Sicilian Splendors: Discovering the Secret Places That Speak to the Heart
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“A wondrously joyous account of travel as it should be.” – Publishers Weekly
A travel narrative that focuses on Sicily’s little-known regions, from the author of Seeking Sicilyand Hidden Tuscany.
From Palermo to Castiglione di Sicilia to Alimena, Sicily holds great secrets from the past and unspoken promises. Tradition, in the form of festivals, the written word, photographs, and song, reverberates through village walls. Now, slowly shaking itself free of the Mafia, Sicily is opening itself up to visitors in ways it never has before.
Sicilian Splendors explores the history, politics, food, Mafia, and people which John Keahey encounters throughout his travels during his return to Sicily. Through conversing with natives and immersing himself in culture, Keahey illustrates a brand new Sicily no one has ever talked about before. Villagers, eager to welcome tourism and impart awareness of their cultural background, greet Keahey for meals and drink and walk him through their winding streets. They share stories of well-known writers, such as Maria Messina, who have found inspiration in Sicily’s villages. Keahey’s never-ending curiosity as a traveler shines light on Sicily’s mythical mysteries and portrays the island not only through his eyes but also through Sicily’s heart.
This picturesque travel memoir navigates Sicily today and seeks to understand Sicily’s past. In lyrical prose and vivid dialect, Keahey paints images of the island’s villages, people, and culture with careful strokes and a meticulously even hand.
Keahey not only serves as a guide through the marvel of Sicily’s identity, but he also looks deeply into Sicily’s soul.
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Maria Giovanna Cafiso shows an ancient book hand-illustrated by monks and now is kept in the Ex Biblioteca Dei PP. Cappuccini. This smaller library is in the former family house of Sicilian writer Luigi Capuana, beloved son of the village of Mineo. Capuana was the contemporary and close friend of another, well-known Sicilian writer, Giovanni Verga.
It is Easter Sunday in Piana degli Albanese, a day of Eastern Orthodox celebration featuring hundreds of townspeople in their traditional dress. Here is a mother and daughter getting ready to plunge into the crowd of celebrants.
Sitting on the outskirts of Giovanni Verga’s home village of Vizzini is the abandoned village of Cunziria, once homes and working areas of leather tanners, now a long-lost profession. It was in this setting where Verga, in his short story Cavalleria rusticana, set the scene for the knife fight between two men in love with the same woman.
Decorated steps lead up from Vizzini’s main square to a street where the museum dedicated to Giovanni Verga is located.
Salvo Andrea Leggio, a master pastry chef by profession, lays out a variety of pizzas prepared by his family and baked in a wood-fired pizza oven in their home on the outskirts of Mineo.
These men, of the confraternity Ecce Homo housed in the Convento in the small, nondescript village of Alimena, sing a cappella in deep resonant tones in tribute to their faith. They are part of a larger group famous for their singing i lamentatore, or laments.
The small village of Gallodoro, high on the slopes of the Peloritani and overlooking the Ionian sea and with the village of Taormina, seen in the far upper right, hopes for its own tourism awakening.
A flock of sheep flows up and along a southwest slope of the Peloritani Mountains, above the town of Randazzo in the Province of Messina.
This group of men, natives of the western Sicily village of Piana degli Albanese, spend their days playing cards, reading newspapers, and talking to one another in Casa del Popolo, or House of the People. These men witnessed the massacre on May 1, 1947, when Mafiosi and a bandit band led by Salvatore Giuliano murdered eleven of their fellow citizens.
In 1968, the western Sicilian village of Gibellina was destroyed during a massive earthquake that damaged numerous villages. This village could not be rebuilt on site, so villagers moved about ten miles away and rebuilt a modern Gibellina, with the word Nuova (New) attached to the name. Now Gibellina Vecchia (Old), as part of a massive art undertaking, has been covered in cement, leaving uncovered the original streets and pathways between blocks where homes and shops once stood.
Stored in a workshop of a beautiful home on the outskirts of Sambuca di Sicilia are the puppet creations of Vito Savelli. The home he shares with his wife Elisabetta Giacone, rich with gardens and fruit trees, overlooks the village and the stunning Belice Valley full of its own array of vineyards and olive groves.
Tucked away deep in the mountains of northeast Sicily, near the village of Montalbano Elicona, is a Tholos, or ancient Greek tomb that, over the millennia, evolved into a sheepherder hut. These structures, sprinkled throughout the area and beyond, are now protected archaeological sites.
Above Gallodoro, and on an isolated promontory that projects out toward the sea, are the ruins of a village some believe began with the Greeks escaping attacks on Taormina three thousand years ago. The domed structure is a large gebbia for water storage. It got its name from the Arabs who invaded Sicily in the A.D. ninth century.
From the ruins of a castle high above the village of Mistretta, home of a teenage Maria Messina whose writing career began here in the late nineteenth century, stretches the old part of town and the tiny houses in which many of Messina’s stories take place.
This tiny, privately owned church sits along a narrow road connecting the village of Racalmuto with the Agrigento-Caltanisetta highway. Owner Alberto Alessi, left, along with a mutual friend Giuseppi Andini, right, gave a brief tour to a curious traveler. Alberto’s family estate extends behind the church, and he nurtures organically raised olives in his grove of one thousand trees.
An Orthodox priest ascends the stops of the mother church in Piana degli Albanese, one of the few Italian villages where orthodoxy is allowed by Rome to follow the Eastern Rites.
From Caccamo, the view across the valley that hundreds of years ago featured a narrow, dusty road to Sicily’s capital Palermo, shows a man-made lake started in the early 1960s. It now hides a medieval stone bridge that was part of that road.
The volcano Etna, Europe’s most active, looms in the distance in this view from the upper portion of Castiglione di Sicilia.
Gianluca Rosso, a naturalist guide at the Villagio Bizantino archaeological site near Calascibetta, Sicily, stands in what was once a Byzantine church carved out of a series of caves. This space started out as a Roman tomb and later was taken over by the Byzantines after the Roman Empire collapsed. Succeeding Sicilian generations used this cave and others in the large complex to live in, house cattle and sheep, and store grain.
Castiglione resident Cettina Cacciola views a portion of the abandoned Jewish quarter in her village, located along the narrow Via Pagana. Restoration is planned for some of these buildings along with their conversion into an albergo diffuso.
Venera De Luca, right, a resident of the tiny village of Motta Camastra, shares her day with a friend under an overcast sky in early spring.