6th May 2015
I’m excited to wake up, despite my grotty surroundings. Today I will see ancient ruins, my raison d’être. I’m visiting the remote ruins of Soluntum, It’s a Phoenician settlement (like the nearby Palermo, known once as Panormus,) that fell under Carthaginian control, had a few tussles with the Greeks, until eventually the Romans asserted their dominance over the Carthaginians in the First Punic War and turned Soluntum into a small, unimportant town. It’s still neglected, smaller guidebooks don’t even mention it, but I was about to fall in love with it.
There is an hourly train from Palermo Centrale to Santa Flavia that takes a mere 20 minutes, so after dumping my backpack at the deposito bagagli office in Palermo, I’m soon speeding towards the ruined city. Once at Santa Flavia I relied on my guidebook to direct me to the site as signposts for touristic benefit are apparently few and far between. Whilst wandering a main street close to the turn off I needed, frantically checking that my instructions weren’t completely wrong, I decided to ask two local ladies for directions. My Italian is dreadful and they spoke no English, but as soon as they realised I wanted to visit the ancient site they offered to help.
Firstly, they pointed to a nearby mountain. Then they mimed walking to the top. Despite it being only May and 9.30 in the morning, I’m already boiling my brains out. The look on my face must have been quite comically distraught as they laughed and ushered me towards their car. I’m still not sure if they were site staff or teachers to a group of small Italian schoolchildren that I saw them with later, but those two angelic ladies saved me from an arduous, steep climb up a winding road. Turns out the ancient town in 600ft above sea level, affording me views like this!
The entire site is perched atop the rock, with the ancient streets branching off from the decumanus at punishingly steep angles. The views are incredible though, even if most visitors may have wanted the remains to be less fragmentary.
For the sake of my ankles I reluctantly head down towards the modern town to catch my return train (having made full use of the ridiculously cheap mineral water vending machine in the small museum first..) as the walk down any mountain is undoubtedly more pleasant and less arduous than the way up. I needn’t have hurried, as the scheduled return train never turned up. With no idea if it was delayed or cancelled, I had no choice but to sit at the station for an entire hour waiting for any train heading to Palermo.
The unexpected delay meant that I couldn’t squeeze the Norman Palace into my schedule once I’d returned to Palermo, so I substituted it for the smaller Museum of the Holy Inquisition in Sicily. It’s situated in the Palazzo Chiaramonte, home to the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition in Sicily from 1600 to 1782.
Within the old cells, graffiti by prisoners was whitewashed over when the building was converted into an 18thC court. The graffiti was rediscovered in the early 20thC but not restored until 2005. Painstakingly uncovered cared for, the graffiti is now a fascinating display of strength of belief. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike were incarcerated and tortured here during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s undoubtedly a regrettable blot on world history, religious intolerance destroying the cosmopolitan make up that Sicily had enjoyed for centuries.
I have time for a short wander around before picking up my backpack from the train station and catching the Segesta line bus to Trapani. Buses are the easiest way to travel across most of the island and are insanely affordable in comparison to what I pay for my daily commute in England.
It’s a beautiful two hour drive, and Trapani has not allowed herself to become nearly as decrepit as Palermo. Buoyed by tidy streets and clean air, I head to my base for the next three nights, the delightful (and very affordable!) Ciuri Home.
Tomorrow takes me further into Carthaginian territory…