Monday, November 30, 2009

Week 4

During September I was able to settle into a pattern of life in Catania. Every week promised a class schedule similar to that of college at home, a fun filled Friday field trip and some sort of adventure on the weekend. October completely veered from that pattern. First there was our weekend trip to Agrigento and Selinunte, then our week trip to Tunisia and western Sicily and lastly our five day fall break. For our free time I went to Malta with Hilah and Hannah and other people traveled all across Europe to Florence, Croatia, Copenhagen, London, Dublin and Paris. Everyone had a great time. I am pretty sure I spent a large portion of my travels saying “Malta is awesome.” The sentiment remains. In addition to all of these travels October brought midterms. To say the least, October was busy.

Now we have resettled into our pre-October patterns. The past two weekends have been relaxing. The first weekend back from break we went to Syracuse. In Syracuse we visited the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Paolo Orsi. Though it was our third visit I went into two areas of the museum where I hadn’t made it the past two times. After the museum we went to the Archeological Park and saw the Greek theater, amphitheater, quarry and the giant altar of Hieron. Then we went to the fortifications at Euryalus. The fort was built on the plateau encircling Syracuse that would have been the easiest access point for enemies. One of the ditches still remains in addition to some tunnels and part of the keep. We got to climb up walls and wander around the tunnels. The architecture of the fortification was complex and it was interesting to explore the tunnels and find trap doors overhead. Also, there were terrific views of Syracuse, Ortygia and the oil refineries around Megara Hyblaea from on top of the walls. It was a pretty relaxed day and it was nice to be done by around 4pm. Saturday and Sunday were free of plans and we all took the time to relax and cook a homemade meal in our dormitory for an early Sunday dinner.

Amphitheater, Syracuse

Looking down on tunnel system at Euryalus Castle.

This past weekend we went to Morgantina and Enna for our Mediterranean Cultures trip and then on Saturday we went to Acicastello for a delicious lunch. At Morgantina we discussed some domestic architecture and then the structuring of a Greek agora (central area of a town). There were a few well preserved mosaics, but they didn’t begin to compare with those at Bulla Regia or at the Bardo Museum. The one mosaic with a figure, it depicted Ganymede, was in an enclosed building and could only barely be viewed through the glass. An extra highlight for our time at Morgantina was the discovery of a liter of five 15 day old puppies. After visiting Morgantina we went to a small museum for around an hour and then headed off to Enna. Enna was the site of the largest sanctuary to Demeter and Persephone in the Greek Mediterranean. Though nothing remains of the sanctuary, the outcropping of rock provides amazing views of the area. Enna is located in the heart of Sicily so this sanctuary would have looked over the agricultural core of the region. We enjoyed about thirty minutes of picture taking and the first really chilly fall winds of the semester.

Agora at Morgantina with theater in background.

View from Enna.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Week 3

Tunisia and Western Sicily: October 19 – October 25

We just returned from our week long trip to Tunisia and western Sicily. Last Sunday night I was lying in bed saying over and over, “Wow, we’re going to be in Tunisia tomorrow. We are going to be in North Africa. This is crazy.” Hilah’s only response was, “Dana, you really haven’t traveled that much, have you.” Perhaps now I can consider myself ever so slightly more experienced.

Hannah, Hilah, Kat, Kayla, Phil. Anna and Ben outside the Antonine Baths, Carthage

Monday we drove to Palermo and then flew into Tunis, a city of around two million, quite a change from Catania, and drove to the countryside to visit the ancient sites of Dougga and Bulla Regia. Dougga was beautifully preserved. Though parts of the buildings were used to build local homes, the community seems to have taken a strong interest in maintaining the site. Men were sweeping the steps of the ancient Capitoline temple and weeding the streets. At Bulla Regia we focused on domestic remains and viewed some incredible homes. Due to the African climate many homes had underground rooms. Even in the middle of October it was a relief to walk down the stairs into the arched ceilinged, subterranean rooms. The well preserved mosaic floors helped make the space even more enjoyable. After Bulla Regia we visited Carthage, the ruins of which are intermingled with modern Tunis. We saw the ancient harbors, baths, the National Archaeological Museum and the Bardo Museum (home to some of the most spectacular mosaics from various sites in North Africa).

Capitoline temple, Dougga

Hilah in the House of Amphitrite, Bulla Regia

The focus of the trip in Tunisia was still very much ancient, classical civilizations. The Roman influence was obvious. At points I didn’t feel like I was on another continent, in another culture, because the sites weren’t too far a cry from Herculaneum and Pompei, which Hilah and I visited the weekend before the trip. Certain moments however did give me a bit of an idea of what Tunisia is like. First, of course, the food was so different and delicious. I had forgotten how many different types of food there were besides pasta. The sandwiches filled with French fries and veggies were a pleasant change from panini. Besides food as a lens into Tunisia we got to spend an afternoon wandering the local markets, haggling and perusing through thousands of souvenirs. Perhaps one of my favorite Tunisian memories was when Hilah, Hannah and I were standing outside the baths of Bulla Regia and workers set off explosives in the mountain directly in front of the site around a kilometer away; quite a clash of modern and ancient society.

Craftsman in Tunis

Minor explosion, Bulla Regia

On Thursday we flew into Palermo and drove in the pouring rain to Segesta. I had been eyeing the photos of Segesta in the guide-books and was bummed that the amazing views the temple and theatre have to offer were going to be lost in the rolling clouds. Amazingly, the skies cleared and we maintained our record of seeing every site in decent, if not perfect, weather. On Friday we were off to Mozia where our luck with the weather finally ran out. Mozia is an island off the coast of Marsala where the Phoenicians had a settlement. The small museum on Mozia is also home to an incredible ancient marble charioteer. On the ferry back to Marsala we had to stop because gusts of wind and rain were attacking the sea. After drying off we headed off to see the ruins of a Phoenician warship.

Hannah and Phil on the ferry caught in the rain

Saturday we went to Palermo again and made it past the airport and finally into the city. Palermo felt like a big city compared to Catania with more people, taller buildings, larger shopping centers and wider boulevards. We visited the collection of the Bank of Sicily. It was a pristine space with a great ancient collection and some nineteenth century paintings that were absolutely beautiful. We started a debate about whether or not it was acceptable to take art or artifacts away from their original sites and bring them into larger museums where they would be more visible and better maintained but lose the context of their original site. After the museum we went to Monreale to see the Norman cathedral and cloisters and then we were set loose to explore Palermo.


Sunday we visited the Palazzo dei Normanni to see another spectacular chapel with brilliant mosaics and then drove back to Catania with a brief stop in Cefalu. We were all shocked by how quickly we got from the western to eastern coast. Despite being the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is not all that large. Though its size be small it is fiercely beautiful. Driving out of a rain cloud a rainbow arched over the now glowingly green vineyards and orchards at the foot of Mt. Etna, wreathed in charcoal clouds. Idyllic, positively idyllic. It’s good to be back.

Chapel in the Palazzo dei Normanni