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Sicily - Italy


Cities and Towns in Sicily

Cefalu is a beautiful town on Sicily's western coast, close to both Messina and Palermo, it is nestled between the Modonie mountains and the sea.  It is a very beautiful and picturesque place with an ancient history, definitely making it worthwhile to stop in on your journey through Sicily.
The Greeks knew the settlement as "Cephaloedion", derived from their word for cape.  The city can brag of  a very picturesque fishing harbor, surrounded by houses and other buildings which seem to be built on the water itself, and a number of sandy beaches where, in the summer and its flanking seasons, one may idle indulgently under the notoriously hot Sicilian sun.
The history of the city, which sits on a spur of land that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea, follows the general history of Sicily.  Settled by the Greeks, then the Phoenecians, the city came under the successive domination of the Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Spaniards and others.
Not surprisingly, the architecture and monuments in Cefalu, reflect its historical evolution.  The most dominate building in the city, however, is the Duomo, and adjacent abbey and cloister, whose construction was started in 1131 AD under the Norman ruler, Roger II.  It is said to be one of the finest examples of Norman architecture, but the Wikipedia editor says that it is more accurately Sicilian Romanesque. The mosaics in the interior of the church are justifiably among the most famous in the world, and reveal the influence of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which is still felt in Cefalu today.
The maze of old medieval streets and alleys within the city itself are a pleasure to walk through.  Keep an eye out for the "lavatoio", where bathers could bathe and cool-off in pools fed by underwater springs. When Roger II came to Cefalu, he stayed at the Osteria Magna - the Great Guesthouse which you can tour.
If you have the legs and stamina for a long, steep climb, the mountain on the north side of the city offers a spectacular view of Cefalu, the long coast east and west, and out into the Tyrrhenian.  At its summit, sit the ruins of a large Norman fortress built between the 11th and 12th centuries and the more ancient Greek temple - the Temple of Diana, where members of a cult devoted to Hercules worshipped and banged their drums.  The temple appears to have been built on the foundations of a structure dating to the 9th century BC.
If you have an urge to leave the most touristed areas, you might want to drive to the Gibilmanna Sanctuary high in the Madonie Mountains about 15 kilometers south.  The attraction is not the sanctuary itself, but the forests that surround the area.  Likewise, Castelbuono, also in a wooded area, is a small town about 25 kilometers from Cefalu is a charming place worth taking the time to visit.  Alas, the castle, once owned by the dominating feudal family, the Ventimiglias, is not open to the public.




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