Well, it is the end of the semester and everyone has either left now or is in the process of leaving; we had our final dinner on Wednesday after the final final — the interpretation of two works in Catania’s Museo Civico.


The weather is glorious, but it is a little melancholy — the end of my year in Sicily also beckons, though we are planning a trip to southern France to see the temples, amphitheatres and aqueducts there, and a few treats remain in Sicily, including the opening of the Catania theatre later this month after 8 years of renovations. But for new students in the fall a new director awaits… Professor Ian Sutherland of Gallaudet, a co-director of the dig at Stabiae, near Pompeii, and someone with considerable experience leading field trips as well as classes. Good luck to Ian and the new students! To the old students, stay in touch, and remember: You were the oikists of ICCS Sicily!


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Grand Finale: Piazza Armerina and the Medea

This was our final week of classes. On Friday we visited the 4th century villa at Piazza Armerina, famous for its many beautiful mosaics:



For more pictures, follow this link. On Saturday we were lucky to be able to go to a performance of the Medea in the theater in Syracuse originally constructed for Hieron I, but largely rebuilt by the tyrants of the 4th and 3rd centuries, culminating in the design of Hieron II. The theater was full and the performance suitably dramatic, with a grand Medea ex machina at the end (for pictures without people and seats, see here):





To add to this fine finale, even David Beckham was in town with his star-studded AC Milan team (he picked up an assist and a yellow card):


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Taormina, the Opera and Lipari

This week we spent Thursday at the opera in Catania, and Friday and Saturday at two of the more up-market resorts in the area, first, Taormina, with its wonderful Hellenistic/Roman theater, and then on Saturday, as part of an excursion, the island of Lipari, supposed home of Aeolus and his bag of winds.

The opera was Verdi’s slightly scandalous Ernani, in the famous Teatro Massimo Bellini just down the street from the study center. It is not, by modern standards a large auditorium, so the acoustics and viewing are excellent; the sets were fabulous, and the denouement suitably tragic. Photography is strictly controlled, but the building itself is worth a visit; there are photos and histories here.

Friday being May the first, Labor day in Italy, Taormina was packed, and there were plenty of other visitors to the theater, but we also got to take the funivia down from the peak on which the theater is place to the shore and spend the afternoon at the Isola Bella, a beautiful beach and island nature reserve (though the water was filled with purple meduse, making swimming off-limits). The cable car was not everyone’s favorite moment, but the lido was lovely:




Massage not included…


For more pictures of Taormina, see here.

Saturday morning we got up at the crack of dawn, drove by bus to Milazzo and then took the hydrofoil 22 km north to the beautiful volcanic island of Lipari. The weather was great, but Lipari is also of academic interest because it was a major point of connection between Sicily and the mainland in the Bronze Age, and then hosted a thriving joint native-Greek colony when around 575 Pentathlus, a Cnidian and supposed descendant of Heracles, failed to establish a colony at Lilybaeum/Marsala, but then while sailing through the Tyrrhenian sea was received by the Liparians. On the citadel can be seen large megaron-size huts from the Bronze Age, as well as housing and roads from the classical and Hellenistic periods. In the museum is a fabulous collection of Ausonian, Italic and Greek pottery, especially red-figure Attic, but also a wonderful collection of small comic and tragic masks used in burials in the Hellenistic period and Liparian coins with tridents on them. A number of Doric capitals and Roman columns also found their way into a small and slightly rickety Norman cloister dating from 1131.


In the afternoon, we decamped to the beach at Cannetto… Next week Piazza Armerina and Medea in the Greek theater at Syracuse!

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Last week we visited the beautifully kept Sicel city of Morgantina — the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman site that is the main part, the rather more off-the-beaten track archaic citadel destroyed by the Sicel leader Ducetius, and the excellent museum in near-by Aidone. The houses on the east hill offer fine examples of wealthy Hellenistic housing, though most of the finest mosaics have long since gone, looted by the Romans, and the agora offers an ambitious example of public monumental architecture in Hellenistic Sicily. Throughout the site provides fine examples of how the indigenous inhabitants responded to the influences of Greeks as well as Carthaginians, and then how the Spanish mercenaries settled there by the victorious Romans  (the city made the mistake of following Syracuse briefly out of its alliance with the Romans) adapted the city.



The Spaniards built a market, a macellum around an earlier sanctuary


And puppies… Other study-abroad programs may promise both culture and leisure, but only ICCS-Sicily ‘delivers’ newly-born puppies in an agora:


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Etna and the Rotonda Baths

A busy weekend: on Saturday many of us went up Etna with our local geologist Alessandro to illuminate the craters, lavatubes, rifts and other varied volcanic phenomena. We reached the snow, and even briefly had some hail and snow fall on us:



There was plenty of ash.


On Sunday, as part of Catania’s “Week of Culture,” the Rotonda baths were opened after their fine renovation. The octagonal section of the baths was later made into a church, though the claim inscribed in the Middle Ages that this happened in 44 CE is false. The baths, though the earliest of those that have left traces in Catania probably date from the second century. The dome survived the various earthquakes and eruptions of the intervening 1300 years intact.



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Today we returned from our long trip to Tunisia and western Sicily: four days in Tunisia, two in Sicily. We visited eleven sites, including Bulla Regia, Chemtou, Carthage and Dougga in North Africa, and Motya, Segesta, Solunto and Himera in Sicily, with the focus on the complexity of these settlements — the processes of Romanization, and the often peaceful, if complex, coexistence of Greeks, Sicels, Romans and Phoenicians.

First North Africa: a subterranean courtyard in Bulla Regia, the Numidian altar of Baal at Chemtou, the collapsed bridge of Trajan at Chemtou, the temple of Jove, Juno and Minerva at Dougga and the Carthaginian amphitheater:






Sicily: the boat to Motya, the metopes of Selinunte in the Palermo museum, the view from a fancy house in Solunto and the last of our (Sicilian) Doric temples at Himera:





The following Friday, we stayed close to home with a walking tour of the Roman remains of Catania — mainly baths:



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Syracuse II: Hieron I to Hieron II

Back to field trips after our midterm break (with trips ranging from Salzburg to Barcelona — thanks to all for showing slides yesterday) we went to Syracuse for the second time, this time to the outskirts, the Euryalus fortress and the archaeological park, which contains the theater (used as early as the 470s for Hieron’s performance of Aeschylus’ Persians, but redone considerably by various kings and tyrants culminating in Hieron II in the 3rd century) and the Ear of Dionysius (a rather beautiful cave created by quarrying, but used for imprisoning the Athenian captives after the failure of the Sicilian expedition):




The weather was glorious and Sicily’s wild flowers were in fine form:


And the ear of Dionysius rang not with the groans of captive Athenians, but with ICCS verses of Euripides and a melodious medley of Sound of Music hits…


Meanwhile the theater was once again the scene for the Persians…



For more pictures of these sites, see here and here

Next week the long trip to Tunisia and northwestern Sicily, beginning Thursday and ending Wednesday.

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Acragas/Selinus Two-Day Trip

This week we took a two-day trip to the southwest side of
the island, to the most spectacular sites in Sicily, Agrigento (ancient
Acragas) and Selinunte (ancient Selinus).

The weather was glorious both days. Agrigento boasts the temples of Heracles…


…and of Hera, with its altar…



…and a wonderful museum with the famous Agrigento ephebe in the



At Selinunte, the temples are equally impressive:


But there is also much more of the Greek city (cities )
remaining, including some clear remains of Carthaginian occupation in the 4th
and 3rd centuries:


On the westernmost hill there is also a fascinating
sanctuary that well illustrates the ways in which a sanctuary develops over the
centuries, gaining walls, monumental gateways, additional temples and a fine
(and partially lead-lined) conduit:



The small, but interesting museum at nearby Castelvetrano contains an intriguing
bronze statuette, the Selinunte ephebe, and nearby one can also visit one of
the quarries used in making the temples, the Cava di Cusa:



SprCusa2.jpgFor more pictures of these sites, see the pages to your right: Acragas or Selinus. Also with spring break coming up, or parents visiting, if you are mot going further afield, you might want to examine some of the wonderful sites we do not have time to visit — there is a section of pages on the right side of “places you might want to visit,” including classical sites such as Monte Iato, but also Norman material in Palermo and medieval Erice.

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Camarina and Gela

On Friday, we took the longish drive to the south coast of Sicily primarily to see the wonderful coin and vase collections of the Museum in Gela. The city itself is less than scenic, fronted, like two other Greek colonies by an oil refinery, but the museum is fantastic. Outside you can also see the old acropolis of Gela, with a reconstructed column from a c.500 temple of Athena:


The weather was not the best, and we had to dodge showers and lean hard into the wind, but we also got to visit the colony of Camarina, a colony of Syracuse’s and then Gela’s, which repeatedly asserted its independence and then got sacked for its impertinence. What remains is not spectacular, but its temple of Athena, also c.500, reveals part of the foundations under an old farmhouse, now the museum, as well as lots of decorative elements found around the site — including architectural terracottas of various sorts, and some colonnade elements. The museum also has some very interested materials recovered from shipwrecks — and you can walk down to the 4th century agora, but the wind was something of a hindrance…


On Sunday we did however get fantastic weather for a (serie A) soccer game between Catania and Siena — Siena may be a small town, but their team is playing fine soccer right now and put Catania, flying high after defeating island rivals Palermo 4-0 last week, in its place, 3-0. Ouch. Still, a fine time was had by all:


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Today was the Greek colony of Naxos, agreed by the Greek sources to be the first of the Greek colonies in Sicily — but a bit of an odd one. Not much land, no columns in the temples, Sicels very close by — but famed for its vines, which it stuck on its coins, and alluded to in its wonderful Silenus-head antefixes. The colony itself has become an orchard of fruit trees, and with the sun shining gloriously it seemd a veritable Phaeacia for a washed-up vagabon, or an ICCS student…


templeA.jpgFor more pictures of Naxos

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