Archive for the ‘Sicily’ Category

You cannot see the house from Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. Immediately south of the Valley’s Temple of Concordia, there is a breathtaking drop to the city’s port named for a famous Greek philosopher, Empedocles. The house, however, is a place little known by tourists or travelers. Many seek the house as on a pilgrimage, a place to find inspiration from a life of struggle and purpose.

Pirandello Home Girgenti, Porto Empedocle

Pirandello Home
Girgenti, Porto Empedocle

Above that port, and adjacent to a precipice to the sea, stands the home of Luigi Pirandello, a writer whose novels, poems and plays earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934.

Portrait of Luigi Pirandello (1928) Primo Conti

Portrait of Luigi Pirandello (1928)
Primo Conti

Literally born into Chaos, the suburb of Agrigento where he was born is called Kaos (Chaos),his family was wealthy. Sulfur mining was the source of his father’s income and his mother, Caterina Ricci Gramitto, came from a wealthy merchant family. His family was vehemently against the Bourbon rule in Sicily. Familiarity with politics came early to Luigi and his earliest impressions formed a profoundly important part of his psyche and his writing for his entire life.

An education lead by his mother at home continued until he was offered entrance to the ginnasio, the school of higher education where he began serious studies of literature. From the early age of twelve, when his first play was written, he knew that literature and writing were his passion, his life. At the age of thirteen, the family began a series of moves that would profoundly influence Pirandello. First Palermo, where he studied at the University. Next came Rome where he was given the opportunity to see, first hand, the political intrigue and waste of the early attempts at Risorgimento, the rising against the Bourbon kings.

His life continued through a complex series of disappointments and loss. In 1903, the family lost their entire estate after floods in the sulfur mines of Aragona. His mother never completely recovered from the psychological shock of the loss and Luigi’s wife, herself mentally fragile, was eventually committed to an asylum. Despite the loss and challenges of his life, his writing continued unabated for fifty-six years.

Why is this Italian writer, whose home stands above a city of ancients on the southern coast of Italy, important?

Pirandello, it was stated in his 1934 Nobel Prize citation, achieved his success by his “bold and brilliant renovation of the drama and the stage.” Throughout a life that presented political, moral, psychological and philosophical challenges, he chose to write, to express anger, disappointment, loss and change.

From the vantage point above the sea where Pirandello’s remains are buried, there is a sense of peace. He once said, “I am a child of Chaos…” and while his life story may read as such, visitors come to understand why he loved this quiet promontory where he often found inspiration.

When he wrote of his home above Agrigento, he wrote of the earth. There is a marker at the house with a quote from one of his poems. It reads:

28 June 1897 Marker Pirandello's Home

28 June 1867
Pirandello’s Home

Uno notte di giunio
caddi come una lucciola
Sotto un pino solitario
d’olivi saraceni
affacciata agli orli
d’un altopiano
d’argille azzurre
sul mare africano

One night in June,
I fell like a firefly
Under a lonely pine
of Saracen olive
overlooking the edges
of a plateau
of clay blue
African sea

It was but a few years ago that lightening struck that same lone pine tree. While a new tree has since been planted, the remains of that stark burned tree somehow symbolized the life of a man who was a lightening rod of dissent, of great writing and of rising above adversity.

His home is a place that I strongly encourage everyone to visit. It is off the beaten path of tourism that leads to the Valley of the Temples and it is a place that  illuminates yet another part of Sicily’s, as well as Italy’s,  fascinating culture.

The Pine Tree Pirandello Home

The Pine Tree
Pirandello Home


Casa Museo Luigi Pirandello

Contrada Caos Villaseta  Agrigento SS 115

Tel. : +39.0922.51.18.26

Open Hours: Every day, except Mondays, 09:00AM to 7:00PM

Ticket: 4,00 €

Visits to the burial place of Pirandello can be completed from 09:00AM until one hour before sunset.

Guided tours can be arranged in advance by calling: +39.360.397.930

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Evening View of Modica Sicily

Evening View of Modica Sicily

Modica. A city of intense beauty, part souk, part Renaissance fantasy, a mosaic of buildings reflecting an equally diverse populace.

Over the course of many years of travel to Sicily, I have stayed in Modica numerous times. In this post I will share some of the little known treasures – and some well known – in a Sicilian city I have come to love.

Some orientation will help you understanding the geography and cultural diversity of the city. Modica Basso is located in the center of Modica’s valley. Despite the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake in 1693 (which destroyed the greater part of eastern Sicily), the city has survived and restored its Sicilian Baroque splendor.

Sicilian Baroque? This is a style of architecture established in this area of Sicily after the 1693 earthquake. Known for fantastic sculptures in the facades of buildings and churches, it has come to symbolize a unique style particular to this geographic area of the island.

Until 1902, there were numerous bridges across the river Modicano, formed by two rivers called the Pozzo dei Pruni and the Janni Mauro. After a disastrous flood that same year, the city redirected the river through culverts beneath what is now called the Corso Umberto I, the city’s main thoroughfare. Shops abound along this road offering everything from jewelry to clothing to restaurants.

Over the course of centuries, Modica Alta was established above the city’s valley. It is here that one of the most beautiful churches in Italy is located. (See “Churches” below). This is a residential area of the city offering few shopping options. The views, however, from the high point above the city are spectacular.


San Giorgio Modica

San Giorgio Modica

The Cathedral of San Giorgio: Located on the steep hillside above the lower city, this is one of the most striking examples of Sicilian Baroque in Sicily. The facade was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, and the results are spectacular. One of the island’s first meridians, a means of tracing the seasons by the position of the sun on the floor of the cathedral, crosses in front of the main altar. It was in 1895, that the mathematician Armando Perinio received permission from the church to install the meridian.

The rays of sunlight that pierces the high windows of the interior, particularly in the afternoon, create prisms of light on the surface of huge white interior marble column; an evocative sense of the spiritual in a spiritual place.

The Cathedral of San Pietro: Older than San Giorgio, this was the diocesan church of the city until factions formed around Modica Alta and Modica Basso. The  ensuing divisions ended in their being two patron saints of the city – San Giorgio for the upper city and Saint Peter for the lower city. The statues of the twelve saints that stand along both sides of the entrance stairway to the church are beautiful, as is the interior of this historic church.

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

San Niccolo Inferiore: It was in the late 1960’s, when a car repair garage was being renovated, that the workers opened up a cave that had been used by early (4th Century A.D.) Christians as a place of worship. Located almost directly across the street from one of Italy’s premier chocolatiers (see Chocolate below), you have to ring a bell to enter this little known treasure in the heart of the city. Once you ring the bell, a warden leans out of a window above you, descends and opens the cave for you. The walls retain remnants of fourth and fifth century frescoes created by the artists of the day, gorgeous in their simplicity, moving in their beauty.

Frescoes Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore  Modica

Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore

Chocolate in Modica:

Chocolate Assortment Bonajuto Modica

Chocolate Assortment
Bonajuto Modica

You can find few chocolatiers in Italy that can match the history of Bonajuto (bon-aye-u’-toe) in Modica Basso. Established in 1880 by Francesco Bonajuto, the recipes used in this workshop date to the time of Spanish occupation on the island. The grainy texture of the chocolate,(they do not allow the sugar to dissolve completely)  mixed with ingredients as diverse as red pepper or lemon, are a delight. Guided visits are possible at Bonajuto. See below under “IF YOU GO” for further details.

Day Trips

There are numerous options open to visitors who choose Modica as the base for their visit to this part of Sicily. Easily reached are the other famous Sicilian baroque cities of Scicli, Noto and Ragusa. Lovely small fishing villages dot the southeastern coast and offer quiet (except in July and August!) respite from the cities.

A longer day trip can take visitors to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples near the southern town of Agrigento. (A future post will discuss the Valley in great detail).

On many evenings, I have walked up to the piazza above the Hotel Palazzo Failla – see “Hotels” below (not for the feint of heart!) and looked out over the valley of Modica. Despite the occasional group of local youths who gather as young people are wont to do, the timelessness of the buildings, the rugged beauty of the architecture and the long sifted light of sunset evoke a different time, a different era, a different Italy.

No matter where your travels take you during time in Sicily, visit Modica. You will not be disappointed.



Entrance Palazzo Failla Hotel Modica

Palazzo Failla Hotel

Absolutely and without question, the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta. The Failla family opened this lovely hotel in their family palazzo. The resultant restoration is gorgeous; the master bedroom, replete with original floor tiles from the Sicilian ceramic city of Caltagirone, are one of the many options for guests. In 2008, the family opened a dependance across the road from the original hotel where suites that include every modern convenience (Spa tubs, steam showers for example) are available. There are two restaurants in the hotel – the Gazza Ladra and La Locanda del Colonnello. The Gazza is one of the finest restaurants in Italy and the Locanda offers more typical Sicilian fare. Both are excellent places to eat in the city.

In closing I must write that the Failla family has cared for many of my company’s clients over the years. Their extraordinary service would be difficult to match in the highest luxury level hotels across Italy. Truly a wonderful place to stay during your explorations of southern Sicily.

Via Blandini, 5 – 97015 Modica (RG)

Tel: +39.0932.941.059


Osteria dei Sapori Perduti

In addition to the two restaurants listed in the Hotel Palazzo Failla, I also strongly encourage you to enjoy a meal (or meals!) at the

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti - Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti – Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti. This is a treasure of a place to enjoy a fabulous meal in Sicily. The recipes are generations old, traditional in every sense. The translation of the Osteria’s name (The Osteria of Lost Flavors) is not quite accurate as the flavors, rediscovered in traditional recipes, are unforgettable. This is a very affordable place and the service is matched by the owner’s dedication to satisfying even the most discriminating palate.

Corso Umberto I, 228, 97015 Modica, Sicily, Italy

Tel: +39.0932.944.247

Pizzeria Smile

Pizzeria Smile? Yes. A short walk from the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta is this wonderful pizzeria. After long days of travel and visiting across this part of Sicily, the pizzeria offers simple and flavorful fare served in a very plain atmosphere. Weather permitting, the dining rooms open to the street and absent the occasional motos that rip past the restaurant, the cool evening breezes are a welcome respite from the heat of summer and welcome cool in the autumn and spring.

Via G. Marconi, 17

Tel: +39.0932.946.666


San Giorgio and San Pietro: 10:00AM until 6:00PM except Sundays. Sunday 1:00PM – 5:00PM. The schedule for masses are posted on the doors and interior entrances to the churches.

San Niccolo Inferiore: Via Rimaldi, 1. Tel: +39.331.740.3045. Hours vary by request. You must ring the bell at the entrance to the site to gain entrance with no reservation. If you wish to set up a time to visit, call the Italian cell phone listed in this summary and make an appointment. This is a place with no formal hours, absent 10:00AM to 5:00PM. It is catch as catch can, but well worth the effort!


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