Ancient and Unprotected

Villa Romana del Casale is a long ride from everywhere but a visit there is well worth the drive. And the countryside you pass en route is pleasing to the eye – with rolling hills and valleys, and wild flowers galore. Just make sure you eat en route because the cafeteria food at the attraction is both overpriced and borderline poisonous.
The richness of Roman mosaic here is unrivaled anywhere else in the world. Some of the mosaics covering the floors of this Roman spa are almost intact. Their colors are more faded than the mosaics we saw in Palermo but they are also some 800 years older, and the shear number of them is staggering. This site is very well kept, cleaned up, and well run.
But overall, Sicilians don’t seem to treasure their national heritage. In the necropolis of Pantalica, we hiked to the caves once served as Byzantine churches. They contained remains of the fourth century frescos exposed to the elements and completely unprotected. Anyone could come up close and have their way with them any way they want.
In an archeological park that charged an admission fee (which you would think meant that it was recognized by the state and supposedly taken care of by the Sicilian government), a carving on a wall dating back to the 1st century BC, was fenced off by two wood planks crudely nailed together into a flimsy fence, which could be easily overcome even by a small child – nothing that would be able to stop a vandal from destroying or damaging this 2100-years old carving.
Same story is with Sicilian towns. Stately building facades are covered with black moss, the paint is peeling and faded, pieces of plaster are gone from the walls. The only cleaned and protected facades are those of churches, but even they are showing the signs of age and the effect of humidity, not to mention the consequences of many earthquakes that plague this island. The CAtholic church is not as rich as it once was, so the interiors could use some renovation. A church in one of the small towns we visited lost one of its two bell towers in the earthquake of 1990, and there it stands, lopsided, with no hope of regaining another bell tower any time soon.
While Sicilians don’t treasure their national heritage, they do treasure the art of making terrific coffee and having the finest produce at the most reasonable prices. At Villa Demetra, we had lunch of warm bread with a spread of antipasto: delectable cheeses, exquisite jams, home cured olives and prosciutto, and then a gourmet dish of pasta with black truffles, homemade wine and a typical Sicilian dessert of thin pastry dough stuffed with sweet warm ricotta and drizzled with honey. All that and coffee for the four of us cost us a whooping 50 euro.


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