The history of Sicily is a list of foreign conquerors. The island was a Greek colony, then Carthaginian, next Roman, then Byzantine, followed by Moorish, Norman, and Spanish. It didn’t become part of Italy until 1860. Each ruling dynasty left its mark on Sicily—and we saw the marks of a variety of them today, from the Roman theatre at Segesta to the medieval mountaintop village of Erice to the Moorish architecture of Monreale.
A couple of things stood out for me. First, the hike down from the theatre to the temple of Segesta, on a trail through an ocean of wildflowers, was absolutely incredible. We could see the colonnaded temple rising across the valley, with the foreground a pointillist painting of flowers in yellow, blue, and purple.
Next, stepping into the cathedral in Monreale, a town which seems to have been smeared onto a mountainside above Palermo. The church interior is a conglomeration of Moorish arches, soaring up to a high ceiling . . . and every inch of the complex walls above head height covered with mosaics. Byzantine mosaics of intricate design, showing the entire Book of Genesis and life of Christ, many saints and their symbols, the crucifixion of John the Baptist, and on and on—6000 square meters of walls covered by bits of ceramic and glass less than half an inch square. And many—probably most—of them glittering with gold, made by sandwiching a bit of gold leaf between two pieces of glass.
Whether you’re looking down from a mountain or up from a church floor in Sicily, you’re looking through inconceivable layers of history.