If you’re looking for a holiday full of historical sites to see and places to visit then Sicily is a great choice. For such a small island, it has had an extraordinary past having been ruled by the Romans, the Vandals, the Normans, the Osteogoths, the Byzantines and having been home to Italian and Greek colonies with many of these cultures leaving their marks on the Sicilian landscape.
This mass of history has produced a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature, cuisine and architecture. There are many important archaeological and ancient sites across all areas of Sicily and here are the top five historical sites in Sicily you should definitely visit.
Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio
Like many countries Sicily is shaped by its religion, with many beautiful and captivating Churches on the island. One of these is the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in the very heart of Palermo, otherwise known as the Church of Martorana, built in the early 12th century in a Byzantine style. It is now owned by the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church and is popular with locals seeking a wedding venue.
The interior of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is fascinating. Having been in the hands of many different religions since being built it features symbols and ideology from many different belief systems amongst its breath-taking gold mosaics (made with very thin but very real slices of gold) which cover the walls. Among the designs you can see Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Mary alongside Arab prayer inscriptions and depictions of rulers such as Roger II.
I can’t recommend a visit to the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio enough.
Valle dei Templi
There are many awe inspiring sights to see on this little island and a landscape dominated by temples is certainly one of them! At Agrigento in the south you can find the Valley of Temples, a ridge (oddly enough, not a valley) overlooking the city which boasts no less than seven Doric-style Greek temples sitting on it!
The Valley of Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world! It covers 1,300 hectares and features Temples dedicated to the Greek Gods and Goddesses: Concordia, Juno, Heracles, Olympian Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan and Asclepius. The Temple of Juno is the most imposing with a 6-column façade with 6 x 13 columns built over a basement of 39.44m x 16.91m.
As one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture you really must walk along the ridge and admire them.
Syracuse Greek Theatre
It wasn’t only temples that the Greeks built on Sicily. The island boasts an astonishing Greek Theatre at Syracuse dating from the 5th century BC, with later renovations and extensions to create a picturesque and grandiose venue where actors and performers would entertain the masses. Despite its abandoned state, it remains one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
In its heyday this UNESCO World Heritage site saw performances of works from playwrights the likes of Epicharmus, Phormis and Deinolocus. You can still see the “Stairs of Charon,” where actors would enter and exit the stage.
Don’t miss out on seeing the mystical grotta del Ninfeo, where water flows into a grotto carved into the rock, assumed to be a Mouseion or sanctuary of Muses which can be found on the terrace looking over the theatre.
Villa Romana del Casale
Of course, it wasn’t only the Greeks who made their mark on Sicily, the Romans also added their fair share of architecture. An example of this being the Villa Romana del Casale just outside the town of Piazza Armerina.
The Villa was built in the first quarter of the 4th century and is no mere house, this Villa houses the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world. The Villa is made up of public and private rooms constructed around a ‘peristyle’ a courtyard featuring pillars. There is also a thermal bathhouse, an impressive basilica to the east and a large formal dining room.
Most of the Villa’s floors are covered in exceptional mosaic designs depicting many different scenes from country life. The most captivating of these mosaics is the Great Hunt which sees all manner of animals being chased along the corridor by hunters.
Although not strictly an historic site, there is no way you can visit Sicily without scaling the island’s main feature: Mount Etna. This volcano sits between Messina and Catania on the east coast of the island. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe standing at around 10,922 feet high.
There is a Greek myth which describes how the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under Etna by Zeus, with the forges of blacksmith to the Gods Hephaestus said to also be beneath its black soil. You will be amazed as the lush agricultural lands turn to ebony black as you travel up the volcano, contrasted with snow drifts towards the top.
If you’re feeling brave take the cable car up to Etna’s summit, but be sure to wear proper hiking gear for cold weather, it’s freezing and slippery! If you prefer to take it easier stop at the little shops and restaurants available for tourists to find both heat and souvenirs.
For a sense of peace and tranquillity (and a little bit of adventure), Mount Etna should be on your travel bucket list.
Are you inspired to check out the historic sights in Sicily? I certainly am! Thanks to Micaela for putting together this post and I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it as much as I have!
About the Author:
Micaela is a lifestyle blogger based in Kent, England where she lives with her husband and furry friends. Her blog Life in Lilac was founded in 2012 and is a creative outlet for Micaela. She loves to travel, take in cultures from around the world and share them whenever she can on Twitter and Instagram.