Monreale and Segesta


In the morning we set off on our day trip, first stop Monreale whose name comes from monte-reale, “royal mountain”. Located just 8km from Palermo on the slope of Monte Caputo, Monreale feels a world a way from the hustle bustle of Sicilies capital city. It is overlooking the very fertile valley called “La Conca d’oro” (the Golden Shell), famed for its orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities.

The Cathedral of Monreale is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.

When we entered it my first remark was that it was “like the Palatine Chapel on steroids!” And this is exactly the effect King William II wanted when he began building the church in 1174 to outdo his grandfather Roger II who built the Palatine Chapel decades earlier. Whilst it mimics the Palatine, it is the opposite of the Cathedal of Palermo as while the outside of Palermo’s Cathedral it ornate and intricate and the inside austere, Monreales Cathedral has an austere façade and a mindblowing glass mosaic interior.

After exploring this interior we paid a few euros to head up to the top of the cathedral, overlooking its picturesque cloisters, the tower

and the rest of Palermo out towards the ocean.

Next stop was Calatafimi-Segesta were we stopped for a lunch of toasted panini and a refreshingly icy granita. We then continued through the town, brightly colored with nationalistic displays of the Italian flag

and with almost impossibly narrow streets

until we got onto the autostrada.

Finally we made it to our destination of Segesta, seemingly in the middle of niwhere with no existing towns, it was once the political center of the Elymian people, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily in over 500 BC

It survived under various rulers unil it was destroyed around the birth of Christ by the Vandals – no not a roudy group of teens but a Germanic tribe best known for their “sack of Rome” in 455BC (Although they were not notably more destructive than other invaders of ancient times, Renaissance and Early Modern writers who idealized Rome tended to blame the Vandals for its destruction. This led to the coinage of “vandalism”, meaning senseless destruction, particularly the defacing of artworks – well there you go!

Till Goths, and Vandals, a rude Northern race,/ Did all the matchless Monuments deface – British Enlightenment poet John Dryden

From the ticket office we trudged up the 2km steep hill to the theatre built in the third century BC.

It’s a perfect and large semi-circle of 63 m in diameter placed on a rocky slope, the steps are oriented towards the hills behind which, on the right you can see the Gulf of Castellammare.

Now that it has been restored, every two years in summer, the theater is revived by throngs of spectators eager to relish in performances of timeless, great tragedies and comedies so beloved to the ancients. The hill of the theatre also offers a magnificent view of the Doric temple,

built sometime in the late 5th century BC it is unusually well preserved and after having a good look at it close up – it’s HUGE,

we headed home 🙂

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