Ten Days in Sicily for AAR Fellows, with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

From the Doric temple at Segesta

Mi po’ mustrari na carta unna mi trovu? Well, fortunately on the March 2010 American Academy trip to Sicily no one ever had to try that dialect phrase (“can you show me on the map where I am?”). And that despite the rigors of an ambitious ten-day trek to some of the most stimulating cities, towns and sites of both the western and eastern portions of the island. The weather was brilliant, the wildflowers were in full bloom, and the food rarely disappointed.

What gave massive added value was the fact that the AAR teamed up with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for the expedition. American School Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classical Studies Margaret M. Miles (FAAR’88, RAAR’00)—whose primary areas of expertise include ancient Sicily and South Italy—led the trip with AAR Mellon Professor Corey Brennan (FAAR’88). The combined Rome and Athens group numbered twenty-two in all, including Olga Palagia, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens; AAR Resident Ann Vasaly (FAAR’83 and former Acting Mellon Professor), Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University, with her husband Richard A. Young; and six current Fellows of the AAR. In the great ASCSA tradition, all members of the group offered at least one on-site report.

ASCSA Mellon Professor Margaret Miles (on lower step) with Athens and Rome group at Temple of Apollo, Siracusa

Duomo at Palermo with Norman, later medieval and Baroque elements

Following two days in Palermo (17-18 March) and a morning in nearby Monreale (with its dazzling Norman cathedral), the group took in Gibellina Vecchia (Alberto Burri’s moving monument to the victims of the 1968 earthquake), the Doric temple and Hellenistic theater at Segesta, then Erice, Carthaginian Motya, the Museo Baglio Anselmi at Marsala (ancient Lilybaeum), and the Cave di Cusa quarries near Selinunte (19-20 March). But that was just a start.

The 12th century Norman church of San Giovanni degli Eremitani, Palermo

Alberto Burri’s Grande Cretto installation (1980), encasing the destroyed town of Gibellina Vecchia

On the boat to Motya: from left, AAR Fellows Stephen Westfall, Lauren Kinnee, Susanna McFadden, and ASCSA Regular Member Robert Nichols

On the southern coast, Selinunte and Agrigento provided almost two dozen Doric temples for the group to explore and examine over the course of two days (21-22 March)…

At Selinunte, AAR Fellows Abigail Child and Robert Hammond

At the ruins of Temple G in Selinunte, ASCSA Regular Members John Tully and Jessica Paga

The ‘Temple of Concord’ at Agrigento

AAR Fellow Robert Hammond has an unexpected encounter at Agrigento, the ‘Bianca’ of poet and sculptor Francesco Messina (1900-1995)

…and then (23 March) it was on to the important Hellenistic city of Morgantina—with its excellent associated archaeological museum in an ex-Cappuccin monastery at Aidone. In an amazing coincidence, former AAR Mellon Professor Malcolm Bell (FAAR’70, RAAR’89) of the University of Virginia was on hand at Morgantina to show the group the “House of Ganymede” and the excavations of the Hellenistic baths. A specially arranged visit to the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina (now closed for restoration) followed.

At Morgantina, a fortituous meeting with former AAR Mellon Professor Mac Bell (FAAR’ 70, RAAR’89). From left, Bell, AAR Fellows Lauren Kinnee and Lela Urquhart, AAR Resident and former Acting Mellon Professor Ann Vasaly (FAAR’83), and ASCSA Regular Member Emily Egan

A portion of the Great Hunt Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale, near Piazza Armerina

Wednesday 24 March saw the group first in Noto, built as a planned Baroque showpiece following the earthquake of 1693 that devastated southeast Sicily. Later that afternoon was the steep climb via Ferla to the remote archaeological area of Pantalica, with its thousands of Sicel rock-cut tombs in the walls of a limestone gorge.

Duomo at Noto, with dome reconstructed after 1996 collapse

Bronze age tombs carved into the sides of the gorge at Pantalica

Siracusa was the last major destination for the group. A single day (25 March) was entirely too short to experience the island of Ortygia (with the Temple of Apollo, the Duomo and its reuse of the Temple of Athena, the Arethusa fountain, the Palazzo Bellormo gallery), let alone the rich offerings of the New City (the Archaeological Museum ‘Paolo Orsi’, and the Archaeological Park with its ancient quarry-prisons, grandiose Hellenistic altar of Hiero II, theater and Roman amphitheater). Most of the group had the opportunity also to explore a bit of Catania on 26 March, before boarding flights to Athens or Rome.

Inside the ‘Ear of Dionysus’, quarries at Siracusa

Theater at Siracusa

Looking north, Piazza Duomo, Siracusa

In the end, pretty much each historical era of the island received at least some investigation, from Elymian, Sicel, Carthaginian and archaic Greek origins, through the Greek classical and Hellenistic age, the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese periods, and so down through the high point of Sicilian Baroque in the eighteenth century, Garibaldi’s campaigning in the mid-nineteenth, the hard fighting of World War II, and the decades that followed.

Selinunte at night

AAR Programs Assistant Giulia Barra organized the trip for the Academy, with assistance by Senior Programs Associate Anne Coulson. Driving for the group was Carlo Cacciamani.

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