Voyages to Antiquity,“Sicily is the Key to Everything”, Athens-Rome, 20 May-3 June 2011.

M_Jackson/blog/Voyages to Antiquity/Sicily

“Sicily is the key to the cruise of a lifetime” for Dr Monica Jackson

Back home in wintery Sydney, my thoughts return to the start of the Voyages to Antiquity cruise to Sicily, Malta and the Sorrentine Peninsula in May this year. If I listen carefully I might just be able to hear the strains of a Noel Coward classic drifting out from the Charleston Lounge, where Stacey’s piano and the string trio entertained us each evening.

Here on Deck 6 at the stern of the ship we ate delicious food in the casually elegant Terrace Cafe, the dining venue of choice for many of the passengers in such perfect weather. As the coastline recedes I reflect that I am indeed fortunate to be on board this elegant mid-size ship the MV Aegean Odyssey, as one of the lecturers. The ship is beautifully appointed and all the lectures take place in the splendid Ambassador Lounge.

Each day of our cruise was a delight and an adventure. Excursions were always of great interest and meticulously planned with staff members always on hand. From Piraeus we sailed to the Peloponnese and the lovely seaside town of Nauplia, named for one of the Argonauts, the son of the sea god Poseidon. Here we visited the world famous heritage sites of Epidaurus and Mycenae with its famous Lion Gate. I was particularly impressed to have a personal Quietvox receiver, which made it so much easier to hear our excellent guides.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae
The Lion Gate at Mycenae

Then on to Sicily - the island with a palimpsest of history, romance and legend. On a clear and beautiful morning we arrived in the magical town of Taormina, perched in the hills looking out towards the glowing cone of Mt Vesuvius. We then proceeded to Syracuse the birthplace of Archimedes.
The hills of Taormina
The hills of Taormina

In Syracuse I had the great good fortune to see a wonderful collection of ancient jewellery in the Archaeological Museum. Before visiting the fabulous and well-preserved Greek temples in Agrigento’s Valle dei Templi, Segesta and Selinunte, we sailed to Malta .

St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta
St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta

In Malta we explored the romantic and ancient town of Mdina and its capital Valletta. In St John's cathedral is Caravaggio's famous masterpiece "The Beheading of St John".

Dr Monica Jackson in Valletta
Dr Monica Jackson in the old capital Mdina, Malta

Categories: Cruises, Destinations, On board the Aegean OdysseyLeave a comment

From the Island of the Knights Templar we sailed to Agrigento and the majestic UNESCO site of the Valley of the Temples. Here was an unexpected bonus - a temporary exhibition of magnificent classically inspired bronzes by  the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj - strategically placed around the ancient landscape. But this was only the beginning - there was still the unparalleled excitement of exploring more of the the wonderful temples of north western Sicily, Segesta and Selinunte and lunch in the 19th century wine cellars of Marsala.

"Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true"

             Temple of Concordia & sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in Valley of the Temples, Agrigento,Sicily  

Igor Mitoraj
From Palermo and Monreale we cruised the Tyrrhenian Sea through the Aeolian Islands - past dramatic Stromboli with its erupting volcano. Our destination was the south of Italy and the ancient Greek city of Paestum (Poseidonia) in the province of Salerno. Here in what the Romans referred to as Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) the delights of the ancient Doric temples awaited us. From Paestum we continued on to Sorrento to explore Pompeii and Herculaneum completing our cruise in Rome.

The Siren Call of Sicily: Bronzes from the Sea, Treasures from the Tombs


Riace Bronzes, Museo Nazionale di Reggio Callabria

Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo
One of the many highlights of the cruise was a visit in Palermo to the splendid Palazzo Gangi. Here we were taken into the vanished world of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the Prince of Salina who wrote his posthumous masterpiece “The Leopard” at the time of Italy’s Risorgimento. This beautiful private residence with its Baroque ballroom, belongs now to the Principessa Carine Vanni Mantegna and her husband. On each visit the Principessa personally conducts a private tour of the Palazzo for guests of Voyages to Antiquity, followed by champagne and canapés.

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale dance in Luchino Visconti's 1963 film Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Ballroom Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi

Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard

Published: July 6, 2008
The New York Times

Ask a roomful of readers about Lampedusa’s “Leopard” and more often than not you’ll find a few who will put hand to heart and say it’s their favorite book, and a few others who will simply shrug -never heard of it - or ask if it has anything to do with the Visconti movie starring Burt Lancaster (yes, it does). I suppose it’s a coincidence that a roomful of travelers will poll in a similar fashion if you ask them about Sicily, the marvelous, maddening island disparaged and adored in “The Leopard”: it’s either a favorite place, or they haven’t even thought of going there.

Sicily, Italy is the coincidence significant? I believe that if you love the novel (or the movie), you should start planning your trip right away, not because you’ll find Lampedusa’s Sicily waiting for you when you touch down (you won’t, believe me)  but because the bitter, resigned romantic nostalgia that pervades “The Leopard” is also the sensibility that savors the decaying grandeur of an island burdened with layer upon layer of tragic history - and blessed also with startling beauty, much of it perpetually waning.

The test comes when you’re a little lost, nervously peering down a deserted backstreet in Palermo that’s crooked and gloomy, with litter strewn on the dusty pavement and a narrow slice of blue sky overhead. Right in front of you is the smudged and crumbling facade of a derelict Baroque palazzo, unheralded, or perhaps marked with only a tiny plaque bearing a forgotten name and a date (late 17th century, usually, or early 18th). The sight of this noble structure is dizzying, even if the ornate balconies are wrapped in netting to keep chunks of masonry from raining down, and there’s a scraggly shrub sprouting on the rooftop. You dream of what it once was and what it might be again, but mostly you like it just as it is, a glorious residence ravished by time and neglect, and probably still inhabited. Just imagine its fabulously tattered apartments, still clinging to the memory of vanished splendor! (Sicily does this, it inspires wildly impractical reveries.)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896-1957) inherited a palace in Palermo (he was an aristocrat - a prince, no less), and had it not been demolished by an Allied bomb on April 5, 1943, the Palazzo Lampedusa would probably be scrubbed clean today, assiduously restored in honor of an author whose only novel, published posthumously in 1958, is one of Italy’s best-loved books.

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