My Quirky Village, Part 2 (Lions Galore)

October 11, 2012

A pride of lions and lionesses populate the village.

Sometimes it seems there are more of you than us…

What’s your story, Leo? Are you a leftover symbol of the Ancient Greek colonies on Sicily? (Hercules slew a lion, didn’t he?) Or do you come from Sicily’s Norman period, when your lion’s head was the symbol of the Hauteville’s?

Stone lion fountain in Ragusa Ibla, copyright Jann Huizenga

Stone Lion Fountain in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Lion Fountain in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Stone Fountain and Steps in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Lion door knocker in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Have you seen the majestic lions and lionesses of Sicily?

Do you know anything about them? Please educate me, dear Reader.


P.S. One of my readers, an Irishman (I love the Irish!!!!) sent me this photo of a lion door in Palermo. It’s not just any door! It’s the door of a fabulous-looking palazzo, a B&B he recommends called Butera 28. It seems reasonably priced, is owned by a duke and duchess, and is listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Thank you, dear Reader, for this great tip.

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Madonna-Warrior from the Skies

May 30, 2011

Like a bolt from the blue, the Madonna storms out of the skies on a mighty white stallion, sword at hand, slashing and slaying an army of Saracens.

Not  your version of the Madonna?

Well, this is Sicily, where everything’s a little different.

The year is 1091. The place is Scicli, near Sicily’s southern coast.

Madonna delle Milizie festa, Scicli, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Madonna delle Milizie

The Normans ruled Sicily at that time. Norman knights were battling Saracens and getting creamed. The Norman leader, Roger de Hauteville, prayed to the Madonna for help, and–miracle of miracles–she swooped down to save the day.

Almost a thousand years later, la Madonna delle Milizie is still revered and celebrated in this stony little baroque town. The entire 1091 event is re-enacted each year in late May.

Normans (actors) in Scicli Festival Madonna delle Milizie

The Normans

Saracens at the festival of Madonna delle Milizie in Scicli, Sicily

The Saracens

What do the locals eat to celebrate the 1091 event?

Turkish heads.

That’s right. They feast on testa di turco, a large cream puff in the shape of a turban. Never mind that the Turks came nowhere near Sicily until the 16th century.


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Arches & Moors: Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 6

March 30, 2010

Surprise! The 20th-century layers have been chipped off my walls, and I think we’ve found—in addition to big old blocks of Norman stone—some traces of Arab architecture.

North African Moors ruled Sicily for only a couple of centuries more than a millennium ago, but their influence on the island was, and is, huge.

Before I show you my little discovery, take a good look, if you will, at these keyhole-shaped doorways in North Africa.

Moroccan keyhole door, copyright Jann Huizenga

Man Praying in Fez Mosque, Morocco, copyright Jann Huizenga

OK, now compare those doorways with the one below in my house. The arch shape turned up when we pulled off the modern wooden door frame. Don’t you think it looks vaguely Moorish in design?

Arch in House in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, Copyright Jann Huizenga It’s not as beautiful as those North African doors, I know, and the curved thingamajig is way up top rather than in the middle of the arch, but still … it makes me wonder. It’s certainly not a pure Roman or Greek arch (more on that below).

I now have three of these vaguely Moorish arches on the top floor of my casa.

The house is a historical puzzle. The top floor, I’m quite sure, was built sometime soon after the 1693 earthquake that leveled not just Ragusa Ibla, but much of southeast Sicily.  As I’ve mentioned earlier, the stone blocks in this doorway and elsewhere in the house were looted from the Norman castle that stood on this site and crumpled in that quake. (I know this only because neighbors have told me.)

So, assuming the above timeline, this means that 700 years after the Moors left Sicily, local Sicilian builders still carried traces of their Arab heritage in their builders’ DNA.

Everything here is so knotted and twisted together; it’s hard to tease out the many strands of history from all the superimposed cultures and styles. Layers upon layers—that’s what Sicily is all about.

The house becomes older the lower you go. The bottom floor used to be a cantina, a place where wine was made and stored (soon to be guest quarters). The arch down there seems Greco-Roman in style, an uninterrupted curve.

Arch in a House in Ragusa Ibla, Sicliy, copyright Jann Huizenga

When was it constructed? Stay tuned. Maybe someday I’ll figure it out. Perhaps you have an insight?


For more on the Muslim rule of Sicily, click here.


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Popping Out Norman

November 20, 2009

A Sicilian couple I know—both with espresso-bean eyes and hair black as night—have a young daughter, Ottavia, with yellow curls and sky-blue eyes. “She just popped out Norman,” says her mom. “We were shocked.”

According to Vincenzo Salerno in Best of Sicily Magazine, medieval Normans—mainly knights and soldiers—came to Sicily between 1061 and 1160. Most married Sicilian women.

A thousand years later their blue-eyed genes still pop out like Cracker Jack surprises in the Sicilian population.

I spotted this signore in a hole-in-the-wall barbershop in Ibla. When his Norman eyes met mine, I half-swooned and half-expected to see a suit of armor hanging from the coat rack behind him.


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