|Sunrise from the anchorage in Grand Harbour, Syracuse|
Instead, we sat blissfully at anchor in Syracuse harbour for six days, buffeted by the hot damp southerly wind known as the sirocco, and somehow talked ourselves into the south and west coast route. It wasn't only that we had no appetite for revisiting Messina or Milazzo - though there was that too. We didn't have much appetite for the anchorages of the Aeolian islands either. Remember Vulcano and Lipari? We do. Without an engine. No, it wasn't just bad memories. It was also that there was more to see from the south coast. Or there seemed to be. Cruising in the Med is a fine balance between seeing what you want to see, and enjoying the sailing. Sometimes you can't have it both ways.
|The 4th cent BC Greek theatre in Syracuse|
|Natural wonder used for unnatural purposes in ancient Syracuse|
Alex had his reservations, something to do with adverse current in the channel between Sicily and North Africa, and the prevailing wind coming from the south-west, but I had the map marked with exciting circles. The baroque cities of the south-east (Noto, Modica, Ragusa), the 2nd century Roman mosaics near Piazza Armerina, the Greek temples at Agrigento and Selinunte, Masala, the salt pans of Trapani and the Egadi islands. Really, how difficult could it be? It was still summer, and the weather was looking very settled.
|The harbour at Sciacca on the south coast on a quiet night|
Well, quite difficult actually. From a sailing point of view, that is. The rest worked out just fine. I think Alex forgives all on account of the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale which cover over 3500 sq m of flooring in vast summer house made up of four separate apartments (not to mention fountains, courtyards etc). Whoever owned this "retreat" in the mountains of central Sicily - and it's not clear, though perhaps an emperor - was rich beyond common imagining. Something like the sheiks of Dubai. I think we've seen more finely executed Roman mosaic floors, but nothing touching the scale or ambition of those at Villa Romana del Casale. How many more Roman villas like this must there have been? Imagine this guy's place in the capital! The floors at Villa Romana del Casale survived because a landslide buried them under 10 m of mud in the 12th century. Serious excavation began only in the 1950s.
Alex has photographed them in a disarming sepia - I like it. It gives you the detail without the problem of glare distorting colour. I start with a few plain colour photographs however so you can see more or less what we saw from the walkways suspended above the floors.
|What's left of the Temple of Zeus at Agrigente|
|Far more complete - the Temple of Concord|
|Contemporary bronze of Icarus at the east end of the Temple of Concord|
|Her Greek wedding|
|Her first Greek temple|
That was another reason for us taking this route. We wanted to take a look for ourselves at Marina di Ragusa and Licata which in the past few years have become magnets for liveaboard cruisers, basically because they offer the cheapest winter rates by far. The price we were quoted for six months in the water at Marina di Ragusa this coming winter was approximately one-third of what we paid at Netsel marina in Marmaris last winter. That's hard to argue with.
|Silver coins minted in Syracuse in 4th c BC (and below)|
|Syracuse coins showed the head of the water nymph Arethusa|
|Antique jewellery - one of a pair of gold earrings from ancient Syracuse|
Our conclusion? We wouldn't by choice stay in either marina though both have good, efficient staff and facilities which do the job. It's the towns which let them down. Marina di Ragusa (the summer resort town 20 km from the much lovelier city of Ragusa) is bereft of two of life's essentials - good food, and decent chandleries. Licata has a lot of attitude. I'm not sure I could cope with it. It's dark, and a bit creepy. A tough town. Very Midnight in Sicily (the title of Peter Robb's book on Sicily, for those who haven't yet read it - do!).
|At home in Licata|
|Mainstreet Licata - umbrellas lift the mood|
|Evening drinks in Licata|
We rented a car from Licata. I don't know where it came from. The marina office organised it, thankfully. On our evening stroll about town we didn't see one rental car office. Nor did we see an ATM on the street. That put me on high alert. Licata probably isn't the kind of town where you can safely take out money while standing on the footpath. There's a wariness in Sicily, for sure. In some towns you feel it more keenly than in others. The lack of trust. Something about the way people look at you. Sicilians don't have much of a sense of humour, says Alex. They've been invaded too often.
|Sciacca street life (and below)|
|Seen in Noto|
|So easy to love...grilled vegetables|
|An abundance of peaches|
|Anything cold will do|
|These won't fit in the fridge|
|Swordish and tuna on the slab|
|More of that caponata, please|
Sicilian buildings emerge from the rock of the island. The public ones took the shape of the invader of the époque. Greek, Roman, Arabic, Norman, Spanish. Sicily's is a hybrid culture. Domestic architecture seems uniformly grim and grimy, a reflection of endemic poverty. Whole towns turn their backs to the sea from which the invaders have always arrived. Individual dwellings too present a closed face to the street, but often a glimpse through an archway into an interior courtyard or, on a sticky hot night, through an open door into a simple room where family sit around a kitchen table, hints at a contained world within.
|Chiesa Madre in Sciacca - the Normans started building it in 1108|
|Same town - Catalan Gothic circa 16th century|
|Same town - touch of baroque about the old gate|
|The apricot glow of Noto cathedral - poster duomo for Sicilian baroque|
|The approach to Ragusa|
|Ragusa cathedral dome at eye level|
|This time from the front - Ragusa cathedral|
|Modica is famous for dark chocolate - and grand churches|
|Modica town - no space for the workers|