Monday, May 30, 2005

Me in cave on fennel stool
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Trog Blog

Sperlinga is THE most unique place I have visited in Sicily. Believe it or not, some Sicilians are still living there in caves! And at least one is for sale, so YOU, TOO, could buy yourself a cave to live in! Some are fancier than others, with chimneys, electricity, screen doors, water reservoirs, and flower boxes, but they truly are just caves hewn into the incredible sandstone cliff that begins on the main street of Sperlinga and ends with a Norman castle over 1500 feet up that was built about the year 1000. In between the two is a picturesque little Sicilian town with its standard churches, bars, clotheslines on balconies, and tiny ancient men sitting like rows of ducks on park benches.

The castle, which is cited as one of the Top Ten in Sicily, is impressive enough, not only for its height and sheer cliff front, but for its labyrinth interior that was exacavated into the rock below--everything from stables to a chapel to grain storage to the "Door of Death," a trick hole in the top floor through which an unsuspecting victim, maybe an early version of telemarketer, would fall through to certain death . . .

As interesting as all of that was and the spectacular sweeping views from the parapets, it was the CAVES that fascinated me. I have never seen so many, much less real "livable" caves! Some make a municipal museum of sorts, with traditional furnishings in them. Others are used for storage. One had doves in it! Most fascinating, though, was the fact that many are still privately owned and inhabited! Electricity has been provided to all of them (but no water or plumbing), so WHO would live in a cave? Really old Sicilians? Leftover hippies? Troglodytes? The museum rooms that we could visit were pretty basic--sandstone floor, walls, and ceiling.

And another fascinating thing . . . they had furniture made out of fennel! What looked and felt like bamboo is really fennel, a celery-like plant that grows wild (and LARGE) in Sicily. Apparently they dry the giant mutant stalks and use them just like bamboo to fashion stools, chairs, and tables. I sat on one and it was quite sturdy.

A famous book about Sicily The Stone Boudoir has a section about these caves. The author was invited to stay in one, and she describes the experience. Click on the title for a live link to this page.

Back to the original inhabitants, the trogolodytes . . . who were they? The definition of troglodyte is simply "someone who dwells in a cave." Not much is known about them, although most historians think they were members of the ancient Sican tribe, or Sicani, who lived in these caves in Sperlinga a really, really long time ago, like 1000 BC!

I think someone should capitalize on all of this and make a hotel out of the caves . . . The Trog Inn, complete with fennel furniture . . . . doesn't it sound great? Who wouldn't want to pay big bucks to stay there? It would easily rival the so-called Ice Hotel in the Arctic Circle . . . .

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Pat and Robin pose for GAP
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Don't Cry for Me, Morgantina

This spring, I finally got to Morgantina, only to be fairly disappointed. There are two reasons for that: 1) I don't like ruins that are "too ruined" and don't look like anything, and 2) I didn't do my homework on the place.

Morgantina is near the Roman mosaics of Villa Casale at Piazza Armerina (see "It's good to be the Emperor"). So, in March, when Robin and Pat were here from the East Coast (of the USA), we went to see the mosaics and had some extra time afterwards. I suggested Morgantina, which I knew very little about but had seen the signs, books, etc. Plus, it was nearby.

Eventually we found it after getting lost once and thinking we were lost again. The entire archaological "park" is being renovated, so the entrance and newly constructed cobblstone (retro) road are quite impressive. However, we drove in and through the park without getting any sense of where we should stop, park, etc. Hmmm. We turned around at a dead end and came back slowly. Eventually we saw a ticket booth and got tickets. Then we couldn't find the parking. Then we couldn't find the entrance! AArrrgghhh! This was not a good start. I like to think I know what I'm doing or at least what I'm looking for.

Robin and Pat seemed much less disturbed by it and were content to wander among the acres of foundations and try to match them up with the drawings in the guidebooks. It was apparent that this was a very large site at one time and it was still being excavated. No one else was there except a very happy little dog who immediately joined our group. We kept wandering about, but nothing was marked. Extensive exacavation of an ampitheater was going on undercover. We followed a rough road or path up a hill. In all directions, there were breath-taking views, Etna being one of them. There appeared to be a faultline (earth shift) in the valley below. Even I could tell that.

Uninterested in the scanty foundations and even the wildflowers that seemed to intrigue Robin and Pat, I became annoyed that we had paid money to see nothing of interest. At the top of the hill, we found more foundations and ruins and even a couple of mosaic floors. We had a hard time finding our way down again and had to scramble over ruins and through tall weeds. I continued to grumble. (See photos of the area in sidebar link to My Photos.)

Later on, I found out that Morgantina is considered one of the Top Ten archeological sites in Sicily, and that it was discovered by a group from Princeton University in the 1950s. It is VERY old, dating back to the Iron Age, maybe earlier, like more than six centures BC! Then the Greeks took it over, then the Romans, etc. Hundreds of important artifacts have been removed from there, and some have been stolen and still sought! Many famous archaeologists and universities have had a hand in the excavation. Google it and you'll see (11,900 hits). Whatever the heck a "barrel vault" is, the discovery of one at Morgantina established the Greeks, not the Romans, as the inventors. To top it off, the town fell into decline and the population disappeared without known reason very early on (1st-2nd century AD).

So, I owe Morgantina, and maybe Robin and Pat, an apology. Someday I'll go back . . .some day when they have an interactive movie, a guidebook, intelligible signs, and everything open (like Pompeii, for instance). That little dog will probably still be there . . .

Robin in the ruins
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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sicilian Trivia

Things I've learned about Sicily that "may" be true . . .

. . . Sicily (Messina) was hit by a tsunami and an earthquake in 1908. Ninety percent of the city was destroyed, and men had to come from all over the island to bury the dead.
. . . The mafia doesn't control all of Sicily. The most important tourist town, Taormina, brags that is is mafia-free.
. . . Sicily produces 50% of the world's artichokes.
. . . Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean.
. . . About 5 million people live in Sicily (about the size of Atlanta's population).
. . . Ice cream was invented here, maybe with snow from Mt. Etna?
. . . Sicily has more sunshine than any other place in Europe.
. . . The Greek philosopher Archimedes lived here.
. . . Germans make up the largest group of tourists in Sicily (this is no surprise--they are everywhere!)
. . . Sicily is actually surrounded by three seas--the Ionian, the Aolean, and the Tyrranean (all part of the Med). The Aeolian Islands are part of Sicily.
. . . Sicily is triangle-shaped itself.
. . . The best-preserved Greek temples in the world are in Sicily.
. . . Sicilian wines are rapidly becoming popular around the world.
. . . Mt. Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe.
. . . The composer Bellini was from Sicily (Catania).