Palermo to Cefalu

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Sun 7 Sep 2008 14:45

We have just anchored off the medieval  town of Cefalu, built at the foot of a huge, drum-shaped rock, and dominated by its cathedral built at the command of the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II in the middle of the 12th Century.  Like all Norman structures, it was built to dominate the landscape and endure.  We left Palermo at 7 am to get underway before the daily heatwave began, and had a very pleasant 6 hours of motor sailing along the rugged and mountainous Sicilian coast.

I was glad that our passage to Sicily was so calm, as other yachties have warned us that the Tyrrenian Sea could be tricky, with unexpected storms caused by the Sirocco.  Everywhere we have landed so far has been marked by the different cultures which have colonised the island.  San Vito di Capo, our first port of call was a fishing village and seaside resort which looked like North Africa.  There was a long, white sandy beach lined with palm trees under a precipitous red cliff, and in the little town of 2 storey white-washed houses there was a 13th Century Christian church such as you might find in the Egyptian desert.  Our next stop was at Castellammare di Golfo, an antique looking town straddling down a hillside with several baroque churches and a 17th Century Aragonese fort, a legacy of 500 years of Spanish domination.   According to my guide book (lonely planet), it was also the town with the highest number of Mafia murders per capita in the years following WW2.  When two men,  short, stocky and peasant-like, but wearing well cut suits with shirts open at the neck, accompanied by a not particularly pretty, but well groomed woman wearing a sun dress with a full skirt arrived in the bar where we were sitting  our suspicions were aroused, especially when one of them drove away in a  Cadillac Escalade with New Jersey plates.

 From C di G we took a taxi to visit Segesta, high above the Gulf, where there is an almost perfect surviving Greek temple from 430BC and the ruins of a Greek amphitheatre, which had later been used by the Romans.  Ian’s comment after we arrived in Palermo and walked around the old town where we had moored, was that there were plenty of traces of earlier civilisations, but of the present one, hardly any at all.  It reminded him of Calcutta “but they charge in Euros”. He has been very frustrated by the almost complete lack of communications, such as WiFi, or even easy Internet access so far in Sicily.  The old town of Palermo, where we were moored is very shabby and dirty.  But in the middle of the dirt and the stink, there is some marvellous architecture. Every view, either along the main boulevards, or down winding side streets  lined with once-elegant houses with wrought iron balconies and decorated with grime-encrusted baroque ornament, leads to the sight of a stunning church, or stone gateway, or monument.

The Norman presence in Sicily lasted for less than 100 years, but most of the tourists who visit Palermo go there to see the Norman palaces and cathedrals, whose interiors are decorated with glowing mosaics and wood carving, traditions inherited by the Normans from their Arab and Byzantine predecessors.

From tomorrow we are working our way along the coast, and Ian is looking forward to stopping at a  place where King Roger has not built a monument!