, highly recommended for its beauty by all but one knowledgeable friend. It was a disaster. A polite but ferocious policewoman at the entrance to Taormina demanded that we leave the car in new high-rise garage and walk. The town was choked with tourists. After a long climb we found the recommended pensione — locked. We had to ring twice before a nervous, bearded Israeli opened the door a hand wide and rattled down the prices of his rooms — 80 Euro and neither breakfast nor parking.... We looked at the room, a small cozy, overstuffed space with a primitive bath. Barbara had the presence of mind to reject the place out of hand. We had a thimble of espresso (0.80 Euro) looked at the tourists for 15 minutes and returned to the car barn (4 Euro for the one hour of our visit to Taormina). That did it. I changed directions — to be free I had a made a careful list of all the places I wanted to see, but left the route to chance and the mood of the moment — We would drive away from the crowded coast into the mountains north of Mt Aetna, which was hidden in dense clouds. The nearest hotel was in Randazzo, where we arrived late in the afternoon. We happily settled in the only hotel there, clean, modern, and impersonal. They even had a decent restaurant.
Randazzo is an old town, its church dates from the 12th century, but unemployment is high, and there is the fiery threat of Aetna. Yet, Randazzo has never been inundated by lava flows. This one stems from the 1992 Zaffarana disaster. Next morning we drove along a dead-end road into the hills below Aetna, the following pictures are from that excursion.
Randazzo from above the lava stream.
An abandoned oil press, the olive groves had been burnt by the eruption.
Interior of the olive press built in 1908.
A stranded lava block and...
At the end of the road we found a stand of chestnut trees which had survived, and Barbara tried to open one of the huge, prickly fruit.
Driving west from there we entered beautiful country, which turned more and more abstract.
A valley near the small hill town of Cesaro
Oaks and abandoned fruit trees
Black soil and bare hills reminiscent of Andalucia.
The hill town of Nicosia under a cloud
Our "Renaissance" hotel room in Enna, decorated with reproductions of famous paintings and....
...art-nouveau iron beds.
View from our hotel onto the old town and the new one in back. Enna sits on top of two massive mountain blocks with a wide view of the surrounding country. It also boasts a 12th century duomo.
Barbara in the evening light on the steps of the duomo.
The Imperial Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina
On one day we drove from Enna to the small town of Piazza Armerina. Outside of which a complete imperial Roman villa (3rd century AD) with extended, superb floor mosaics has been unearthed. The (tacky) place was crowded with tourist groups which filed along elevated, narrow walkways above the floors. A modern glass roof covers the excavations.
Hunting a wild African buffalo
The mosaics are well documented by photographs using artificial lighting, still in their present environment they have a special fascination, despite — or because of the shadow play produced by the glass roofs. The piece de resistance is the more than 80 meter long floor of an ambulatorium which depicts the hunting of wild animals in Africa. No reproduction shows the entire length of this mosaic. I set out to make a series of overlapping photos of the lively scene. Unfortunately the distortions created by my standing sideways on the gangway, spoiled my dream of one single photo. It would also have been too small to discern details. In a few cases I did combine several photos in single frames. — In my photos the colors of the mosaics are more vivid than the dust covered originals, compliments of the high contrast achievable with the digital camera. . Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them!
Emperor Maximianus Herkulius (240-310 AD) watches the hunt.
An Oxcart carrying objects from the imperial household.
Men in a boat
Lioness with her cub
Men reluctantly attacking an...
...evil-eyed rhinoceros and an officer spurring them on (the red object is a foot of the tourist fence)
Composite picture of the rhinoceros hunt.
Men carrying ostriches (except for their long legs they look like black swans) and others (above) carrying a wild pig.
Men taming a gazelle
Across the Mountains to Cefalú
From Enna we drove straight north through the mountains of the Madonie to Cefalú on the Tyrrhenian coast.
Across a valley from Enna the town of Calascibetta crowns another mighty mountain, one of the most beautiful hill towns of Sicily — except if one rides a car ! Looking for the road to Alimena, we made one wrong turn and found ourselves trapped in the one-way maze of Calascibetta.... We had a complete tour of the steep streets before being released very close to where we had entered it.
The road and a "acienda" near Alimena in bare, rolling country. There exists a parallel autostrada, but Barbara far preferred driving curvaceous country roads.
Another farm house protected by a stand of eucalyptus trees.
Piano Zucchi, on the last 30 kilometers the road climbs to 1100 meter in the coastal mountains before falling steeply down to the sea and...
... the Rock of Cefalú, a settlement going back to prehistoric times.
Cefalú's singular attraction is the Duomo, erected in 1031, 30 years before Monreale, in the Arabic-Norman style by King Roger II. This intriguing picture of the cathedral taken from The Rock and copied from the DuMont's "Sizilien" lured me to Sicily and Cefalú. I was too lazy to climb the Rocca that evening.
The entrance to the Duomo. Like in Monreale the portico is a later addition.
The cathedral had been stuccoed during the Baroque period, destroying the mosaics on the walls of the nave, maybe because they had too strong an Eastern flavor. A recent renovation removed the Baroque stucco, which, if it did not recover the lost mosaics, freed the walls of all late additions, a singular renovation for Sicily. It has become a beautiful, clear interior. Of the mosaics (1140) only those of the apse have survived.
They are the work of Byzantine craftsmen, strongly influenced by Eastern-Orthodox, Platonic theology (Christ as Man) —100 years after the Schism — and 30 years before the Cathedral in Monreale.
It was left to Barbara to discover the sensational modern stained windows by the controversial Palermo artist Michele Canzoneri (1992).
Unobtrusive and hard to photograph from below, this photo shows the large window above the entrance on the western wall. Made from glass with acrylic insertions and plastic trash of our times, they depict the creation of a cosmic order from the chaos of the (modern) world, reflecting the mystical theme underlying the Byzantine mosaics: Christ as the Transfigured Man (Dionysius Areopagitus!). — Barbara is researching Canzoneri and his contribution to this difficult subject.
A weathered antique column and a defensive, slit window in the entrance portico.
German tourists taking a swim and being watched by an old man from his window.
Nightlife on Cefalú's main street.
The Cathedral Square at night
Cefalú is an unusual city for Sicily: well organized, clean, and inhabited by a special breed of people, like this bearded Norman Vittorio Schillaci with his wife and daughter, a restaurateur whom I befriended in a café on Cathedral square at night. — I argue that in Cefalú Norman blood is still alive — the women are dark Sicilians (God forbid to call them Arabs...) but Vittorio is surly a Norman.... By contrast Palermo looks, sounds, and smells like Arabia....