The Best of Sicily
After going fishing for anchovies off Cefalu, we land in rough-and-tumble Palermo. Marveling at the eerie skeletons in a Cappuccin crypt, airy mosaics of Monreale, enchanting ruins of Segesta, and the fiery rim of Mount Etna, we enjoy the best of Sicily.
Located 3 miles outside the town of Piazza Armerina, the floor mosaics in this 4th century Roman villa are some of the best-preserved of their type in the world and make this well worth a stop. The villa was a luxurious hunting lodge used (some believe) by the Roman emperor Maximian. After being abandoned in the 1200s the villa was covered by a mudslide that protected the mosaics until systematic excavation in 1880s. The display of the mosaics here is in situ, a term archeologists use to describe an artifact that has been left in place instead of carved out of a floor or wall as most of the frescoes and mosaics at Pompeii were. A unique system of elevated metal catwalks let you walk through the villa and gaze directly down at the mosaics. The clear fiberglass panels above simulate the original roof long since gone.
Intrepid travelers with a curiosity for the morbid will enjoy a visit to the ghoulish crypt of the Capuchin monks. For centuries the Capuchins preserved their dead brethren using a special embalming process and then displayed the mummified corpses in order to convey the message, "that which we are, you will become". After awhile, noble families asked to be "buried" in the Capuchin's crypt, the bodies arranged by gender, vocation, virgins, and children. Today this practice of mummifying the dead has been discontinued but over 8000 skeletons and mummies testify to the macabre custom, the most recent done in 1920, an almost perfectly preserved child of 5 years.