Very early Friday morning, just hours after arriving in Rome, we were on a bus to Paestum, kicking off our Naples and Sicily field trip. Paestum was initially a Greek settlement and has some spectacular temples. Our Roman Construction professor worked on the site’s preservation, so he got us special access with insider information. We also did a watercolor for class inside the main temple. That night we got some delicious pizza in the city that invented it, Naples.
I had been looking forward to that Saturday for a while because we spent the day in Pompeii. The dreary weather didn’t stop us from seeing some incredible sites like the theater, amphitheater, odeon, forum, baths, and some of the famous and typical “domus” styled courtyard houses. It was unbelieve to see this city frozen in time. It blew mind 1) how big the city is and 2) how much I could learn from everything that was preserved. That evening we went to Naples’ Archaeological Museum to see more items taken from Pompeii like mosaics and frescoes, as well as some stunning sculptures from the personal collection of Farnese, a powerful Renaissance family.
We spent the next day walking around Naples. Unfortunately, the weather did get to us this time as we got completely soaked and many of the buildings we were supposed to visit were closed. The most notable thing we saw was the Sansevero Chapel. This small chapel had a big impact! It is full of impressive sculptures like the Veiled Christ. Another equally, if not more, impressive sculpture is that of Disillusion where a man is breaking free of net. It’s almost hard to believe that a human being was capable of sculpting the layers of netting and the figure underneath in fine detail. Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures inside, but here is a link to the Veiled Christ and the Disillusion sculptures. The chapel also houses a more macabre exhibit. The bodies of a man and woman, with their veins and arteries completely preserved from 1763-4. Although no one is sure exactly how the bodies were preserved like this, one long-standing theory speaks about an injection which caused the “metalization” of the vessels. If you are curious and adventurous enough to want to see the so-called Anatomical Machines, you can click here. That night we caught our flight to Palermo, Sicily.
Our Monday in Palermo was sunny and beautiful. We walked around all day, visiting the Cappella Palatina, stopping in churches, seeing the Mediterranean Sea, and doing a watercolor for class. We ate some tasty seafood, cannoli, and one of their specialities, a brioche bun filled with gelato!
On Tuesday we took a bus across Sicily to Ragusa Ibla, a small, picturesque town perched on a mountain. We hiked through the town, seeing a handful of churches, and even played on a playground!
Wednesday we hopped from town to town, starting in Modica, then heading to Noto, and ending in Syracuse. Modica is the place that brought the chocolate tradition from Central and South America, popularizing it in Europe. Both cities are beautiful baroque hill towns that have a rich multicultural history and have withstood many historic and devastating earthquakes.
We began our time in Syracuse by visiting the Greek archaeological sites, including the theater, amphitheater, some tombs, and the stone quarries. The quarries were incredible massive caverns. One such cave was called the Ear of Dionysius and was a blast to explore. In the city center we saw the ruins of three Greek temples, two of which are in the main piazza and are incorporated into other structures. For example, the Cathedral was built utilizing the ruins of one temple, embedding the columns into its walls. After lunch we walked around the town, strolling along the shoreline and spending time on the beach picking up shells, ceramics, and sea glass. During the afternoon we painted the main piazza for a watercolor assignment and then ate good dinner at night.
We left Syracuse for Catania on Friday. As per usual, we spent the day walking the streets and stopping in churches, like the Cathedral and the Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata. We climbed the dome of latter for a panoramic view of the city and Mt. Etna. Saint Agatha is from Catania and is notable for having her breasts cut-off while being tortured, leaving her hometown full of interesting imagery in memory of her. Perhaps Catania’s most interesting and iconic tribute to Saint Agatha is the Minni di Sant’Agata, a dome-like pastry with a cherry on top. We also stopped by Palazzo Biscari, which is still owned by the family that built it following the city’s destruction during the earthquake of 1693! One descendent welcomed us in and gave us a history of both his family and the building. We learned that Coldplay actually filmed their music video “Violet Hill” there! Like every place we stopped in Sicily, we had amazing seafood for dinner!
The last day of our field trip was in Taormina, where we spent the morning in the greek theater which, high up on the mountain, overlooked the water and Mount Etna. The breathtaking setting has inspired generations of writers and painters. We proceeded to a lovely garden full of fake ruins and special surprises that had a similarly beautiful view of the land and seascape. We had another delicious lunch, maybe the best meal of trip, followed by one last true Sicilian cannolo before catching our flight back to Rome.