Warm sun greeted our first trip to Syracuse, where we were able to compare Cleomenes’ Temple of Apollo (c.600) to Gelon’s Temple of Athena (c.480), as well as spend some time exploring the island of Ortygia with its beautiful spring of Arethusa. Both temples were converted to various uses, but now the Temple of Apollo has been stripped of most of its non-Greek alterations, while the Temple of Athena is part of the fabric of Syracuse’s cathedral. Next week Giardini Naxos…



The previous weekend, members of the program helped to pick up litter in Aci Castello, a small town outside of Catania with an elegant Norman castle. The Aci in the title is the river Aci, that is the river that Ovid tells us was once Galatea’s lover, before he was destroyed by a jealous Cyclops… Less romantically, Galatea has become a subway station.


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Megara Hyblaea

Today was the first field trip of the Mediterranean cultures class, to Megara Hyblaea, a relatively pristine archaeological site, nestled between two large oil refineries. Rain threatened, but held off until the afternoon, though it was a little cold.


For more pictures of the site, click here

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We had our first non-academic field trip yesterday to the wetlands of the Vendicari nature reserve on the southeastern corner of the island. The wetlands represent one of the main crossing points for migrating birds to and from Africa, though its volume of birds is dwarfed by those crossing at Gibraltar and the east end of the Mediterranean — and it cannot be said that there were vast numbers of birds, though there were some herons and a fine spoonbill.

Fortunately, the weather was quite lovely:


We had lunch at a Swabian fortress on the promontory, next to which were the remains of some old Roman pits for making garum (fish-sauce):


When we returned to Catania, we were treated to more of the St Agatha festival fireworks that have been lighting up the sky for over a week now and will climax in the St Agatha holiday this coming week. 


St Agatha is the local saint of Catania, reputed to have lived opposite the site of the Palazzo Biscari, who was martyred by the Romans around the middle  of the third century.

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Spring Semester 2009

The new semester has begun, with 20 ICCS students making their own Sicilian expedition:


On Athens’ Sicilian expedition, try this strange musical link that I was recently sent….

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Random Observation on Sicily

Stesichorus, the greatest native Sicilian poet until Theocritus, is claimed by many west Greek cities. Himera on the north coast, claims to be his birthplace, but so does Matauria in Italy, and even Pallantium in Arcadia (according to the Suda). All seem agreed that he spent sometime in Catania, however, and that he in fact died there. When he died he was buried before a gate that came to bear his name as Stesichorus was a source of solid cultural capital. The tradition continues in the modern city — one of the central squares, that in which the remains of the Roman amphitheatre are found, now bears his name, Piazza Stesicoro. There is also a Via Teocrito, but it is much less impressive.

For more random observations visit this page and the follow-up page

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The Palazzo Biscari

For new students wondering where they will be later this month, you might watch Coldplay’s video for Violet Hill  — it was filmed not only on Mt Etna, but also in the palazzo where the study center is located. View it here.




Thumbnail image for Palazzo.jpg

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Camarina and Gela

Today, we visited our final two major Greek colonies, and our luck with the weather finally ran out. Fortunately, both sites are primarily museums, but that did not stop some venturing out into the Camarina agora, a rather gothic scene, with the waves crashing in the background (the first real Roman fleet was destroyed just near by in the First Punic War) and the rain lashing down:


The museum itself contains remains of the temple of Athena from the early 5th century, as well as from the shipwrecks found near by — including a huge hoard of Roman coins and a set of Greek measuring weights.

The museum at Gela has a wonderful collection of Greek vases and Greek coins, and the sun came out long enough for us to stand on the terrace and see the site of the ancient, wealthy city — the city that produced the Deinomenids:



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Messene and Rhegium / Messina and Reggio

Today we had an extra-curricular field trip to the ancient cities of Messene and Rhegium, to see their modern museums. The Messene one is famous for its paintings, especially those of Antonella of Messina (and his various nephews) and Caravaggio:



From Messene, we crossed the strait on a ferry to reach the wonderful Museum at Reggio, which features the amazing pinakes from Locri, a fine coin collection and the famous Riace Bronzes


which have a fascinating life in comic postcards and other media…



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Today we were regaled by Hanno, Agorastacles and Milphio in Plautus’ Poenulus in the grand theater in Taormina, Roman Tauromenium. The weather was glorious, the tourists few and we got to experiment with the acoustics, consider who exactly was foreign in this building and enjoy the full vista of both a snow-capped Etna and the huge Roman Scene Building:



We also spent some quality time in the uncharacteristically (for Sicily) expensive cafes and streets, now being decorated for the holidays:



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No field trip this week — as it is Thanksgiving Break. Many students have gone traveling — Athens, Rome, Turkey, Sicel sites in Italy — depending on taste! Next week Taormina…

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