Thursday, October 25, 2012

"You can see the entire history of Sicily right here in Cefalù."

The owner of Hotel La Giara in Cefalù led me up to the roof terrace for a low-level panorama across the city. He made a sweeping gesture encompassing the rooftops and said proudly:

"You can see the entire history of Sicily right here in Cefalù."

"Up on the rocca," he jabs his finger toward the sheer headland that locals call "the fortress" and which shelters Cefalù's perfect little harbor. "You find prehistoric caves and an ancient Greek temple."

"Down here," his hand sweeps to present the narrow streets directly below us. "You can see the courtyards of old Saracen homes, and how the Arabs built the streets narrow as one man, so that if enemies tried to attack, they'd have to enter Cefalù in single file." He paused to grin devilishly. "That way it was easy for just a few men up here with arrows and some more down there with swords to dispatch them."

"Under the rocca," he pointed back up, at twin towers of the Norman cathedral two streets away, "is our cattedrale, built by Roger II himself to thank God for miraculously delivering him to Cefalù's safe harbor during a violent storm at sea. It was Sicily's first cattedrale"—the pride shows through again—"Built like a fortress, but so beautiful inside with mosaics." 

"We even have an Antonello," he remarks offhandedly, referring to the masterpiece by Sicily's only Renaissance great, Antonello da Messina, that sits in Cefalù's tiny museum

"And just down there, the docks where the great Tornatore filmed Cinema Paradiso," he points over the rooftops to where we can see a stone breaker jutting out into the water, curling around a miniscule beach

"And the beaches that bring us our tourists," he points to the farther curve of the harbor where modest resort hotels fill in summer with savvy vacationers from Palermo and around the world who wince at the high prices and heavy tourism of Sicily's more popular resort town of Taormina.

We stand in silence for a few moments, pondering 2,500 years of history in a prosperous little fishing town barely ten blocks long and five blocks wide. Then he claps his hand on my shoulder.

"You must come down and see the restaurant. Many guests come and say they do not want the half-pensione, just the room." He grins. 

"But after trying my pasta, they always change their minds!"

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