History and Legend: Kenyon College Visits Sicily

This semester, Kenyon College students visited Sicily as part of their program in Rome: Liberal Arts in the Eternal City. During this excursion, students were able visit various locales in Sicily and delve into the ancient architecture and spectral legends that typify this area of Italy. In this post, Alice Mangia (Program Coordinator at ACCENT Rome) describes the visit.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, situated just at the tip of the Italian “boot”. The island has it all, from a fascinating history to an enchanting nature.

Due to the warm climate and the strategic position in the Mediterranean, the island has always been a crossroads to the western world. The magnificent remains of temples and theaters stand as reminders of the first settlements of Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. The later colonization by the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and French shaped the identity of the island through centuries, and can be recognized still today in the architecture, local dialect, and cuisine of Sicily.

The excursion covered the south-eastern side of Sicily. From their base in Catania, the students explored the Valley of Noto, destroyed by an earthquake (to this day the most powerful to ever strike Italy) in 1693. The eight towns of the Val di Noto were reconstructed anew in the late Baroque style that was in vogue at the time. The city of Noto is the culmination of this Baroque city planning. Although more rustic than the opulent Baroque style that is the hallmark of Rome, the city still manages to leave you speechless. When the sun shines –very often luckily- the city’s magnificent buildings glow in a warm, amber color.

The architecture of the city is so remarkable and unique that in 2011 the Valley made it to the list of UNESCO WORLD heritage sites, a testament to the resilience of the Sicilian people and recognition for the extraordinary reconstruction of the area.

The trip continued to Taormina, where the students got a taste of the Sicilian dolce vita. The town was, in fact, a must-see destination of the classic Grand Tour and later in the 50s and 60s became a glamorous destination for celebrities, intellectuals and royals like D.H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, Goethe, Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo. Still today, Taormina entices flocks of tourists with its unique elegance. In particular, the remains of the Teatro Greco stay bustling all year long. This horseshoe-shaped theater built in the 3rd century BC appears dreamily suspended between sea and sky, with Mount Etna peeking from behind its ruins.

The students were able to see another outstanding example of Greek architecture in Siracusa, where the trip continued. Within the Archaeological Park of Neapolis lies one of the biggest and best preserved ancient theaters in the world, entirely carved into the rock.

Underneath the theater lies a man-made cave called Orecchio di Dionisio (Ear of Dionysius), known for its ear-like shape and its remarkable acoustic properties. The name of the cave derives from a legend invented by no other than Caravaggio, the great Baroque master. As it goes, Dionysius, the tyrant of ancient Siracusa would eavesdrop on the prisoners who he incarcerated in the cave. The students themselves tested the amplified sound in the cave by singing Kenyon College songs: “Old Kenyon, we are like Kokosing, Obedient to some strange spell…”

The highlight of the trip had to be the visit to Aci Trezza, a fishing village just north of Catania. The coastal view here is dominated by the faraglioni, three spurs of rock that jut out of the sea, shaped over thousands of years by the erosion of water and wind. The largest of them is known as Isola Lachea, a protected natural reserve where several animal species live.

What makes Aci Trezza even more fascinating is the ancient legend that surrounds it. According to Homer, the faraglioni were thrown in the water by Polyphemus, the fearsome cyclops, to stop Ulysses from escaping. The students were dazzled by the unique landscape and agreed the best way to enjoy the view is from the cafès on the lungomare, facing the faraglioni, enjoying a creamy almond granita!

In all, this excursion provided these students with an opportunity to explore a unique area of Italy, and to absorb the history, architecture, and ancient legends that make these locales alluring and fascinating.

~Alice Mangia, ACCENT Rome

ACCENT networks span academia and industry, and include dynamic excursions that provide unforgettable experiential learning opportunities for our students. If you’re faculty or a study abroad office and ready to collaborate on a new program, contact us at prog-dev@accentintl.com.