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Chance Discovery in Sicily

Updated on March 3, 2018
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Mary and her husband work on international projects and have travelled to many places in Spain.

A Passion for Chance Discovery

There are many forms of tourism but for me chance discovery is a passion. What is chance discovery? It's having a general understanding of important places of a country, region or province heading in the right direction but then watching road signs and the hill tops for places we've never heard of.


Temple in Selinunte
Temple in Selinunte | Source

Our Experience of Chance Discovery

With my husband, I like to explore places and dig deeper on some of the interesting discoveries we have. Our rental car becomes like a beagle sniffing game and off it shoots into small roads and even unpromising looking trails and then the discovery, a ruined temple, perhaps 2000 years old, a Roman bath, a decayed Church, or a small fort in ruins.

Chance discovery works in much of the Middle East, certainly in Turkey and Greece, France and Italy but best of all, in Sicily. We are just ending a month of driving through Sicily and the south of Italy and the many chances we have followed and explored, with a few courageous inquiries into local gas stations yielded some of the most important learning for two people with history majors.

Every Mediterranean contender, the Phoenicians morphing into Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracens and laterally, the Spaniards, the Austrians, the French, the Germans spent time here. Most left some physical memories of their presence. Many are too small to make the guidebooks or a few kilometres off the beaten trail and so less popular than the jewels of the crown but this is where discovery takes over and where we satisfy our passion.

We got lost and went off the road. This picture showed the time we veered off to look for a place but we maybe missed the turn. Instead, these sheep with their shepherd met us and we wondered who were more surprised. All the pictures in this lens are taken by me.

Here's the tiny road we got off to - The Shepherd with his Flock

Shepherd and his Flock
Shepherd and his Flock | Source

Looking for a Norman Fort

We happened upon this tiny road because we were looking for a Norman fort that my husband really wanted to see. Thinking this was the way, we took it and we were met by this flock of sheeps with their shepherd who was just as surprised as we were.

Do you enjoy chance discovery? - Into places and history?

Sicily Discovery
Sicily Discovery | Source

Chance Discovery Moves us to Learn More

Chance discovery not only gives us some satisfaction but also moves us to learn more, to dig deeper into interesting sites and events we have discovered by chance. Try this sometimes.

Have you ever tried chance discovery?

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Chance Discovery of Sicily

Erice | Source

Have you ever been to Sicily?

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Sicily in the Ancient Mediterranean

View from Erice
View from Erice | Source

Why Sicily is Interesting to Chance Discoverers

For an avid chance discoverer, Sicily is very interesting. The streets are narrow and chaotic in both its cities and tiny villages. It offers in the faces of its people, in its food, in its markets, in the designs of its homes and its cities, in its art and language, the influences of so many cultures that one just reels at the information all these present.

Sicily's three thousand years of human history further makes it interesting to a chance discoverer. It once occupied a strategic importance in ancient Mediterranean.

The Greek cities founded settlements here as the population in Greece expanded and the need for more land and power moved people to seek new territories. The Phoenicians, famous traders of the ancient times, needed a trading port in the middle of the Mediterranean. Soon, many have heard of Sicily and lusted for it.

Where our Chance Discovery Brought Us

Yes, often, our chance discovery led us to the internet reading everything we could about the place or event we have discovered by chance. We scoured novels at Amazon to give us clues of the place and the ruins of events that made the place what it is today.

Personally, I discovered Inspector Montalbano and his working around the cultural and societal forces of Montelusa gave me a deeper understanding of Sicily. I read other novels on Sicily by Camilleri, Maraini, Unsworth, Turney and Benjamin to make sense of what really happened and as I discovered more, Sicily became much more interesting. These novels led me to understand better some of the places and events we got to know about Sicily.

The picture of Sicily got clearer as I put together bits of information from these writers. To complete the picture, we visited and explored places we have not heard of before and maybe would have missed had we not read some of these novels.

A Chance Discovery in Palermo - The Palermo Archives

The Archives in Palermo
The Archives in Palermo | Source

Interesting Places in our Chance Discovery of Sicily

Rain came and it was a bit more than what we usually could take so we took shelter in one of Palermo's alcoves. It happened to be the entrance to the archives of the city and people were waiting at the gate to see it. We joined in and were really impressed with it, the wealth of information it must contain and the way it was constructed. We happily passed a rainy moment there learning so much from the knowledgeable guide. Yes, they do have a guide, too. Look into this treasure when you are in Palermo.

A Great Cafe Discovered - Trapani

Cafe in Trapani
Cafe in Trapani | Source

A Friendly Cafe in Trapani

We went for a drive to Trapani and we parked thinking of having a walk in the beach. It was windy and cold and nothing really was opened between 1:30 and 4:30 so we ended up in this cafe instead. Thank goodness, it was opened. We had a great chat with the owner while having a cappuccino. Up to now, we still talk of that experience.

Selinunte - A really ancient city in Sicily

Selinunte | Source

The Ruined City of Selinunte

We were on a trip to Trapani when we decided instead to drive towards Marsalla del Vallo as we saw the sign on the highway. We wanted to have some adventure and we were rewarded well that day. We saw the ruins of Selinunte (Selinus) and were really impressed by it.

It was raining when we found the highway sign leading to this place. Undeterred by the rain, we went in and roamed the remains of this thriving city of the ancient times. We were able to drive even closer to the other parts of the ruined city. It was impressive and I know that in the future, these places will be fenced in and you can just view the ruins from a vantage point.

Agrigento - Valley of the Temples

Agrigento | Source


Agrigento (Acragas) is one place in Sicily really worth seeing. We did not chance upon this. We have this in our planned places to see but what we saw just blew us away. What we chanced upon is the hotel we stayed in. It was right in the Valley and from our room, we could see the temples. What a fabulous experience it was to contemplate life in this bustling city when it was one of the important centres.

The Best Mosaics in Sicily

Some of the best preserved mosaics were here in Sicily. It seems that the Byzantines were the ones really good at this art.

The Mosaics - From the Byzantine experts

Mosaic in Sicily
Mosaic in Sicily | Source

Syracusa - Another Adventure in Chance Discovery

Syracusa | Source


When we planned our Sicily trip, we thought that Syracusa may just be too far south to drive to. I have to admit, I have not been very helpful in the preparation. I found this lack in the almost chance discovery trip we did.

Luckily, our hotel on the beach in Taormina may have been the place to be in the summer but in February, there was nothing there. Realizing we booked for two nights, we immediately swallowed the expense and moved on after enjoying the day in the center of Taormina. We looked at the map and ventured off to Syracusa.

We realized how close it was and when we arrived, we proceeded to Ortigia. The street market not much changed from what it has always been hundreds of years ago was in full swing. There was even a celebrity chef doing a television show but of greater interest was the local produce and the locals having fun selling these. Grumpy immediately inched his way to the oyster stall and the seller seeing his enthusiasm sliced some fresh lemons and shacked a few of the oysters. I joined in of course and those oysters were heavenly, with still that taste of the ocean that distinguishes the fresh ones.

This trip to Syracusa opened more doors for us. We saw a museum on Archimedes and were immediately on the internet to check that this was the place of the famous battle of Syracusa. Remember the principle of Archimedes?

As our next destination was Agrigento, we saw on the map that a stop over at Ragusa where the Inspector Montalbano series was filmed was a possibility so off we went and had lunch at Ibla. Another unforgettable chance adventure in Sicily.

Capatina's Video of Syracusa and Ortigia

Why not read the Montalbano series? - Know more of Sicily in the events investigated by Inspector Montalbano

This Montalbano series has been put on television. I have not watched the television series but the books are interesting not so much for its literary style as these have been originally written in Sicilian, but for its local color making Sicily much more interesting especially its intricate web of relationships and connections.

While in Ragusa, where this series was filmed, our daughter who introduced me to the series struggled with me in understanding the various levels in Sicilian social and political life.

I am starting to read this series after our daughter brought it to my attention on our trip to Sicily. I have finished a few and I just kept on. From these, I know more about Sicily and its people.

One of the Montalbano Series

The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano, Book 1)
The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano, Book 1)
Start with this first book and see if you enjoy it. It was for me a hard read at first but after the first one, I got hooked. The way Inspector Montalbano, a loose cannon, solved his cases and worked around the intricate relationships in Sicilian society is fun to read especially when you come from a similar culture. Moreover, the Inspector loves food and describes the intricacies and tastes of the food he enjoys. Follow what he eats at Calogero.

Knowledge of Sicily

How well do you know Sicily?

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© 2013 Mary Norton


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