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Halloween in Sicily?

Last year, on November 2nd, I wrote about A Festa ri’ Morti, Celebration of the Dead, the holiday held on November 2nd in Sicily to remember loved ones who have passed on.  To learn about the Sicilian celebration “A Festa ri’ Morti” you can read the post  found on this blog in the November 2017 archives.

Today is October 31st and all around us here in Sicily are signs of a celebration which is not a traditional one of Sicily.  Today, in Sicily, Halloween is being celebrated.   In Sicily, Halloween has only existed  for about a decade and it is certainly not a traditional celebration of the Sicilian culture.

Why are Sicilians celebrating Halloween?  Mass media have certainly played a major role in this event.   Through mass media and social media, many customs not in the tradition of the land have been introduced. As Halloween has been approaching, it has been interesting to hear the comments of so many people around me here in Sicily.  The majority have expressed a dislike for celebrating Halloween stating that it is not a traditional practice in Sicily and many feel it is just artificial.  All around the shops one can see signs of Halloween, as in the photos pictured below.

Following is an excerpt from an article found at bbc.co.uk on the history of Halloween;

“Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn’) is a very important date in the Pagan calendar for it marks the Feast of the Dead. Many Pagans also celebrate it as the old Celtic New Year (although some mark this at Imbolc). It is also celebrated by non-Pagans who call this festival Halloween.  Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.”(bbc.co.uk)

Halloween and A Festa ri’ Morti may approach the same topic from different angles, but the point remains on who believes traditions are important in the culture itself where they belong.  The many Sicilians I have spoken to  who believe in keeping authentic cultural traditions alive  with their appropriate practices vote for “A Festa ri’ Morti” on November 2nd.  These folks do not appreciate celebrating Halloween because they know that the Halloween traditions are not part of the Sicilian cultural heritage.

Sambuca di Sicilia

When traveling inland from the Southwestern Coast of Sicily, the Mediterranean Coast, up North to Palermo, the main Highway to travel is Highway 624.  This highway can be reached from several Southern towns on the Southernwestern Coast, towns as Sciacca or Porto Palo di Menfi.

When traveling on Highway 624 one can make a stop on the way, driving slightly Eastward it is a short drive to the town of Sambuca di Sicilia.  This is a pleasant drive  through the countryside and when you make this trip in the Fall, you  can enjoy the scenery of vineyards adorned by their Fall colors.

Vineyards on the way to Sambuca di Sicilia

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Hillside views from Sambuca

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Following are just a few images captured  around the city.  At the entrance of Sambuca is a statue in the shape of a harp; some say it refers to the Greek musical instrument from which the town draws its name, Sambuca di Sicilia.

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Typical desert of Sambuca di Sicilia, “Minni di Virgini.”  A view of a section of this dessert.

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Whole “Minni di Virgini” – the pastries are filled with cream, chocolate chips, candied fruit and a secret ingredient that no one will share!

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There is a food festival held each year, called la Sagra di’ “Minni di Virgini”, taking its name from these pastries.  The Sagra is held on the third Sunday in May in conjunction with the celebration of the Patron of the City, Maria Santissima dell’Udienza.  The Maria Santissima dell’Udienza Church is pictured below.

Main entrance

Chiesa Maria Santissima dell'Udienza Facciata

Interior of the Church

Chiesa Maria Santissima dell'Udienza interno

Chiesa Maria Santissima dell'Udienza Sambuca

In closing, a sculpture found in Sambuca, the artwork of a Sicilian Artist from Palermo.  It is the sculpture of a snail and it stands to represent the slow lifestyle of the population in Sambuca.  The name of the sculpture is, Babbaluciaro, dialectal form of snail, a term often used to describe the people of Sambuca.

 

Lumaca Sambuca Square

 

 

 

 

 

Isola di Mozia – Mothia Island

Located across from the Saline Ettore ed Inversa, Ettore and Inversa Saltworks, lies the tiny island of Mozia.  Just a short boat ride from the saltworks, upon stepping on to the island you are embraced by the stillness and peaceful sounds of nature. On the day I visited, as I walked along the path leading to the Museum, there was an enchanting fluttering of butterflies  taking place all around me.

In Mozia you can visit the Archeological Museum displaying artifacts recovered from the archeological sites of the island dating back to the time when the Phoenicians settled the island.  After the Museum, a walk around the island offers a view of the archeological sites.

For centuries the island was in ruins and abandoned. However, in the early XX Century, the island was purchased by Giuseppe Whitaker. To paraphrase a plaque on display in one of the courtyards you walk through upon entering the island, it was thanks to Whitaker’s  studies and perseverance that  light was brought back to shine upon history, a history that had been silenced for centuries.

 

View of Mozia upon arrival by boat

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Inside the museum stands the statue of the Youth of Mozia

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Phoenician ceramic

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On display many examples of the techniques adopted by the Phoenicians in extracting color from  mollusk.

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A walk around the Sacred Area of the Kothon

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Walking around this tiny island it was the stillness that allowed me reflect and think of the volume of the history contained in these ruins.

There is just something magical about Mozia and it is certainly worth a visit when visiting the Western Coast of Sicily.

Saline Ettore ed Infersa close to Mozia

A visit to the Western Coast of Sicily takes the traveler to the coastline which lies between the towns of Marsala and Trapani. This area has been known for its tradition of extracting salt from the sea.

Just a thirty-minute drive north of Marsala, driving along the coast, one can visit the Ettore and Infersa salt work, which lies adjacent to the Riserva Naturale Orientata delle Isole dello Stagnone, Stagnone Islands Natural Reserve. In this specific location, the practice of salt extraction is still carried out manually, in the traditional manner. This traditional practice differs from the mechanized process found up the coast close to the town of Trapani. I recently visited the Ettore and Infersa salt works and enjoyed learning about the rich tradition of salt making and walking along the various ponds , “vasche”, which hold the seawater at different stages of the process of salt making.

Salt making season usually runs from the end of March to July, but climate change has had an impact on some of the practices of salt making and I learned that this year the final harvesting of salt may be delayed due to rain at unexpected times.

Each salt work facility has a curator who diligently plans the various steps to allow the seawater to enter specific ponds on the soil created by building a low levee between each pond, le “vasche”. At Ettore ed Infresca salt work the current curator is carrying on a long family tradition.

From the very first pond the seawater enters to the final one, the seawater undergoes a natural chemical process which is monitored constantly by the curator. It was interesting to learn that the traditional practice of extracting the salt manually allows the salt to maintain its iodine content thus producing whole salt.   When the mechanical process is utilized in extracting the salt, the salt is depleted of its iodine and it is necessary to add iodine to the final product, which is iodized salt.

The following photos taken at the Ettore ed Infresca Salt Works near Marsala

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Salt mounds seen from a canal that runs between the ponds

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A mound of salt from the previous season’s harvest covered with terracotta tiles for protection

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More salt works ponds seen from the canal

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The 16th century windmill adjacent to the salt works ponds seen from the ponds

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A stroll along the borders between the ponds

salt works vasche

 

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Inside the 16th century windmill

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Salt works viewed from high above at the windmill building- terracotta tiles on ground next to salt mounds waiting to be placed on top of the salt mounds

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Art Exhibit at Castello Ursino

 

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I always enjoy visiting Castello Ursino in Catania.  Castello Ursino is a medieval castle built in  the 13th century by the King of Sicily at that time, Frederick II from the Hohenstaufen dynasty.  This castle is certainly worth visiting when traveling to Catania. Nowadays, the Castle is a museum holding permanent exhibits as well as periodic ones.  One of the exhibits currently on display, running from October 2017 to May 2018 is entitled da Giotto a De Chirico – I tesori nascosti – from Giotto to De Chirico – The Hidden Treasures, curated by Antonio Sgarbi.  There are audio guides available that I strongly recommend listening to while visiting the exhibit.

Listening to the audio guides of this exhibit one learns that the works of art on display come from a variety of sources and do not follow one specific theme or one specific school of thought. These works come from private collections, foundations and have not been on public display before this time.

Upon entering the exhibit, one finds the two sculptures of heads seen below which date back to the thirteenth century. They have come from the Imperial Palace in Foligno. The sculptures were carried out by a sculptor from the Frederick II era and they present a comparison between ancient art and Roman art. They have been called the first Italian faces.

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There are many exceptional works of art to enjoy in the exhibit, although  I shall mention only a few in this post.

Below is a portrait of the Madonna by Giotto; Giotto created this painting at the beginning of his career.

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I giganti assaltano l’Olimpo – The Giants assail Olympus.  Work by Giuseppe Cesari who was the teacher of the world famous painter, Caravaggio.

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Maddalena addolorata- Heartbroken Magdalen by Michelangelo Merisi known as Caravaggio; through his style, Caravaggio presented the human side of his subjects.

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The painting below is Platone, Plato; the painter is Jusepe De Ribera. The painting was originally owned by a Jewish family, but as no family member claimed the work of art after WWII,  fifty years later the painting  was sold at an auction in Austria.

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Ritratti dei Principini Marescotti di Parrano (Allegoria dei cinque sensi) – Portraits of the Marescotti di Parrano by Sebastiano Ceccarini, XVIII century.  Each of the subjects in the painting represent one of the five senses by what they are doing but their characterization stands to represent the power of a lavish lifestyle.

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Below, Allegoria dell’Inverno by Gusto Le Court – Allegory of Winter. While viewing this sculpture and listening to the description of each element of the work that represents its theme, Winter, one can feel mesmerized by the superb work.  I was!

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Antonio Ligabue – Autoritratto – Self Portrait

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Giorgio De Chirico – I Bagni Misteriosi – The Mysterious Baths

De Chirico told that the idea for this painting came to him while he was observing a man walking in front of him on marble floors that had been waxed and were very shiny.   The reflection on the floors made the author think of a pool in which he could just get lost. The painting presents symbols of childhood, classical times, ancient ruins, and skyscrapers in NY.

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I would recommend allowing several hours to visit the Castello Ursino and its exhibits.  I did and enjoyed every moment!

 

 

 

 

A Festa ri’ Morti in Sicilia

November 2nd is the day in which Italians remember all who are deceased.  However, over the years, the tradition  has not been the same in Sicily as in the rest of Italy.  In Italy, November 2nd is La Commemorazione dei Defunti, Commemoration of the Deceased. In Sicily November 2nd is the Feast of the Dead, A Festa ri Morti.

In the Sicilian tradition, the Feast of the Dead has been the day in which deceased family members return to bring gifts to the children in the family.  On the night of November 1st,  children would place baskets under their beds before going to bed.  The children believed that during the night the deceased family members would come to their home and leave gifts for them.  The gifts as toys were hidden around the house so on the morning of November 2nd the children would search for the gifts in a treasure hunt.

The baskets that had been placed under the beds on the night of November 1st were found in the morning filled with the traditional sweets. The children believed their loved ones who had passed on had come during the night and left all those goods for them. Then, on November 2nd, the tradition was for the children to join their parents in visiting the graves of the relatives who had brought them the gifts to thank them. It is clear that although many families carry out the traditional practices some of the true essence of the festivity has gone lost.

The traditional sweets of the Feast of the Dead in Sicily were i pupifigurines made of a mixture of water and sugar, pasta martorana, marzipan made into the shape and colors of a variety of fruits and nuts, and the cookies known as crozza ri morti, bones of the dead, a sugar biscuit with a white topping.

Photo below shows traditional marzipan representing chestnuts, both raw and roasted

Marzipan chestnuts

Marzipan fruit representing figs, strawberries, apricots, a tomato and prickly pears

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Marzipan lemons, strawberries and figs

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More marzipan

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Crozza ri morti – ossa di morti

Ossa de' morti

Fall Colors on Mt. Etna

No matter the season, a visit to Mt. Etna is always an exceptional experience. Fall offers the visitor a chance to enjoy a variety of colors in patches of green and gold permeating the arid areas of old lava flows.

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