Subject: Sicily part 6
Day 13 After a good night rest we spent a lazy morning at the pool, listening the now welcomed music played by the disk jockey. At noon we left for Modica, about 30 kms away. The town lies in a deep canyon and is spread both in the bottom and the sides of the valley. First time I saw it from the main road bridge it made me think of La Paz, Bolivia, on a smaller scale. Like many other towns, it suffered a lot from natural disasters like earthquakes and floodings from the two rivers once flowing in the valley, therefore it has been reconstructed several times, the dry bed of rivers filled and now no more a threat. As usual we skipped the hottest hours by going to lunch at the Trattoria All' Arco, Piazza Rizzone 11. I had a listing on my guide for it; it's a small place with only a handful of tables inside, the television roaring on a wall mount and the smells of the kitchen filtering through the beads curtain, but the food was excellent. We had the usual Sicilian appetizer of cheese, eggplant, olives, then homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and served with a mild tomato sauce, a grilled mix of beef, pork and sausage and homemade dessert of lemon jelly. After that we were ready to climb the long stair (tourbook says there are 300 steps, but my daughter claimed she counted 230 only) leading to the Duomo of San Giorgio. Eventually we arrived at the top and had some rest under the shadow of a lonely tree, taking in the scenery of the canyon walls, the elegant mansions and the towering Baroque convex front of the church. The refreshingly cool interior was quiet and clear, with a big silver artwork behind the altar and many flowers on the front. Our schedule was pressing, so we took the way down along a not too steep alley, lined by old buildings. I sadly discovered the wonderful and renown pastry shop in the town centre was closed, so we moved on to Cava d' Ispica. Less than 10 km from the town, there's another deep canyon, whose walls are full of caves and burials dug into the soft stone. The older burials are from the first centuries A.D., together with caves fitted as churches by the first Christians. The most impressive is the Larderia, just a few steps away from the entrance to the site. The name has nothing to do with lard, but it's the corruption of a Greek word meaning rich of water. The catacomb has three aisles, with empty graves dug everywhere on the walls and the floor. They were probably covered by stone slabs once, but now it looks like a giant hive under the creepy dim light coming from the only opening. Some of the churches have barely readable rough frescoes and some caves were used as houses too; the last dwellers left them in the fifties, making you think how hard was life less than 50 years ago. Since a good part of the site was closed to public due to endangered areas, we went a bit south, into the town of Ispica, where the archeological Parco della Forza was set on a hill overlooking a deep ravine. In this case Forza is a corruption of fortezza, the castle on the top dating back to Middle Age and then modified. Now only the ruined walls give us a clue about its strenght and importance. Many different caves on the side of the ravine were used as stables or storage houses; the larger one has still the feeding trough and a graffiti of horsemen. The very interesting Centoscale, a steep artificial gallery going from the top of the hill to some meters under the riverbed is closed to visitors: it was used for supplying water, dripping from the gallery roof and carried in buckets.

Day 14 Today's trip was a long one, first back along the coast to Gela and then north across the mountains to the little town of Piazza Armerina. It took us two good hours; just outside of the town we found ourselves among almost an hundred tourist buses, a swarm of foreign tourists, a long line of stalls selling cheap souvenirs and postcards, plus the usual posteggiatore at the end of the road. The reason of all that: the unique Roman mosaics on the floors of Villa del Casale. It was a very large and rich villa from the third century A.D., maybe owned by some relative of the emperor, which was covered by a mudslide around 1100 A.D., this way preserving the bright and wonderful mosaics floors. The villa is impressive for its size and layout; the mosaics show circus and big game scenes, mythological tales and semi-naked girls who gather a lot of people around them, as they look so modern in their tiny bikinis. THe place was really crowded and we had to queue up for some time to enter the rooms. It was too early to have lunch, so we went ahead to Caltagirone, where some of the finest ceramics are manufactured, but I took the wrong road (because of incomplete signs, as usual) and made it longer, following a very scenic country road winding across the hills covered by corn fields. At Caltagirone we stopped for lunch at the first restaurant we met because it was getting late: just the usual pasta with tomato and eggplant, nothing special. The top attraction of the town are the ceramic shops lining the long stairway leading to the church of Santa Maria del Monte. Everyone of the 142 step made of grey lava stone is decorated with ceramic tiles in the standard color pattern of yellow, green and blue which can be found in the shops on many items like vases, plates, jugs and statues. Needless to say my wife wouldn't have left without buying a substantial souvenir and that was a wonderful vase in shape of a woman's head. But I too had my personal souvenir with a stop at a cafè for a slice of cassata, very remarkable, washed down with sweet ice tea.