Thursday, March 19, 2009

Castello Ursino

It only took me four and half years, but I finally got to see the inside of Catania's Castello Ursino. The interior is a museum of sorts, although the randomness of the collection make it hard to say what it is supposed to be. Nonetheless, the architecture of the interior just by itself is quite interesting, and old, old, old! Originally, it was on the sea, but the centuries of destruction and rebuilding of Catania have changed the shoreline so much that now it is nowhere near the water!

The castle was built in 1239-50 by Riccardo da Lentini for Frederick II. It is a unique square castle with four matching towers at the corners and a full moat. It has been used as a royal residence, the seat of parliament, and a prison. Primarily, though, it was defensive, part of a whole string of castles that included Motta, Paterno', and Adrano, all very close to me. This one, though, is the most impressive and best-restored of them. You can't imagine anyone penetrating its walls.

There are a few interesting details like a mysterious five-pointed star (a supposed occult sign) and a carved eagle with a lamb in its claws, the symbol of imperial power.

It's just beautiful to walk around the entire structure, which is surrounded on all sides by a pretty buildings and a piazza, and then to do the same on the inside. In a city of Baroque and Roman architecture, this is an interesting medieval diversion.

Go HERE to see more photos.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Where the Dead Don't Sleep

The February 2009 edition of National Geographic has a feature on the uniquely Sicilian custom of preserving (mummifying) bodies for public viewing. The article is called "Where the Dead Don't Sleep."

The author writes: "In Europe the desiccation and preservation of corpses is a particularly Sicilian affair. There are other examples in Italy, but the great majority are in Sicily, where the relationship between the living and the dead is especially strong. Nobody knows how many there really are, or how many have since been removed from catacombs and buried in cemeteries by priests uneasy with the theology of keeping votive corpses. The phenomenon provokes an instant question: Why would anyone do this? Why would you exhibit decaying bodies?"

Of course, I have seen the famous Capuchin crypt that he writes about (and shows in a slide show that is amazing) many times. Visitors often ask to see this unusual attraction. In fact, I wrote about it in 2005, calling it "Those Creepy Capuchins." And I still find it creepy! However, I didn't know that there were other places in Sicily where bodies are preserved like this. One is not even too far from where I live, just on the other side of Taormina, in a little town where they filmed part of The Godfather.

"Sicily's macabre mummies offer lessons about life," says the magazine . . . although I still don't know what it is.