Sicily is a palimpsest of overlapping cultures and conquests – an ebbing and flowing of civilisation that has left its mark on this mystical volcanic island.
Visit Sicily’s southwest coast, often noted for its 100+ kilometres of sandy beaches, for a besotting mix of history, ancient architecture and wonderful natural landscapes. Perfect for the culture hunter who is also interested in some downtime.
There is a surprise around every corner and a treasure trove of notable buildings, coves and landmarks. To test this theory, step off the beaten track and head to Sambuca, a little known hillside town with a population of around 6,500. First founded by the Arabs in 830 AD, the town is a mosaic of the conflict between Arab and Christian culture. Sambuca features an exotic mix of baroque buildings blended with the structure of the old Arab town in a historic dance. Saracen alleyways and old market places are complimented by belvedere terraces.
At the peak of the town, there is the castle of the Emir. In the distance, directly opposite, there is the faith outline of an old Norman fortress from where a Christian siege of the town was organised and launched.
Sambuca is to this day the home of the Madonna dell’Udienza, a marble statue by Antonello Gagini that was found behind an oven in 1575 during the plague. The statue, once brought out from its hiding place, was paraded through the town and attributed with the miracle curing of many of the sick.
Ancient myth lives on through archaeological sites and finds on the coast. Daedalus, in aiding Theseus from escaping the labyrinth at the palace of Knossos in Crete, angered King Minos and was pursued to his hiding place in Sicily. Eraclea Minoa is the modern site of the supposed landing of the King, backed up by remnants of a Minoan style tomb on the site.
Today, Eraclea Minoa is both an archaeological site and a pine-clad beach that stretches between two white clay cliff faces. Locals in particular frequent the sandy shores because of its warm waters and laid back ambiance. Directly adjacent the beach is a Nature Park, perfect for riding and hiking. The forest area is also a favourite with duck-hawks, weasels and foxes.
According to legend, Minos died after being boiled in his own bath in Sicily, after an intricate plot hatched by Daedalus and locals. Other stories suggest that Daedalus, a master artisan himself, constructed a labyrinth of caves and pipes leading from the core of the earth to provide hot springs for the area.
Sciacca, an ancient spa town, is today still laden with the same sulphur springs that inspired the imaginations of the ancients. Today, as it was then, they are thought to be especially therapeutic for those with rheumatism and skin disorders. The towns many public baths are now closed, however, the soothing naturally heated waters are still pumping through the ground at the closest operational Terma Acqua Pia, some 45 minutes’ drive from the Sciacca Town centre, and close to Menfi.
Sciacca is also home to many sandy beaches. From the beautiful, clear waters of Lumia just east of the town centre, to Renella on the west. If you are lucky enough, you might find the wonderfully luminous orange Sciacca coral washing up on the shore, the blood droplets of Medusa – another example of the rich, mysterious, and giving land that is Sicily.
About the author: UK writer Ramis Cizer has a penchant for the Mediterranean and writes about his experiences of local culture, history and natural landscapes. His first thought upon putting his bags down at his hotel is to walk for a few hours in order to understand local customs and explore off the beaten track. You can connect with Ramis on Twitter and Google+.