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Thanks to Sally, my visit to the fascinating city of Messina in Sicily has been brought out of the archives. If you haven’t read it before, you may find it interesting and if you have, it could be a nice reminder. I enjoy revisiting these places via Sally’s blog.

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Darlene Foster gives us a guided tour of the port of Messina with its stunning architecture and history.

Madonna of the Letter and 236 Steps in Messina by Darlene Foster

Have you ever been to Sicily? That island off Italy at the end of the boot. As a kid in school I was always fascinated by that part of the map. I was fortunate that our recent cruise made a stop at the port of Messina. We were greeted by a golden Madonna perched on top of a very tall column, as we entered the harbour. The words – “Vos et ipsam cictatem benedicimus” at the bottom made me curious. Although it rained heavily, I was not deterred and left the ship to explore. I was excited to be in Sicily.

Madonna of the Letter

My first stop was the Duomo de Capanile, the main cathedral in the city. It seemed like a good…

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Have you ever been to Sicily? That island off Italy at the end of the boot. As a kid in school I was always fascinated by that part of the map. I was fortunate that our recent cruise made a stop at the port of Messina. We were greeted by a golden Madonna perched on top of a very tall column, as we entered the harbour. The words – “Vos et ipsam cictatem benedicimus” at the bottom made me curious. Although it rained heavily, I was not deterred and left the ship to explore. I was excited to be in Sicily.

Madonna of the Letter

My first stop was the Duomo de Capanile, the main cathedral in the city. It seemed like a good place to start, and to get out of the rain. The massive bronze front door embossed with biblical scenes was impressive. The vast central nave lined with marble pillars and archways, held alcoves with marble statues of the disciples and apostles. In an elaborate setting at the end was an image of the Madonna of the Letter, the patron saint of the city.

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Impressive front door of the Messina Cathedral

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apostles

Apostles in the nave

I stopped in the gift shop to buy postcards and ask questions. The friendly shop keeper was happy to oblige a curious Canadian. She explained to me that the words under the Madonna at the entrance of the port translates into – “We bless you and the city” This was supposed to have been written in a letter to the people of Messina by the Virgin Mary when they converted to Christianity in 42 AD, after a visit from the apostle Paul. This explained why she is called Madonna della Lettera or Madonna of the Letter. I purchased a ticket to visit the museum and attached clock tower.

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Cathedral with clock tower

After a quick look through the museum, I ventured next door to climb the 236 steps to the top of the bell tower.  It was worth every step. The belfry houses the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world. On the landings I viewed, from the inside, the amazing mechanically animated bronze images that rotate on the façade of the tower at the stroke of noon. At the top levels hang the massive bells that ring out the time. I was fortunate I timed my visit between the ringing of the bells. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a splendid view of the city from all four directions. The rain stopped and the sun shone for my benefit.

clock tower bells

view from the top

The view from the top of the bell tower

I took my time going down, in order to have a better look at the intricate figures, aided by explanations on boards in English as well as Italian. The carousel of life was composed of four golden life size figures representing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, with death in the form of a skeleton following behind. Biblical scenes depicted on other carousels are changed according to the liturgical calendar. One scene was dedicated to the Madonna of the Letter where an angel brings the letter to the Virgin Mary followed by St. Paul and the ambassadors who bow when passing in front of the virgin.

carousel of life

The Carousal of Life

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Madonna of the letter carousel

Madonna of the Letter Carousel

Once back down, I removed my raincoat and wandered the streets. I found an iron worker creating figures in front of his shop called Hollywood, interesting sculptures including an imposing conquistador, a quote from Shakespeare  and the picturesque Church of the Catalans built before Norman times on a pagan site. I stumbled upon an overgrown archaeological dig behind a municipal building which gave me a glimpse of life in Roman times.

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Church of the Catalans

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Amazing carvings and sculptures everywhere you look

conquistador

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Shakespeare mentions Messina in Much Ado About Nothing

I purchased a bag of Italian pasta, a great reminder of my enjoyable time in this Sicilian city. The shop keeper told me that Messina doesn’t have anything old as there have been so many earthquakes over the centuries and much had to be rebuilt. The last major earthquake was in 1908. I guess age is subjective.

As the ship left port later that day, I waved goodbye to The Madonna of the Letter with her comforting message sent to the citizens of this city two thousand years ago. A day to remember.

The pictures can be made bigger by clicking on them if you want a better view of the details.

 

Walking through the unearthed remains of a once thriving city, I couldn’t help feeling ominous. People lived and worked in Pompeii until that fateful day, August 24, 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, dumping twenty feet of ash on the city, completely burying it. The city lay undisturbed and hidden until  1748 when it was accidentally discovered and later excavated. Today it is a must see on most bucket lists and I am pleased to be able to check it off mine. I remember learning about this disaster in elementary school and imagining the terror of the inhabitants. The feeling was still with me as I peered into the well preserved homes with original mosaics, shops, temples and gardens of the ancient Romans. Here is some of what we saw.

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius from the ship

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Original mosaic in a courtyard

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Public water fountain

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Public water fountains

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The forum

The forum

another mosaic

Another original mosaic

A bakery

A bakery

 

Mosaic and gardens of a wealthy homeowner

Mosaic and gardens of a wealthy home owner

Pompei, Italy

The Temple of Jupiter

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The dancing Faun

During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed people to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. Some of these macabre plaster casts were on display and drove home the horror of the catastrophe.

Pompei, Italy

Holding up a pillar in Pompeii, Italy

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Watching our steps as we traverse the uneven cobblestones

Walking along the old lumpy streets and dodging the many other onlookers was treacherous. One had to be careful, but I was pleased to be there, honouring the poor souls who lost their lives in one of the ancient world’s worst natural disasters.

I have since read the book, Pompeii, by Robert Harris. An excellent account of that fateful day from the point of view of an aquarius, someone who maintained the aqueducts. Having walked the streets, the book had special meaning to me.

Have you ever visited a place you had read about before? Did you feel the same when you actually saw it, as when you first learned about it?

 

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Ever since I saw the Colin Firth movie, A Summer in Genoa, I have wanted to visit Genoa, (Genova in Italian.) This was also my very first visit to Italy and was mesmerized by the tall pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses, amazing churches, and stately homes tucked away inside the narrow streets and alleys. The birth place of Christopher Columbus was the perfect introduction to Italy. Once again, we joined a walking tour of the historical centre.

The impressive Palace of St. George, built in 1260, greeted us as we stepped off the boat. The fresco depicting St. George, the patron saint of Genoa, is amazing.

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The Palace of Saint George

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Genoa is famous for two of my favourite foods, focaccia and pesto. We were treated to samples. I couldn´t resist purchasing a jar of pesto to take home. It was the best I have ever tasted!

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The early 13th-century San Lorenzo Cathedral has a black and white striped marble façade. The details above the door are incredible.

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Two sad looking lions guard the front door of the church

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Many small restaurants and cafes are hidden in the narrow  caruggi alleyways

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Piazza de Ferrari

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A typical street scene in Genoa

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Another impressive doorway

A stately home

A stately home

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Sipping a coffee at one of the many piazzas is a dream come true.

Genoa was everything I thought it would be and more. I am so glad I made it to this enchanting city.

More of Italy to come…..


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