Posts Tagged 'Sicily'

Offseason Travel: Exploring the Ruins of Sicily

Studying abroad or traveling through Europe this fall? Escape the crowds in France and mainland Italy and head south to Sicily. Blending Roman and Greek culture, Sicily is a jewel of the Mediterranean. Avoids the crowds and visit during the offseason. I went to Sicily during the winter and found it the warmest destination on my Europe trip. As a San Francisco native, sunny skies and 55 degrees weather feels perfect. To my Sicilian relatives, it’s “freezing!” You’ll quickly discover many kind-natured Sicilians as well as hundreds of historical landmarks. Here are a few places to consider:


Sicily is Surrounded by Ancient Treasures

Sicily is Surrounded by Ancient Treasures

Set amid a backdrop of rolling hills, Segesta is a well-preserved Doric temple in northwest Sicily. It’s lies on the outskirts of Palermo, in Trapani. Dating to the 5th century B.C., Segesta existed for 1,800 years under successive waves of Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Normans. In his Aeneid, Virgil refers to Segesta as a prosperous city, but by the thirteenth century the city had all but been abandoned.

Agrigento and the Valley of Temples

Agrigento’s Valley of Temples is nearly deserted, save a small collection of loyal Japanese tourists. The crown jewels include the Temple of Juno, the Temple of Hercules, and the Temple of Concordia. The 5th century B.C. Temple of Concordia was preserved after being converted into a church in the 6th century A.D.  Gnarled olive trees also blanket the site. If you have time, catch the majestic Temples lit up at night. A couple other finds: the 13th-century church, Abbazia di Santo Spirito, and the Museo Regionale Archeologico.


Over 2,700 years old, Syracuse once served as the capital of Sicily. Roman philosopher and statesman, Cicero called Syracuse “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” Don’t miss the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. One of Italy’s greatest archaeological gardens, it offers the Teatro Greco, Latomia del Paradiso, and Anfiteatro Romano. Check out the Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi as well. You’ll quickly discover why Syracuse rivaled Athens in cultural importance. Mathematician and philosopher Archimedes, playwright Aeschylus, and poet Sappho all lived in Syracuse. Plato also frequented the town.

Protecting Your Favorite Travel Destinations

What do the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and Yosemite National Park in California all have in common? Any takers? They are all World Heritage sites. Odds are if you’ve traveled anywhere in the world or are planning a study abroad trip, you’ll visit at least one World Heritage site. What is a World Heritage site and why should you care? Well, if you want any of those beautiful locales to disappear, stop reading.

WHC Protects Temples Like This One in Agrigento, Sicilia

WHC Protects Temples Like This One in Agrigento, Sicilia

Traveling is not just about jotting things off your to do list. It’s about learning new cultures as well as our own past. In an effort to preserve important locations and habitat around the world, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) developed the World Heritage Centre (WHC).  Centuries of habitation, exploration, and tourism have led to the deterioration of antique palaces, monuments,  marine reserves, and national parks. The World Heritage Centre nominates these places to its “World Heritage List,” to raise awareness and preserve the site’s legacy through additional government involvement.

Developed by an American in 1972 and modeled after the National Parks system, the World Heritage List recognizes sites that are natural or cultural or mixed and demonstrate a “universal value to humanity.” They represent remarkable architecture or technology, or ecological or biological importance.

Each year the World Heritage Committee nominates vulnerable areas of cultural and historical significance. This past week the Committee added to the list: the Stoclet House in Brussels, Belgium, The Tower of Hercules (an ancient lighthouse) in La Coruña, Spain, and the Swiss watch-manufacturing towns of La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle. The Committee will conclude its nominating process in Sevilla, Spain on Tuesday, June 30th. Next year the U.S. government hopes to nominate Mount Vernon in Virginia and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to this prestigious list.

Which World Heritage Sites have you visited? Check out this list. Some might surprise you. On a recent trip to Loreto, Mexico in Baja California Sur I went kayaking, clam diving, and snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez. Guess what? The islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California (aka, Sea of Cortez) are on the World Heritage List. An interesting fact: the UNESCO site in the Sea of Cortez is home to 695 plant species and 891 species of fish, more than any other marine or island property on the World Heritage List. Cool, huh?

Take a Stroll Down Andrássy Avenue in Budapest, Hungary

Take a Stroll Down Andrássy Avenue in Budapest, Hungary

Other recognizable locations include: the historic centres of Florence, Napoli, and Siena, Italy; Taj Mahal in India; the city of Budapest in Hungary; the Loire Valley in France; the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador; and Machu Picchu in Peru. I’ve been to five of the above mentioned sites…how about you?

You’ll notice most sites on the World Heritage List are famous. With fame comes challenges in preservation. The World Heritage Centre encourages visitors to be aware and travel responsibly. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can share and preserve World Heritage sites check out the Friends of World Heritage website. You can also donate to support communities around the sites. For every $1 donated, both Expedia and the United Nations Foundation will match your donation. Don’t forget to let Gulliver help you plan your next big adventure!

Side-Trips While Studying Abroad: Monreale, Sicily.

Greetings GulliverGo readers! My name is Mollie and I’m one of the writers for the website.  I plan to post stories about traveling, studying abroad, and all the tidbits that come with the experience.  This particular post is about my trip to Sicily after studying abroad at the University of Paris IV – La Sorbonne last year.

As anyone will discover, Sicilians take proverbs like these very seriously.  If you ever read them… you’re bound to find one that states, “Chi visita Palermo e non Monreale, arriva asino e torna maiale.”  My cugino (cousin) Pino lived by this notion.  Last year, after spending a semester in Paris, I hopped on a train and stayed with my cousin and his family in the beach town of Trapetto, just outside Palermo, in Sicily.  After grilling the proverb into my head, Pino took me to the small, ancient town of Monreale.

We drove through tight, windy, one-way streets to Monreale, a town further inland, and en-route to Corleone.  That’s right, the very Corleone made famous by the movie, “The Godfather.”  Why did I have to see this town?  My cousin Pino, a cute man in his 70s, held it close to his heart. His daughter Rosanna, who accompanied us, rolled her eyes when Pino praised the town. Listening to them bicker was almost as entertaining as touring Sicily.

The Ancient Towers of Catedral Monreale

The Ancient Towers of Catedral Monreale

After numerous wrong turns, we finally came to a dead end road and parked. We followed the signs to “Catedral Monreale.” All morning Pino could not stop praising Monreale’s centuries old cathedral…but right now, all he could foster was “Rosanna!!   Dov’e la catedral???” Commence more bickering.  Satisfaction set in when we walked into a large piazza and from out of nowhere, the Cathedral stood directly in front of us.

From the outside, the Cathedral of Monreale looks like any ancient church. It was erected in 1174; like most things in Europe, it’s really old.  This Cathedral is considered one of the greatest representations of Norman Architecture in the world.  According to a recent Times UK article the Cathedral is a highlight of any trip to Sicily.

An Insider's ViewMosaics Light up the Cathedral

As you walk inside, golden mosaics depicting the Old Testament line the walls. As the story goes, the Norman king William II had the Cathedral built after being visited in a dream by the Virgin Mary. A grand organ, high arches, tombs (of the founder and his father), high altars (fit for kings), and a statue dedicated to the Virgin Mary decorate the rest of this Arab-Norman Cathedral.

The interior is impressive, but the courtyard outside offers one of the most amazing sights.  The courtyard sits on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Sicily, and the capital city of Palermo. Apparently you cannot really appreciate Palermo, until you “see” it from Monreale.  On a clear day, the view is a gem- reaching well beyond Palermo and into the sea. Unlike most of Europe, this attraction is free.  It’s just a matter of getting to the city.

Traveling Abroad: A View of Palermo from Sicily

Traveling Abroad: A View of Palermo from Monreale

Before you leave Monreale, you’re required to visit one of the many cafes or corner pastry stores. My cousin never asked if I was hungry, he just bought me food. He introduced me to an ‘Arancia’ – similar to a pork bun, filled with meat, or peas and rice. The size of a baseball, it’s tasty, but goes down fast.  We also indulged in a few small Sicilian cannoli. As I learned from my time with Pino, no event or experience is complete without food…especially cannoli, even if it spoils your next meal.

After visiting Monreale, according to my cousin, I could leave Sicily a “good, wholesome person.”  In the end, my last minute trip to Sicily enhanced my study abroad experience by introducing me to family, incredible sights, and delicious food.  If you have the chance to travel while studying abroad…don’t debate, just go!

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