Friday, January 8, 2016

Day 1: Palmero!

Today our minds were kept off of how exhausted we still were by the many, many incredible sites we saw and things we learned. As I write about the sites we saw, there is one theme, manifested in three ways that you might notice. The theme is that nothing is simple. One manifestation of this theme is that everything has a mix of cultures and periods. One building might have been built during three periods or show remnants of multiple, distinct cultures. Another manifestation is that every site was built to convey a certain message to the people. Each aspect of each site was chosen for a specific reason. The last manifestation is that there were multiple uses many sites. One building that we saw was originally built as a church, was then converted to a mosque, and was then converted back into a church. With those manifestations of my chosen theme for today, please enjoy living vicariously through our travels from today!

First, we went to the Ziza Palace. This palace was created originally as a summer residence for the royal family and has many architectural connections to Arab countries. One thing I found remarkable in this palace, and throughout the day, was the ingenuity of the architects. Outside the palace were caldariums (hot baths) as well as a pool with cool water from the Roman or Byzantine period. We could see the bricks that would be heated under the baths and we could see the remnants of a fountain from which the water flowed. There were towers that would catch the wind and direct it in such a way to keep the inside of the palace cool. There was also a system of running water inside the walls of the palace to keep it cool as well as windows arranged inside the palace walls to speed up the current of the air. In the floor, there were upside-down amphoras which created an air buffer and also kept the palace cool. I was super impressed. In certain areas, the ceiling was decorated like above an Islamic meharab, where they pray. The same architecture was used, but the purpose was left off. It was no longer to assist in prayers, but for aesthetic purposes. There was also a grave stone, with four languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic. That these languages were all present show us that all of these languages were important and spoken at that time in Palmero. In the center was the Greek cross, representing the religion of the deceased. 

Next, we went to the Royal Palace. The most significant part of the Royal Palace that we saw was the chapel, which was covered in gold mosaics. The mosaics and artistic choices combined traditions of the multiple cultures in Sicily, but because of the presence of the king in the art shows them as all under one monarchy. In fact, this was the only chapel in which a conversion to Christianity was legitimate. Everything from the mosaics on the wall to the inscriptions chosen presented an argument for all the people of the island to be converted to Christianity and submit to the monarch. One example would be that most churches represented Paul and Peter, yet this chapel showed Paul and Andrew, who was the patron saint of Constantinople, which shows a connection between the East and the West.

We then went to St John of the Hermit, which was a church from the Byzantine times, converted to a mosque, converted back to a church in the Norman times. Next to the church was a garden with a well, surrounded by colonnades. Our guide explained how these gardens represented people getting back to the Garden of Eden, which had been lost when Adam and Eve first sinned. The water in the well is to remind us of the life that Jesus gives.

We then had a wonderful lunch!

Before going to the main cathedral, we took a detour to the city gate, which had actually been created in the 1560s as a symbol, not because it was needed. This gate separates inland and the port, and is a memorial to a war. There are four pirates on the gate, two of which have no arms, showing the pirates that were killed in the war. The other two are bowing in submission, representing the pirates that submitted to the armies of Sicily. Once we got to the cathedral, we were stunned with the beauty. We noticed that it is a hodge-podge of different ages and styles, including the Middle Age, Norman times, the 1700s, and even the 1800s. On one of the columns was a surah from the Qur'an, arguing that Christianity rules over all other religions. In the cathedral, were depictions of the 4 ancient patron saints of Palmero (one of which shares my name!), and another shrine to the modern patron saint. Also, there was an incredible sundial which lights up at noon on a different square each month, proving the acceptance of Galileo's theory by the church.

We then wandered to the center of the city, which had four corners, showing 4 patron saints, 4 Spanish kings, and the 4 original sections of the city. Then, we entered a church which was originally Greek, then latinized, and now is once again Greek Orthodox. This church had gold mosaics, like the Royal Palace, showing how important the person who funded the building was to the king. An image represented Jesus blessing the patron of the building, who was kneeling to Mary. This shows the devotional aspect of art in church, as it is supposed to make us feel as though we should also submit. Next door was a Greek Orthodox church, built in the Norman times. This church was much more simple and on the altar was engraved the animal symbols of the four epistles and Jesus.

That was it!
<3 Kristina

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