The tour started with one of its earliest wake ups yet at around 6 in the morning. This was because our overnight ferry disembarked at 6:45 so we needed to be fully ready by then. Our Breakfast was hastily consumed before disembarking in Sicily and getting onto the days tour bus.
Our first stop of the day was the church of Monreale. The church was created in 1176 by the Norman king William the second in Sicily. It was made to convert Palermo’s high Arrabic Muslim population to Catholicism. Legend has it that William the second was sleeping under a tree and the Virgin Mary came to him. She said to build the church where the church was. This explains why the church is also called Saint Mary the New. The front of the church has a very Norman influence. It is designed more like a fortress than a church. Instead of the traditional dome there is a pediment and two towers, one on either side of the main building. This gives the appearance of a fortress rather than a church. Monreale was designed like this on purpose because of the high Arabic population. The first Norman king is Sicily, rodrick the second had maintained a good relationship between the two cultures but after his death this degraded and the church needed to be easily defendable in case the muslims staged a rebellion. However, the inside of Saint Mary the New was designed for beauty and beauty alone. The whole church is made out of marble with 6000 square meters of mosaics covered in gold leaf which reflects light creating the effect of the mosaics glowing. Monreale’s interior is designed like a classic Norman church. It has only one nave with three apse’s contained within the nave. The interior was made by the Byzantines, commissioned by the normans on then Arabic land so the church was a mixture of norman, Muslim and Byzantine style. This creates a unique set of mosaics. For example the Byzantines believed in only one god not the son and the father so the depiction of Jesus in the main nave is a mixture of the father and the son. The halo is also a mix with the Cristian cross contained inside the golden circle. The floor is equally impressive. It is created out of three different types of marble with inlays of Norman castles. The floor also zig zags in unique patterns. When you enter the church the first thing you see is the north arch. The arch has a mosaic on it that represents Christ reconciling with humanity. This is meant to be a metaphor for all the people in the church and is meaning for all to forget past differences and reconcile with each other. Whilst the church was created from a multitude of influences it’s purpose was still to convey the teachings of Jesus. The walls of the church are ringed with mosaics of Jesus and his actions and the nave depicts scenes from the bible. The normans also focused on the idea of heaven, hell and life in between them. Above the main door on the inside is a mosaic that represents heaven. Below the door is a small square that represents hell. The door itself is designed to represent life and humanity with the crack in the door lining up between heaven and hell. This is designed to show that by walking into the church you are alive and to show that to get to heaven you have to follow gods teachings.
After exploring all of the church we departed the town of Monreale, after which the church was named, for the town of Erice
Our next stop lead us to the town of Erice. This town is one of the oldest in Italy with its perimeter wall dating back to the 11th century before Christ. Erices original name is Mont Saint Giuliano but was changed under Fascist Italy in the 1940s. The area has been under some form of occupation since the Neolithic period. These include The Greeks, Romans, carthaginians, Normans and many more civilisations in the 32 centuries of its continuous use. The main reason for this continuous occupation was the strategic positioning of the town. Erice is located on top of the Saint Giuliano mountain. From the view to the south and west you could see out over the Mediterranean. The view stretched for what appeared to be 100s of kilometres. The nearby port and fields were visible as well as the hills in the far distance. On the north and east side the view was similar with the other side of the island being visible. The view was a similar length with no obstructions to the horizon line. The mountain was also strategic as it was only approachable from a few sides. It was situated at the end of the island of Sicily meaning it could only be approached by land from one side. It’s high position also gave clear warning of sea attacks and allowed for a distinct height advantage in the event an invading party attempted to attack the city. The city is dedicated to the cult of the mother god. This was originally Astarte, the Phonecian goddess of love but as time moved on the mother god became the Greek Aphrodite, then the Roman Venus. The cultures changed but Erice remained a city dedicated to the goddess of love. This changed when the Christians took possession of the city. Fredrick II of Spain was a Christian in possession of the land and build a church in the city during 1314. It was built next to a watch tower from the much older Carthaginian occupation of Erice. Much of the material to make the church came from one of the castles built by the Romans in the Punic wars. The castle was originally a temple to the goddess Venus but was later adapted by the Normans into a castle. It has remained empty after being ransacked for the church. In the Erice square exists the church of saint Dominique. This Christian building has received a lot more attention then other sites in recent years. It was the most recently restored building in the city with the church being restored only one hundred years ago. We then stopped for lunch and to rest.
Once we had finished in Erice, the group headed on to our final stop of the day.
Our final stop of the day was the archaeological park of Selinunte. Selinunte is an Ancient Greek city. It was founded between two rivers, the Cottone and the Modione. The city was established around the seventh century before Christ and within two hundred and fifty years it was the dominant city in the region. It became very rich and used the wealth to build lots of grand temples. Unfortunately the wealth attracted interest and in four hundred and nine before Christ the carthaginians stacked the city and destroyed the whole thing in just nine days. In the ninth century anno domini there were major earthquakes in the area causing all remaining buildings to collapse. The temples were then left and covered up till the 1950s. Between 1956 and 1959 the site was rebuilt by archaeologists to resemble what it previously looked like. The herion was one such temple. It was built with Doric architecture using local sand and limestone because there wasn’t enough marble to be found.
We ended the day with a two hour drive to our hotel for the night enjoying the views out the window along the way.