Editorial

Four Sicilian
Gems

Four Sicilian Gems

The essential stops that should be included in your spring tour of the island

P

ast mid-January, the idea of ending winter starts to sound like something possible, and the beginning of the Italian spring, especially in the southern part of the peninsula, shows its first signs. It's time to start planning a little getaway, and Sicily is the perfect destination for a little tour this season, especially if you're planning to visit its amazing archaeological sites avoiding hordes of tourists and avoiding the scorching heat of summer. Plus, the first blooming flowers of the season growing among the temple ruins make for a stunning view.
Following are four places that you should not forget to include in your Sicilian itinerary: all of them are included among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and each one tells a different story about the island. Ready to depart?

Noto


In 1693 a great earthquake razed the Sicilian town of Noto, on the eastern side of the island, almost to the ground, forcing its inhabitants and institutions to rebuild it: this is the origin of the jewel city of Sicilian Baroque, where noble palaces and religious buildings in matching color sit side by side, so that the city earned the name of "stone garden". The use of Syracuse stone, a soft limestone whose color varies between white and gray, allowed for daring decorations and gave the city a soft and iridescent tone in the sun. Yet Noto is not only a Baroque gem: ancient Noto is full of treasures, like the ancient Roman villa of Tellaro with its intact mosaics.

Noto, città the jewel city of Sicilian Baroque

Siracusa and Ortigia


The same mix of eras is found in the near and much larger Siracusa, the ancient gem of Magna Graecia. Syracuse was the hometown of the famous mathematician Archimedes, and precisely to that period belongs its beautiful amphitheater with its excellent acoustics, which houses a prestigious cycle of classical performances every summer between May and June. The heart of the city is, however, on the sea, and in particular on the island of Ortigia, whose particularity lies in having natural springs of fresh water on its territory, such as Fonte Aretusa or Fontana degli Schiavi, which made it an ideal place for a settlement. Do not miss the Castle of Maniace, one of the symbols of the city, the Temple of Apollo, and the Baroque and Rococo Cathedral built on the ancient temple of Athena.

Siracusa and Ortigia, the ancient gem of Magna Graecia

Piazza Armerina and Villa del Casale


At the heart of the island, in the province of Enna, this ancient art city of Baroque and Norman origins is a magnificent concentrate of ancient palaces, medieval streets and religious buildings of great value. Among its main assets are the famous Palio dei Normanni, an exciting battle among four teams of knights in period costumes held every year in August, and the ancient Roman Villa del Casale, the former rural residence of Massimiliano Erculeo. The Villa houses thousands of square meters of mosaic floors and walls that are deemed among the most beautiful and well preserved of their own kind in the world.
Piazza Armerina and Villa del Casale

The Valley of the Temples


On the southwest coast of the island, in the area of the medieval city of Agrigento, are the remains of the ancient Greek colony of Akragas (4th century BC), scattered with monumental Doric temples built in shell sandstone tuff, a material that changes its color depending on the light, turning amber at sunset. The so-called "Valley of the Temples" is one of the most famous and appreciated archaeological sites in the world, and among the largest ones in the Mediterranean. The best preserved building is the Temple of Concordia, the most spectacular Doric temple in the world after the Parthenon. In addition to the fascinating temples, you will have the opportunity to visit the remains of the agora, the necropolis, the residential villas with mosaic floors, the aqueducts and the early Christian basilicas.
The Valley of the Temples

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