Cefalù, Sicily, Italy

May 17, 2017 - Sea Cloud

Sparkling azure seas, billowing sails, warm homemade donuts, a deck chair and a good book–la dolce vita! This is how we spent our morning aboard Sea Cloud.

Shortly after lunch the crew went aloft to furl the sails as the ship dropped anchor at Cefalù. This charming medieval city was built on the site of an ancient Sicilian and Greek settlement from the Bronze Age. It is nestled at the foot of a dramatic cliff that forms a headland midway along the north coast of Sicily. On closer inspection, the exterior of the houses that line the seafront of the town are part of the medieval walls of the city. The Romanesque arched sea gate now provides the main access to the beach for the townspeople and tourists.

In the afternoon we took a walking tour of the old city, stopping first at a medieval washhouse that was built into the base of the city walls where an underground spring erupts to the surface. Our guides then led us along narrow cobblestone streets bedecked with the day’s laundry. There were lots of people dashing back to work at the end of the afternoon siesta. We ended our tour with a visit to the graceful, light-filled Cathedral-Basilica of Cefalù, which was erected in 1131 by the first Norman ruler of the island, King of Sicily, Roger II, in grateful thanks for surviving a shipwreck. The glittering gold mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the cathedral was finished 70 years before the more famous mosaic decorations of Monreale outside of Palermo. Truly the focal point of the town, the west façade of this amazing church is flanked by two soaring bell towers. The entrance is through a Romanesque arch flanked by two large Arabic arches, all of which are embellished with a border of overlapping Arabic geometric designs and chevrons.

While they have recently started an ambitious two-year conservation program of the inlaid gold mosaics in the apse of the church, the restored 12th-century inlaid marble panels of the pulpit have recently come back from Florence and were on display in the side aisle. With elements showcasing 2,000 years of architectural traditions, the cathedral seamlessly tells the history of the island and demonstrates the peaceful co-existence of diverse religious and artistic traditions that existed here under Norman rule.

Our group then dispersed to take part in different activities. Some chose to climb La Rocca, a steep trail that took us to the ruined Temple of Diana, while others explored the side streets of the town with cameras in hand. The rest of the group pulled up a chair in one of the many small cafés to enjoy a glass of wine or a gelato before heading back to the ship for dinner.

As the sun began to set, the sky transitioned from pale pink to deep crimson and the colors were reflected on the façade of the cliffs towering above the town. We remained at anchor as the stars emerged and blanketed the inky black night sky, and the twinkling lights of the town left a sparkling trail across the tips of the waves.

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About the Author

Robyn Woodward


Lecturing on expedition ships since 1996 has fueled Robyn’s passion for adventure, discovery, travel, art, and archaeology.  These diverse interests have carried her through several degrees, including a B.A. in the History of Art from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; a B.Sc. in Conservation of Archaeological Materials from University College, Cardiff, Wales; an M.A. in Nautical Archaeology from Texas A&M; and finally a Ph.D. in Archaeology from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, in 2007. 

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