Sicily

SICILY

Scylla and Charybdis—Messina, the chief commercial center of Sicily—The magnificent ruins of the Greek Theater at Taormina—Omnipresence of Mt. Etna—Approach to Syracuse—The famous Latomia del Paradiso—Girgenti, the City of Temples—Railway route to Palermo—Mosaics—Cathedral and Abbey of Monreale—Monte Pellegrino at the hour of sunset.

 

TO  the traveller who proposes to enter Sicily by the favorite sea-route from Naples to Messina the approach to the island presents a scene of singular interest and beauty. A night's voyage from the sunny bay which sleeps at the foot of Vesuvius suffices to bring him almost within the shadow of Etna. By daybreak he has just passed the Punta del Faro, the lighthoused promontory at the extreme northeastern angle of this three-cornered isle, the Trinacria of the ancients, and is steaming into the Straits. Far to his left he can see, with the eye of faith at any rate, the rock of Scylla jutting out from the Calabrian coast, while the whirlpool of Charybdis, he will do well to believe, is eddying and foaming at the foot of the Pharos a few hundred yards to his right. Here let him resolutely locate the fabled monster of the gaping jaws into which were swept those luckless mariners of old whose dread of Scylla drove them too near to the Sicilian shore. Modern geographers may maintain (as what will they not maintain?) that Charybdis should be identified with the Garofalo, the current which sweeps round the breakwater of Messina seven miles to the south; but Circe distinctly told Ulysses that the two monsters were not a “bowshot apart”; and the perfectly clear and straightforward account given of the matter by Æneas to Dido renders it impossible to doubt that Scylla and Charybdis faced each other at the mouth of the Straits. The traveller will be amply justified in believing that he has successfully negotiated the passage between these two terrors as soon as he has left the Pharos behind him and is speeding along the eastern coast of the island towards the city of Messina.

Very bold and impressive grows the island scenery under the gradually broadening daylight. Tier on tier above him rise the bare, brown hill-slopes, spurs of the great mountain pyramid which he is approaching. These tumbled masses of the mountains, deepening here where the night shadow still lingers into downright black, and reddening there where they “take the morning” to the color of rusty iron, proclaim their volcanic character, to all who are familiar with the signs thereof, unmistakably enough. Just such a ferruginous face does Nature turn towards you as you drop down at twilight past the Isleta of Las Palmas, in Gran Canaria, or work your way from the eastern to the western coast of Teneriffe, round the spreading skirts of the Peak. Rock scenery of another character is visible on the left, among the Calabrian mountains, dwarfed somewhat by the nearer as well as loftier heights of the island opposite, but bearing no mean part in the composition of the land- and sea-scape, nevertheless. Mile after mile the view maintains its rugged beauty, and when at last the town and harborof Messina rise in sight, and the fort of Castellaccio begins to fill the eye, to the exclusion of the natural ramparts of the hills, the traveller will be fain to admit that few islands in the world are approached through scenery so romantic and so well attuned to its historic associations.

There are those who find Messina disappointing, and there is no doubt that to quit the waters of a rock-embosomed strait for the harbor of a large commercial seaport possessing no special claim to beauty of situation, is to experience a certain effect of disenchantment. It would not be fair, however, to hold the town, as a town, responsible for this. It is only some such jewel as Naples or as Algiers that could vie with such a setting. Messina is not an Algiers or a Naples; it is only an honest, ancient, prosperous, active, fairly clean, and architecturally unimpressive town. The chief commercial center of Sicily, with upwards of eighty thousand inhabitants, a Cathedral, an Archbishop, and a University, it can afford, its inhabitants perhaps believe, to dispense with æsthetic attractions. But its spacious quays, its fine and curiously shaped port, the Harbor of the Sickle as it was called by the ancients when after it they named the city “Zancle,” have an interest of their own if they are without much claim to the picturesque; and the view from the Faro Grande on the curve of the Sickle, with the Sicilian mountains behind, the Calabrian rocks in front, and the Straits to the right and left of the spectator, is not to be despised.

Still, Messina is not likely to detain any pleasure-tourist long, especially with Taormina, the gem of the island, and one might almost say, indeed, of all Italy, awaiting him at only the distance of a railway journey of some sixty to a hundred miles. The line from Messina to Giardini, the station for Taormina, and the spot whence Garibaldi crossed to Calabria in the autumn of 1860, skirts the sea-coast, burrowing under headlands and spanning dry river-beds for a distance of thirty miles, amid the scenery which has been already viewed from the Straits, but which loses now from its too close neighborhood to the eye. The rock-built town of ancient Taormina is perched upon a steep and craggy bluff some four hundred feet above the railway line, and is approached by an extremely circuitous road of about three miles in length. Short cuts there are for the youthful, the impetuous, and the sound in wind; but even these fortunate persons might do worse than save their breath and restrain their impatience to reach their destination, if only for the sake of the varying panorama which unfolds itself as they ascend from level to level on their winding way. There can be no denying that Taormina stands nobly and confronts the Straits with a simple dignity that many greater and even higher cities might well envy. To see it from a favoring angle of the battlemented road, with the southern sunlight bathing its bright white walls and broken lines of housetops, with the tower of Sant' Agostino traced against the cone of Etna, and the wall that skirts it almost trembling on the utmost verge of the cliff, while at the foot of the declivity the Straits trend southward in “tender, curving lines of creamy spray,” to see this is at least to admit that some short cuts are not worth taking, and that the bridle-path up the hillside might well be left to those animals for whose use it was constructed, and who are generally believed to prefer an abridgment of their journey to any conceivable enhancement of its picturesque attractions.

 

 

At Taormina one may linger long. The pure, inspiriting air of its lofty plateau, and the unequaled beauty of the prospect which it commands, would alone be sufficient to stay the hurried footsteps of even the most time-pressed of “globe-trotters”; but those who combine a love of scenery with a taste for archæology and the classical antique will find it indeed a difficult place to leave. For, a little way above the town, and in the center of an exquisite landscape stand the magnificent ruins of the Greek Theater, its auditorium, it is true, almost leveled with the plain, but more perfect as to the remains of its stage and proscenium than any other in Sicily, and, with one exception, in the world. But there is no need to be a scholar or an antiquarian to feel the extraordinary fascination of the spot. Nowhere among all the relics of bygone civilizations have Time and Nature dealt more piously with the work of man. Every spring and summer that have passed over those mouldering columns and shattered arches have left behind them their tribute of clasping creeper and clambering wild flower and softly draping moss. Boulder and plinth in common, the masonry alike of Nature and of man, have mellowed into the same exquisite harmony of greys and greens; and the eye seeks in vain to distinguish between the handiwork of the Great Mother and those monuments of her long-dead children which she has clothed with an immortality of her own.

Apart, however, from the indescribable charm of its immediate surroundings, the plateau of the theater must fix itself in the memory of all who have entered Sicily by way of Messina as having afforded them their first “clear” view of Etna, their first opportunity, that is to say, of looking at the majestic mountain unintercepted at any point of its outline or mass by objects on a lower level. The whole panorama indeed from this point is magnificent. To the left, in the foreground, rise the heights of Castiglione from the valley of the Alcantara; while, as the eye moves round the prospect from left to right, it lights in succession on the hermitage of S. Maria della Rocca, the Castle of Taormina, the overhanding hill of Mola, and Monte Venere towering above it. But, dominating the whole landscape, and irresistibly recalling to itself the gaze which wanders for a moment to the nearer chain of mountains or the blue Calabrian hills across the Strait, arises the never-to-be-forgotten pyramid of Etna, a mountain unrivaled in its combination of majesty and grace, in the soft symmetry of its “line,” and the stern contrast between its lava-scarred sides, with their associations of throe and torture, and the eternal peace of its snow-crowned head. It will be seen at a closer view from Catania, and, best of all, on the journey from that place to Syracuse; but the first good sight of it from Taormina, at any rate when weather and season have been favorable, is pretty sure to become an abiding memory.

Twenty miles farther southwards along the coast lie the town and baths of Aci Reale, a pleasant resort in the “cure” season, but to others than invalids more interesting in its associations with Theocritus and Ovid, with “Homer the Handel of Epos, and Handel the Homer of song;” in a word, with Acis and Galatea, and Polyphemus, and the much-enduring Ulysses. Aci Castello, a couple of miles or so down the coast, is, to be precise, the exact spot which is associated with these very old-world histories, though Polyphemus's sheep-run probably extended far along the coast in both directions, and the legend of the giant's defeat and discomfiture by the hero of the Odyssey is preserved in the nomenclature of the rocky chain which juts out at this point from the Sicilian shore. The Scogli dei Ciclopi are a fine group of basaltic rocks, the biggest of them some two hundred feet in height and two thousand feet in circumference, no doubt “the stone far greater than the first” with which Polyphemus took his shot at the retreating Wanderer, and which “all but struck the end of the rudder.” It is a capital “half-brick” for a giant to “heave” at a stranger, whether the Cyclops did, in fact, heave it or not; and, together with its six companions, it stands out bravely and with fine sculpturesque effect against the horizon. A few miles farther on is Catania, the second city in population and importance of Sicily, but, except for one advantage which would give distinction to the least interesting of places, by no means the second in respect of beauty. As a town, indeed, it is commonplace. Its bay, though of ample proportions, has no particular grace of contour; and even the clustering masts in its busy harbor scarcely avail to break the monotony of that strip of houses on the flat seaboard, which, apart from its surroundings, is all that constitutes Catania. But with Etna brooding over it day and night, and the town lying outstretched and nestling between the two vast arms which the giant thrusts out towards the sea on each side, Catania could not look wholly prosaic and uninteresting even if she tried.

We must again return to the mountain, for Etna, it must be remembered, is a persistent feature, is the  persistent feature of the landscape along nearly the whole eastern coast of Sicily from Punta di Faro to the Cape of Santa Croce, if not to the promontory of Syracuse. Its omnipresence becomes overawing as one hour of travel succeeds another and the great mountain is as near as ever. For miles upon miles by this southward course it haunts the traveller like a reproving conscience. Each successive stage on his journey gives him only a different and not apparently more distant view. Its height, ten thousand feet, although, of course, considerable, seems hardly sufficient to account for this perpetual and unabating prominence, which, however, is partly to be explained by the outward trend taken by the sea-coast after we pass Catania, and becoming more and more marked during the journey from that city to Syracuse. There could be no better plan of operations for one who wishes to view the great mountain thoroughly, continuously, protractedly, and at its best, than to await a favorable afternoon, and then to take the journey in question by railway, so timing it as to reach the tongue of Santa Croce about sunset. From Catania to Lentini the traveller has Etna, wherever visible, on his right; at Lentini the line of railway takes a sharp turn to the left, and, striking the coast at Agnone, hugs it all along the northern shore of the promontory, terminating with Cape Santa Croce, upon approaching which point it doubles back upon itself, to follow the “re-entering angle” of the cape, and then, once more turning to the left, runs nearly due southward along the coast to Syracuse. Throughout the twenty miles or so from Lentini to Augusta, beneath the promontory of Santa Croce, Etna lies on the traveller's left, with the broad blue bay fringed for part of the way by a mile-wide margin of gleaming sand between him and it. Then the great volcanic cone, all its twenty miles from summit to sea-coast foreshortened into nothingness by distance, seems to be rising from the very sea; its long-cooled lava streams might almost be mingling with the very waters of the bay. As the rays of the westering sun strike from across the island upon silver-gray sand and blue-purple sea and russet-iron mountain slopes, one's first impulse is to exclaim with Wordsworth, in vastly differing circumstances, that “earth hath not anything to show more fair.” But it has. For he who can prolong his view of the mountain until after the sun has actually sunk will find that even the sight he has just witnessed can be surpassed. He must wait for the moment when the silver has gone out of the sand, and the purple of the sea has changed to gray, and the russet of Etna's lava slopes is deepening into black; for that is also the moment when the pink flush of the departed sunset catches its peak and closes the symphony of color with a chord more exquisitely sweet than all.

From Cape Santa Croce to Syracuse the route declines a little perhaps in interest. The great volcano which has filled the eye throughout the journey is now less favorably placed for the view, and sometimes, as when the railway skirts the Bay of Megara in a due southward direction, is altogether out of sight. Nor does the approach to Syracuse quite prepare one for the pathetic charm of this most interesting of the great, dead, half-deserted cities of the ancient world, or even for the singular beauty of its surroundings. You have to enter the inhabited quarter itself, and to take up your abode on that mere sherd and fragment of old Greek Syracuse, the Island of Ortygia, to which the present town is confined (or rather, you have to begin by doing this, and then to sally forth on a long walk of exploration round the contorni, to trace the line of the ancient fortifications, and to map out as best you may the four other quarters, each far larger than Ortygia, which, long since given over to orange-gardens and scattered villas and farmhouses, were once no doubt well-peopled districts of the ancient city), ere you begin either to discover its elements of material beauty or to feel anything of its spiritual magic. It is hard to believe that this decayed and apparently still decaying little island town was once the largest of the Hellenic cities, twenty miles, according to Strabo, in circumference, and even in the time of Cicero containing in one of its now deserted quarters “a very large Forum, most beautiful porticoes, a highly decorated Town Hall, a most spacious Senate House, and a superb Temple of Jupiter Olympius.” A spoiler more insatiable than Verres has, alas! carried off all these wonders of art and architecture, and of most of them not even a trace of the foundations remains. Of the magnificent Forum a single unfluted column appears to be the solitary relic. The porticoes, the Town Hall, the Senate House, the Temple of the Olympian Jove are irrecoverable even by the most active architectural imagination. But the west wall of the district which contained these treasures is still partially traceable, and in the adjoining quarter of the ancient city we find ourselves in its richest region both of the archæological and the picturesque.

For here is the famous Latomia del Paradiso, quarry, prison, guard-house, and burial-place of the Syracusan Greek, and the yet more famous Theater, inferior to that of Taormina in the completeness of the stage and proscenium, but containing the most perfectly preserved auditorium in the world. The entrance to the Latomia, that gigantic, ear-shaped orifice hewn out of the limestone cliff, and leading into a vast whispering-chamber, the acoustic properties of which have caused it to beidentified with the (historic or legendary) Ear of Dionysius, has a strange, wild impressiveness of its own. But in beauty though not in grandeur it is excelled by another abandoned limestone quarry in the neighborhood, which has been converted by its owner into an orangery. This lies midway between the Latomia del Paradiso and the Quarry of the Cappuccini, and is in truth a lovely retreat. Over it broods the perfect stillness that never seems so deep as in those deserted places which have once been haunts of busy life. It is rich in the spiritual charm of natural beauty and the sensuous luxury of sub-tropical culture: close at hand the green and gold of orange trees, in the middle distance the solemn plumes of the cypresses, and farther still the dazzling white walls of the limestone which the blue sky bends down to meet.

To pass from the quarries to the remains of the Greek Theater hard by is in some measure to exchange the delight of the eye for the subtler pleasures of mental association. Not that the concentric curves of these moldering and moss-lined stone benches are without their appeal to the senses. On the contrary, they are beautiful in themselves, and, like all architectural ruins, than which no animate things in nature more perfectly illustrate the scientific doctrine of “adaptation to environment,” they harmonize deliciously in line and tone with their natural surroundings. Yet to most people, and especially so to those of the contemplative habit, the Greek Theater at Syracuse, like the Amphitheaters of Rome and Verona, will be most impressive at moments when the senses are least active and the imagination busiest. It is when we abstract the mind from the existing conditions of the ruin; it is when we “restore” it by those processes of mental architecture which can never blunder into Vandalism; it is when we re-people its silent, time-worn benches with the eager, thronging life of twenty centuries ago, that there is most of magic in its spell. And here surely imagination has not too arduous a task, so powerfully is it assisted by the wonderful completeness of these remains. More than forty tiers of seats shaped out of the natural limestone of the rock can still be quite distinctly traced; and though their marble facings have of course long moldered into dust, whole cunei  of them are still practically as uninjured by time, still as fit for the use for which they were intended, as when the Syracusans of the great age of Attic Drama flocked hither to hear the tragedies of that poet whom they so deeply reverenced that to be able to recite his verse was an accomplishment rewarded in the prisoners who possessed it by liberation from bondage. To the lover of classical antiquity Syracuse will furnish “moments” in abundance; but at no other spot either in Ortygia itself or in these suburbs of the modern city, not at the Fountain of Arethusa on the brink of the great port; not in the Temple of Minerva, now the Cathedral, with its Doric columns embedded in the ignominy of plaster; not in that wildest and grandest of those ancient Syracusan quarries, the Latomia dei Cappuccini, where the ill-fated remnant of the routed army of Nicias is supposed to have expiated in forced labor the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, will he find it so easy to rebuild the ruined past as here on this desolate plateau, with these perfect monuments of the immortal Attic stage around him, and at his feet the town, the harbor, the promontory of Plemmyrium, the blue waters of the Ionian Sea.

It is time, however, to resume our journey and to make for that hardly less interesting or less beautifully situated town of Sicily which is usually the next halting-place of the traveller. The route to Girgenti from Syracuse is the most circuitous piece of railway communication in the island. To reach our destination it is necessary to retrace our steps almost the whole way back to Catania. At Bicocca, a few miles distant from that city, the line branches off into the interior of the country for a distance of some fifty or sixty miles, when it is once more deflected, and then descends in a southwesterly direction towards the coast. At a few miles from the sea, within easy reach of its harbor, Porto Empedocle, lies Girgenti. The day's journey will have been an interesting one. Throughout its westward course the line, after traversing the fertile Plain of Catania, the rich grain-bearing district which made Sicily the granary of the Roman world, ascends gradually into a mountainous region and plunges between Calascibetta and Castrogiovanni into a tortuous ravine, above which rise towering the two last-named heights. The latter of the two is planted on the site of the plain of Enna, the scene of the earliest abduction recorded in history. Flowers no longer flourish in the same abundance on the meads from which Persephone was carried off by the Dark King of Hades; but the spot is still fair and fertile, truly a “green navel of the isle,” the central Omphalos from which the eye ranges northward, eastward, and south-westward over each expanse of Trinacria's triple sea. But those who do not care to arrest their journey for the sake of sacrificing to Demeter, or of enjoying the finest, in the sense of the most extensive, view in Sicily, may yet admire the noble situation of the rock-built town of Castrogiovanni, looking down upon the railway from its beetling crag.

Girgenti, the City of Temples, the richest of all places in the world save one in monuments of Pagan worship, conceals its character effectually enough from him who enters it from the north. Within the precincts of the existing city there is little sign to be seen of its archæological treasures, and, to tell the truth, it has but few attractions of its own. Agrigentum, according to Pindar “the most beautiful city of mortals,” will not so strike a modern beholder; but that, no doubt, is because, like Syracuse and other famous seats of ancient art and religious reverence, it has shrunk to dimensions so contracted as to leave all the riches of those stately edifices to which it owed the fame of its beauty far outside its present boundaries. Nothing, therefore, need detain the traveller in the town itself (unless, indeed, he would snatch a brief visit to the later-built cathedral, remarkable for nothing but the famous marble sarcophagus with its relief of the Myth of Hippolytus), and he will do well to mount the Rupe Atenea without delay. The view, however, in every direction is magnificent, the town to the right of the spectator and behind him, the sea in front, and the rolling, ruin-dotted plain between. From this point Girgenti itself looks imposing enough with the irregular masses of its roofs and towers silhouetted against the sky. But it is the seaward view which arrests and detains the eye. Hill summit or hotel window, it matters little what or where your point of observation is, you have but to look from the environs of Girgenti towards Porto Empedocle, a few miles to the south, and you bring within your field of vision a space of a few dozen acres in extent which one may reasonably suppose to have no counterpart in any area of like dimensions on the face of the globe. It is a garden of moldering shrines, a positive orchard of shattered porticoes and broken column-shafts, and huge pillars prostrate at the foot of their enormous plinths. You can count and identify and name them all even from where you stand. Ceres and Proserpine, Juno Lacinia, Concord, Hercules, Æsculapius, Jupiter Olympius, Castor and Pollux, all are visible at once, all recognizable and numerable from east to west in their order as above. It is a land of ruined temples, and, to all appearance, of nothing else. One can just succeed, indeed, in tracing the coils of the railway as it winds like a black snake towards Porto Empedocle, but save that there are no signs of life. One descries no wagon upon the roads, no horse in the furrows, no laborer among the vines. Girgenti itself, with its hum and clatter, lies behind you; no glimpse of life or motion is visible on the quays of the port. All seems as desolate as those gray and moldering fanes of the discrowned gods, a solitude which only changes in character without deepening in intensity as the eye travels across the foam-fringed coast-line out on the sailless sea. There is a strange beauty in this silent Pantheon of dead deities, this landscape which might almost seem to be still echoing the last wail of the dying Pan; and it is a beauty of death and desolation to which the like of nature, here especially abounding, contributes not a little by contrast. For nowhere in Sicily is the country-side more lavishly enriched by the olive. Its contorted stem and quivering, silvery foliage are everywhere. Olives climb the hill-slopes in straggling files; olives cluster in twos and threes and larger groups upon the level plain; olives trace themselves against the broken walls of the temples, and one catches the flicker of their branches in the sunlight that streams through the roofless peristyles. From Rupe Atenea out across the plain to where the eye lights uponthe white loops of the road to Porto Empedocle one might almost say that every object which is not a temple or a fragment of a temple is an olive tree.

By far the most interesting of the ruins from the archæologist's point of view is that of the Temple of Concord, which, indeed, is one of the best-preserved in existence, thanks, curiously enough, to the religious Philistinism which in the Middle Ages converted it into a Christian church. It was certainly not in the spirit of its tutelary goddess that it was so transformed: nothing, no doubt, was farther from the thoughts of those who thus appropriated the shrine of Concord than to illustrate the doctrine of the unity of religion. But art and archæology, if not romance, have good reason to thank them that they “took over” the building on any grounds, for it is, of course, to this circumstance that we owe its perfect condition of preservation, and the fact that all the details of the Doric style as applied to religious architecture can be studied in this temple while so much of so many of its companion fanes has crumbled into indistinguishable ruin. Concordia has remained virtually intact through long centuries under the homely title of “the Church of St. Gregory of the Turnips,” and it rears its stately façade before the spectator in consequence with architrave complete, a magnificent hexastyle of thirty-four columns, its lateral files of thirteen shafts apiece receding in noble lines of perspective. Juno Lacinia, or Juno Lucinda (for it may have been either as the “Lacinian Goddess” or as the Goddess of Childbed that Juno was worshipped here), an older fane than Concordia, though the style had not yet entered on its decline when the latter temple was built, is to be seen hard by, a majestic and touching ruin. It dates from the fifth century b. c., and is therefore Doric of the best period. Earthquakes, it seems, have co-operated with time in the work of destruction, and though twenty-five whole pillars are left standing, the façade, alas! is represented only by a fragment of architrave. More extensive still have been the ravages inflicted on the Temple of Hercules by his one unconquerable foe. This great and famous shrine, much venerated of old by the Agrigentines, and containing that statue of the god which the indefatigable “collector” Verres vainly endeavored to loot, is now little more than a heap of tumbled masonry, with one broken column-shaft alone still standing at one extremity of its site. But it is among the remains of the ancient sanctuary of Zeus, all unfinished, though that edifice was left by its too ambitious designers, that we get the best idea of the stupendous scale on which those old-world religious architects and masons worked. The ruin itself has suffered cruelly from the hand of man; so much so, indeed, that little more than the ground plan of the temple is to be traced by the lines of column bases, vast masses of its stone having been removed from its site to be used in the construction of the Mole. But enough remains to show the gigantic scale on which the work was planned and partially carried out. The pillars which once stood upon those bases were twenty feet in circumference, or more than two yards in diameter and each of their flutings forms a niche big enough to contain a man! Yon Caryatid, who has been carefully and skillfully pieced together from the fragments doubtless of many Caryatids, and who now lies, hands under head, supine and staring at the blue sky above him, is more than four times the average height of a man. From the crown of his bowed head to his stony soles he measures twenty-five feet, and to watch a tourist sitting by or on him and gazing on Girgenti in the distance is to be visited by a touch of that feeling of the irony of human things to which Shelley gives expression in his “Ozymandias.”

The railway route from Girgenti to Palermo is less interesting than that from Catania to Girgenti. It runs pretty nearly due south and north across the island from shore to shore, through a country mountainous indeed, as is Sicily everywhere, but not marked by anything particularly striking in the way of highland scenery. At Termini we strike the northern coast, and the line branches off to the west. Another dozen miles or so brings us to Santa Flavia, whence it is but half an hour's walk to the ruins of Soluntum, situated on the easternmost hill of the promontory of Catalfano. The coast-view from this point is striking, and on a clear day the headland of Cefalu, some twenty miles away to the eastward, is plainly visible. Ten more miles of “westing” and we approach Palermo, the Sicilian capital, a city better entered from the sea, to which it owes its beauty as it does its name.

To the traveller fresh from Girgenti and its venerable ruins, or from Syracuse with its classic charm, the first impressions of Palermo may very likely prove disappointing. Especially will they be so if he has come with a mind full of historic enthusiasm and a memory laden with the records of Greek colonization, Saracen dominion, and Norman conquest, and expecting to find himself face to face with the relics and remainder of at any rate the modern period of the three. For Palermo is emphatically what the guide-books are accustomed to describe as “a handsome modern city”; which means, as most people familiar with the Latin countries are but too well aware, a city as like any number of other Continental cities, built and inhabited by Latin admirers and devotees of Parisian “civilization,” as “two peas in a pod.” In the Sicilian capital the passion for the monotonous magnificence of the boulevard has been carried to an almost amusing pitch. Palermo may be regarded from this point of view as consisting of two most imposing boulevards of approximately equal length, each bisecting the city with scrupulous equality from east to west and from north to south, and intersecting each other in its exact center at the mathematically precise angle of ninety degrees. You stand at the Porta Felice, the water-gate of the city, with your back to the sea, and before you, straight as a die, stretches the handsome Via Vittorio Emanuele for a mile or more ahead. You traverse the handsome Via Vittorio Emanuele for half its length and you come to the Quattro Canti, a small octagonal piazza which boasts itself to be the very head of Palermo, and from this intersection of four cross-roads, you see stretching to right and left of you the equally handsome Via Macqueda. Walk down either of these two great thoroughfares, the Macqueda or the Vittorio Emanuele, and you will be equally satisfied with each; the only thing which may possibly mar your satisfaction will be your consciousness that you would be equally satisfied with the other, and, indeed, that it requires an effort of memory to recollect in which of the two you are. There is nothing to complain of in the architecture or decoration of the houses. All is correct, regular, and symmetrical in line, bright and cheerful in color, and, as a whole, absolutely wanting in individuality and charm.

It is, however, of course impossible to kill an ancient and interesting city altogether with boulevards. Palermo, like every other city, has its “bits,” to be found without much difficulty by anyone who will quit the beaten track of the two great thoroughfares and go a-questing for them himself. He may thus find enough here and there to remind him that he is living on the “silt” of three, nay, four civilizations, on a fourfold formation to which Greek and Roman, Saracen and Norman, have each contributed its successive layer. It need hardly be said that the latter has left the deepest traces of any. The Palazzo Reale, the first of the Palermitan sights to which the traveller is likely to bend his way, will afford the best illustration of this. Saracenic in origin, it has received successive additions from half-a-dozen Norman princes, from Robert Guiscard downwards, and its chapel, the Cappella Palatina, built by Roger II. in the early part of the twelfth century, is a gem of decorative art which would alone justify a journey to Sicily to behold. The purely architectural beauties of the interior are impressive enough, but the eye loses all sense of them among the wealth of their decoration. The stately files of Norman arches up the nave would in any other building arrest the gaze of the spectator, but in the Cappella Palatina one can think of nothing but mosaics. Mosaics are everywhere, from western door to eastern window, and from northern to southern transept wall. A full-length, life-sized saint in mosaic grandeur looks down upon you from every interval between the arches of the nave, and medallions of saints in mosaic, encircled with endless tracery and arabesque, form the inner face of every arch. Mosaic angels float with outstretched arms above the apse. A colossal Madonna and Bambino, overshadowed by a hovering Père Eternel, peer dimly forth in mosaic across the altar through the darkness of the chancel. The ground is golden throughout, and the somber richness of the effect is indescribable. In Palermo and its environs, in the Church of Martorana, and in the Cathedral of Monreale, no less than here, there is an abundance of that same decoration, and the mosaics of the latter of the two edifices above mentioned are held to be the finest of all; but it is by those of the Cappella Palatina, the first that he is likely to make the acquaintance of, that the visitor, not being an expert or connoisseur in this particular species of art-work, will perhaps be the most deeply impressed.

The Palazzo Reale may doubtless too be remembered by him, as affording him the point of view from which he has obtained his first idea of the unrivaled situation of Palermo. From the flat roof of the Observatory, fitted up in the tower of S. Ninfa, a noble panorama lies stretched around us. The spectator is standing midway between Amphitrite and the Golden Shell that she once cast in sport upon the shore. Behind him lies the Conca d'Oro, with the range of mountains against which it rests, Grifone and Cuccio, and the Billieni Hills, and the road to Monreale winding up the valley past La Rocca; in front lies the noble curve of the gulf, from Cape Mongerbino to the port, the bold outlines of Monte Pellegrino, the Bay of Mondello still farther to the left, and Capo di Gallo completing the coast-line with its promontory dimly peering through the haze. Palermo, however, does not perhaps unveil the full beauty of its situation elsewhere than down at the sea's edge, with the city nestling in the curve behind one and Pellegrino rising across the waters in front.

But the environs of the city, which are of peculiar interest and attraction, invite us, and first among these is Monreale, at a few miles' distance, a suburb to which the traveller ascends by a road commanding at every turn some new and striking prospect of the bay. On one hand as he leaves the town, lies the Capuchin Monastery, attractive with its catacombs of mummified ex-citizens of Palermo to the lover of the gruesome rather than of the picturesque. Farther on is the pretty Villa Tasca, then La Rocca, whence by a winding road of very ancient construction we climb the royal mount crowned by the famous Cathedral and Benedictine Abbey of Monreale. Here more mosaics, as has been said, as fine in quality and in even greater abundance than those which decorate the interior of the Cappella Palatina; they cover, it is said, an area of seventy thousand four hundred square feet. From the Cathedral we pass into the beautiful cloisters, and thence into the fragrant orange-garden, from which another delightful view of the valley towards Palermo is obtained. San Martino, the site of a suppressed Benedictine monastery, is the next spot of interest. A steep path branching off to the right from Monreale leads to a deserted fort, named Il Castellaccio, from which the road descends as far as S. Martino, whence a pleasant journey back to Palermo is made through the picturesque valley of Bocca di Falco.

The desire to climb a beautiful mountain is as strong as if climbing it were not as effectual a way of hiding its beauties as it would be to sit upon its picture; and Monte Pellegrino, sleeping in the sunshine, and displaying the noble lines of what must surely be one of the most picturesque mountains in the world, is likely enough to lure the traveller to its summit. That mass of gray limestone, which takes such an exquisite flush under the red rays of the evening, is not difficult to climb. The zigzag path which mounts its sides is plainly visible from the town, and though steep at first, it grows gradually easier of ascent on the upper slopes of the mountain. Pellegrino was originally an island, and is still separated by the plain of the Conca d'Oro from the other mountains near the coast. Down to a few centuries ago it was clothed with underwood, and in much earlier times it grew corn for the soldiers of Hamilcar Barca, who occupied it in the first Punic War. Under an overhanging rock on its summit is the Grotto of Sta. Rosalia, the patron saint of the city, the maiden whom tradition records to have made this her pious retreat several centuries ago, and the discovery of whose remains in 1664 had the effect of instantaneously staying the ravages of the plague by which Palermo was just then being desolated. The grotto has since been converted, as under the circumstances was only fitting, into a church, to which many pilgrimages are undertaken by the devout. A steep path beyond the chapel leads to the survey station on the mountain top, from which a far-stretching view is commanded. The cone of Etna, over eighty miles off as the crow flies, can be seen from here, and still farther to the north, among the Liparæan group, the everlasting furnaces of Stromboli and Vulcano. There is a steeper descent of the mountain towards the southwest, and either by this or by retracing our original route we regain the road, which skirts the base of the mountain on the west, and, at four miles' distance from the gate of the town, conducts to one of the most charmingly situated retreats that monarch ever constructed for himself, the royal villa-chateau of La Favorita, erected by Ferdinand IV. (Ferdinand I. of the Two Sicilies), otherwise not the least uncomfortable of the series of uncomfortable princes whom the Bourbons gave to the South Italian peoples.

Great as are the attractions of Palermo, they will hardly avail to detain the visitor during the rest of his stay in Sicily. For him who wishes to see Trinacria thoroughly, and who has already made the acquaintance of Messina and Syracuse, of Catania and Girgenti, the capital forms the most convenient of head-quarters from which to visit whatever places of interest remain to be seen in the western and southwestern corner of the island. For it is hence that, in the natural order of things, he would start for Marsala (famous as the landing-place of “the Thousand,” under Garibaldi, in 1860, and the commencement of that memorable march which ended in a few weeks in the overthrow of the Bourbon rule) and Trapani (from drepanon ), another sickle-shaped town, dear to the Virgilian student as the site of the games instituted by Æneas to the memory of the aged Anchises, who died at Eryx, a poetically appropriate spot for a lover of Aphrodite to end his days in. The town of the goddess on the top of Monte San Giuliano, the ancient Eryx, is fast sinking to decay. Degenerate descendants, or successors would perhaps be more correct, of her ancient worshippers prefer the plain at its foot, and year by year migrations take place thither which threaten to number this immemorial settlement of pagan antiquity among the dead cities of the past, and to leave its grass-grown streets and moldering cathedral alone with the sea and sky. There are no remains of the world-famed shrine of Venus Erycina now save a few traces of its foundation and an ancient reservoir, once a fountain dedicated to the goddess. One need not linger on San Giuliano longer than is needful to survey the mighty maritime panorama which surrounds the spectator, and to note Cape Bon in Africa rising faintly out of the southward haze.

For Selinunto has to be seen, and Segesta, famous both for the grandeur and interest of their Greek remains. From Castelvetrano station, on the return route, it is but a short eight miles to the ruins of Selinus, the westernmost of the Hellenic settlements of Sicily, a city with a history of little more than two centuries of active life, and of upwards of two thousand years of desolation. Pammilus of Megara founded it, so says legend, in the seventh century b. c. In the fifth century of that era the Carthaginians destroyed it. Ever since that day it has remained deserted except as a hiding-place for the early Christians in the days of their persecution, and as a stronghold of the Mohammedans in their resistance to King Roger. Yet in its short life of some two hundred and twenty years it became, for some unknown reason of popular sanctity, the site of no fewer than seven temples, four of them among the largest ever known to have existed. Most of them survive, it is true, only in the condition of prostrate fragments, for it is supposed that earthquake and not time has been their worst foe, and the largest of them, dedicated to Hercules, or as some hold, to Appollo, was undoubtedly never finished at all. Its length, including steps, reaches the extraordinary figure of three hundred and seventy-one feet; its width, including steps, is a hundred and seventy-seven feet; while its columns would have soared when completed to the stupendous height of fifty-three feet. It dates from the fifth century b. c., and it was probably the appearance of the swarthy Carthaginian invaders which interrupted the masons at their work. It now lies a colossal heap of mighty, prostrate, broken columns, their flutings worn nearly smooth by time and weather, and of plinths shaped and rounded by the same agencies into the similitude of gigantic mountain boulders.

It is, however, the temples of Selinunto rather than their surroundings which command admiration and in this respect they stand in marked contrast to that site of a single unnamed ruin, which is, perhaps, taking site and ruin together, the most “pathetic” piece of the picturesque in all Sicily, the hill and temple of Segesta. From Calatafimi, scene of one of the Garibaldian battles, to Segesta the way lies along the Castellamare road, and through a beautiful and well-watered valley. The site of the town itself is the first to be reached. Monte Barbaro, with the ruins of the theater, lies to the north, to the west the hill whereon stands the famous Temple. No one needs a knowledge of Greek archæology or Greek history, or even a special love for Greek art, in order to be deeply moved by the spectacle which the spot presents. He needs no more than the capacity of Virgil's hero to be touched by “the sense of tears in mortal things.” The Temple itself is perfect, except that its columns are still unfluted; but it is not the simple and majestic outline of the building, its lines of lessening columns, or its massive architraves upborne upon those mighty shafts, which most impress us, but the harmony between this great work of man and its natural surroundings. In this mountain solitude, and before this deserted shrine of an extinct worship we are in presence of the union of two desolations, and one had well-nigh said of two eternities, the everlasting hills and the imperishable yearnings of the human heart. No words can do justice to the lonely grandeur of the Temple of Segesta. It isunlike any other in Sicily in this matter of unique position. It has no rival temple near it, nor are there even the remains of any other building, temple or what not, to challenge comparison, within sight of the spectator. This ruin stands alone in every sense, alone in point of physical isolation, alone in the austere pathos which that position imparts to it.

In the Museum of Palermo, to which city the explorer of these ruined sanctuaries of art and religion may now be supposed to have returned, the interesting metopes of Selinus will recall the recollection of that greater museum of ruins which he just visited at Selinunto; but the suppressed monastery, which has been now turned into a Museo Nazionale, has not much else besides its Hellenic architectural fragments to detain him. And it may be presumed, perhaps, that the pursuit of antiquities, which may be hunted with so much greater success in other parts of the islands, is not precisely the object which leads most visitors to Sicily to prolong their stay in this beautifully seated city. Its attraction lies, in effect and almost wholly, in the characteristic noted in the phrase just used. Architecturally speaking, Palermo is naught: it is branded, as has been already said, with the banality and want of distinction of all modern Italian cities of the second class. And, moreover, all that man has ever done for her external adornment she can show you in a few hours; but days and weeks would not more than suffice for the full appreciation of all she owes to nature. Antiquities she has none, or next to none, unless, indeed, we are prepared to include relics of the comparatively modern Norman domination, which of course abound in her beautiful mosaics, in that category. The silt of successive ages, and the detritus of a life which from the earliest times has been a busy one, have irrecoverably buried almost all vestiges of her classic past. Her true, her only, but her all-sufficient attraction is conveyed in her ancient name. She is indeed “Panormus”; it is as the “all harbor city” that she fills the eye and mind and lingers in the memory and lives anew in the imagination. When the city itself and its environs as far as Monreale and San Martino and La Zisa have been thoroughly explored; when the imposing Porta Felice has been duly admired; when the beautiful gardens of La Flora, with its wealth of sub-tropical vegetation, has been sufficiently promenaded on; when La Cala, a quaint little narrow, shallow harbor, and the busy life on its quays have been adequately studied; then he who loves nature better than the works of man, and prefers the true eternal to the merely figurative “immortal,” will confess to himself that Palermo has nothing fairer, nothing more captivating, to show than that chef-d' œuvre  which the Supreme Artificer executed in shaping those noble lines of rock in which Pellegrino descends to the city at its foot, and in tracing that curve of coast-line upon which the city has sprung up under the mountain's shadow. The view of this guardian and patron height, this tutelary rock, as one might almost fancy it, of the Sicilian capital is from all points and at all hours beautiful. It dominates the city and the sea alike from whatever point one contemplates it, and the bold yet soft beauty of its contours has in every aspect a never-failing charm. The merest lounger, the most frivolous of promenaders in Palermo, should congratulate himself on having always before his eyes a mountain, the mere sight of which may be almost described as a “liberal education” in poetry and art. He should haunt the Piazza Marina, however, not merely at the promenading time of day, but then also, nay, then most of all, when the throng has begun to thin, and, as Homer puts it, “all the ways are shadowed,” at the hour of sunset. For then the clear Mediterranean air is at its clearest, the fringing foam at its whitest, the rich, warm background of the Conca d'Oro at its mellowest, while the bare, volcanic-looking sides of Monte Pellegrino seem fusing into ruddy molten metal beneath the slanting rays. Gradually, as you watch the color die out of it, almost as it dies out of a snow-peak at the fading of the Alpen-gluth, the shadows begin to creep up the mountain-sides, forerunners of the night which has already fallen upon the streets of the city, and through which its lights are beginning to peer. A little longer, and the body of the mountain will be a dark, vague mass, with only its cone and graceful upper ridges traced faintly against pale depths of sky.

Thus and at such an hour may one see the city, bay, and mountain at what may be called their æsthetic or artistic best. But they charm, and with a magic of almost equal potency, at all hours. The fascination remains unabated to the end, and never, perhaps, is it more keenly felt by the traveller than when Palermo is smiling her God-speed upon the parting guest, and from the deck of the steamer which is to bear him away he waves his last farewell to the receding city lying couched, the loveliest of Ocean's Nereids, in her shell of gold.

If his hour of departure be in the evening, when the rays of the westering sun strike athwart the base of Pellegrino, and tip with fire the summits of the low-lying houses of the seaport, and stream over and past them upon the glowing waters of the harbor the sight is one which will not be soon forgotten. Dimmer and dimmer grows the beautiful city with the increasing distance and the gathering twilight. The warm rose-tints of the noble mountain cool down into purple, and darken at last into a heavy mass of somber shadows; the sea changes to that spectral silver which overspreads it in the gloaming. It is a race between the flying steamer and the falling night to hide the swiftly fading coast-line altogether from the view; and so close is the contest that up to the last it leaves us doubtful whether it be darkness or distance that has taken it from us. But in a few more minutes, be it from one cause or from the other, the effacement is complete. Behind us, where Palermo lay a while ago, there looms only a bank of ever-darkening haze, and before the bows of our vessel the gray expanse of Mediterranean waters which lie between us and the Bay of Naples.