Thursday, 29 November 2012

Town exploration

None the worse for wear, I got out of bed at ten o'clock, breakfasted, took some photographs of the church, its surroundings and interior, then I went out to discover the locality - where the nearest shops are, where the bus station is, where the town piazzas are located. I work out in circles from where I'm based. There's a Tabac for phone cards, booze, ciggies and newspapers quite close, also a gas station with a cafe cum pizzeria for added value. A hundred metres further on is the bus station a vital link to the world beyond the mountainside, along with the cable car, a hundred metres in the other direction. This descends from 197m to 25m, just above the foreshore and beaches. It's a long walk down and a tough climb returning!

Further uphill, beyond the road where the church is located, the main body of the town is spreads out over the mountainside. It's just 500 metres walk to the Messina gate, a portal in the ancient town walls. The town is at the boundary between the urban district of Messina (north) and the urban district of Catania (south). Apparently a river course runs through the town marking the dividing line, although I can't find evidence of that on the map. There are two further portal arches, the southernmost of which is the Catania gate. Three piazzas with handsome churches are linked by the main thoroughfare (corso). These overlook the bay below and offer spectacular views not only of many miles of foreshore, but also snow clad Mount Etna, inland to the west, and today cloaked in cloud for most of the time.

Running off the corso both uphill and downhill are networks of narrow streets and alleys, some with steps others with winding narrow roads linking them. Buildings seem to be heaped on top of each other, as if they are about to overflow downhill. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors and Spaniards have all been in control of Sicily at different periods of history, and there are hints and glimpses of many different building styles to be found wherever you walk. It's a less structured environment than anything classical, Greek or Roman, not as contour hugging as moorish Spanish hillside pueblos. The organic layout reminded me of the higgledey-piggledey character of Greek hill villages, albeit with larger more sophisticated buildings. 

I bought my veggies from the back of a farmer's truck in the Piazza Sta Caterina, then went hunting for grocery stores to get the rest of my supplies. There are many small alimentari, a few bakers and even a couple of smallish supermercati but they are not easy to find. The corso and many of its offshoots are given over to fashionable retailers and souvenir shops, aiming at the huge casual tourist market on which the town's economy clearly relies. But it is good to see so many small shops, and few of them empty, despite the recession. I could do with a trip to a big supermercato to stock up on several items I need to buy in bulk, but the nearest is a bus ride out of town, down the hill. Another day. This was a moment to enjoy sunshine and cool breezes - and take lots of photographs. You'll find some of them posted here.

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