24 June 2020 - Day 74 –Agrigento 1
When I woke up the second time, it was quarter to eight, so I got up, cleaned up, packed up and up and left for the station. Arriving just after 8:30, I found the platform for the 8:43 train south to Agrigento and went and boarded. Eleven stops, by way of an eastern diversion to Cerda, and just over a 2-hour ride.
#Agrigento Centrale is a terminus station, meaning the lines all end by pulling into the terminal, depositing passengers onto a single level. The platforms are actually attractive – the coverings vaguely craftsman, with planter beds at the bumper. The terminal building itself is a tall four-story functional structure, with a sterile waiting room and traveler concessions in a slightly overlit concourse. Walking back parallel to the tracks I’d come in on until a crosswalk, I was soon heading north six blocks on a slight uphill rise to a narrow alley where my lodgings, Il Vicolletto is located. I’d been hitting an occasional stair step while on the initial part of the pedestrian alley, but the last door was about 12 wide steps up. Standing at the doorway, looking up to three balconies, I rang the bell with slight trepidations: how many more steps to the room?
Carmelo came and let me in, and after checking me in and making photocopies, insisted on bringing my bag up two flights of stairs. I was booked into an apartment: one bedroom with kitchen, which meant a king size bed and two twins. En suite bathroom, small balcony with a city view, nice little kitchenette – all the comforts of home. And there was a rooftop patio for relaxing only two more flights up. I asked Carmelo if he would be around in ten minutes, and he said he and Marcella, his wife, would be on the ground floor. I opened my roller, pulled out some food I’d been carrying around and put it in the mini-frig. I hung up my jackets and parka, and changed to shorts.
Back downstairs, I asked some logistics questions after explaining my cathedral obsession. Agrigento has a cathedral, a co-cathedral and an ex-cathedral, all set up the hill from where I was staying in the city center. In addition, another co-cathedral is in Villaseta, a village 5km away. Tomorrow I had a ticket for the Valley of the Temples and museum. So my questions related to whether I could get to the village, and if it were better today or tomorrow. They were surprised to hear that I knew about Santa Croce, a modern church; they said they would find out about transportation and open hours, and text me after lunch.
Thanking them, I began my climb to the cathedral. Via Atenea continued fairly flat, until I made the right turn onto Via Neve, a pedestrian walkway that was artistically painted stairs.
Continuing my slow climb north, I was finally cresting the rise and saw the dome of the cathedral ahead on my right. A long series of “slow steps”, newly restored, brought me from the street to the plaza in front.
The unfinished block tower to the south continues the fortress-like feel for this church, built in a Norman style once the Normans ended two centuries of Moslem rule. The central door in a white framing arch has a scroll and statue in a tympanum. A rondele is above in the next level. Pairs of flat half columns rise from ground level to the upper tympanum in the native golden stone.
Inside the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Gerlando, a checkerboard diamond pattern of black and white marble leads from the nave to the presbytery. The vault in the rear nave and along the side aisles was carefully painted and decorated trussed vaulting, while in the nave from the third arch, done in exposed golden stone, rather than plaster covering for the others, the vault was coffered wood, with a double-headed eagle shield (Charles V) at its center. The north wall was lined with death memorials and tombs, while shrines held place on the south.
At the transept, an altar stood below a dome. Behind, the central apse contained wooden choir stalls, with organ pipes included in the baroque decorations and paintings of the apse. The two side apses were similar small altars, one dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St Gerland, containing an effigy of the bishop’s body and an urn with his relics.
My phone twerked, and I was about done inside the church. Exiting, I climbed the stairs in the tower two levels and got pictures of views from under the openings for the eight bells. When I descended, out on the plaza in the shade I checked the text. Tomorrow, I should see the Temples from east to west, then I was almost 3km to Villaseta, where I could catch a bus back in the later afternoon. Great, that set my plans, so I would continue in Agrigento. Coming southeast along the roads still at the crest of the Girgenti hill, I came to the ex-cathedral, Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Greci. Entering through a metal gate in a brick stone wall, a small garden sits outside this quaint two-story building.
Per the diocesan website, a 4th century BCE Greek temple to Zeus and/or Athena was at this site. During the Byzantine occupation of Sicily, this was a Greek Orthodox cathedral (500-835). Post Saracen and pre-San Gerlando building the cathedral, this was briefly the site of the Catholic cathedral (?-1098). Normans rebuilt the church in the 12th century.
Significant archeological work has been done here, as the chancel floor is glass tiles permitting views to the earlier flooring. A ladder will give access to the remains of the Greek temple. Restorative work has been done on aisle vaults, and preservation on the frescoes. A late 16th century sarcophagus of multiple colored marble sits inside the doorway, remains of noble Palermitans. Despite restorations and renovations, this church still felt old, untampered with, and was very spiritual.
My stomach remined me that lunch time had occurred, but Maps didn’t show any places in the immediate neighborhood. So I decided I’d head towards St Dominic’s, the co-cathedral. First going west on the Via Santa Maria dei Greci, I turned left and began going down hill and south. As I approached the church, Maps suddenly showed several dining places nearby.
Palumbo Gastronomica Rosticceria is both a restaurant and a deli.
With a display counter, I could just point at something that looked good, and they’d prepare it and serve it to me, and I’d never be the wiser? So, intrepid as ever, I pointed at a square of baked wrapped pastry that had something green on top, and asked for it with a birra, grazie. After using the washroom, I found a table on the patio under a covering (it had gotten up to 80° and the sun was strong) and pulled out my journal. Soon, my meal arrived with a flourish. Probably ricotta cheese, spinach, onions, garlic; it filled me up and tasted good too.
Returning a block up the hill, I came back to Chiesa Concattedrale San Domenico. The piazza out front had a few trees, but seemed full of parked cars. I was quite surprised to find it open, as I had been chased out of Santa Maria’s so they could close for lunch. A verger was straightening the nave, as apparently a funeral had taken place that morning. We chatted a bit, as he was curious to know of my origins, and then why I had come to visit. He was surprised as he said most Americans just went to the Valley of the Temples and wandered by the center city, so having one who even knew what a co-cathedral was pleased him. On hearing of my 10-weeks journey and that I was approaching seeing 100 cathedrals that I’d visited and photographed on this trip, he was amazed and asked for my card for #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod. He wanted to know what I thought of the cathedral on the hill, and I also gave him my thoughts for the ex-cathedral.
The axis of St Dominic’s runs parallel to the descending street I’d originally used, and the entry door into the nave is reached from a patio using paired rounded stairs (14). Built with a reddish stone of tuff laced with shells, small niches were empty on both levels on either side of the center. The large double door had round columns holding an open pediment with a shield, with a rectangular paned window on the upper level. The bell tower sits at the back of the building, on the street side, capped with polychrome majolica.
Inside, a single nave with eight side chapels, the main color of which is white plaster, with some highlights of gold and black. At the back of the curved apse is a niche with Our Lady of the Rosary. The Buttafuoco Crucifixion hangs in a chapel and is considered its prized painting; I saw a number of lovely oils used either as medallions or chapel centerpieces. I was never sure what functions St Dominic’s did for the cathedral.
While I felt I should push on and see more, I really didn’t have a plan and decided to head back to the flat. Taking a slightly longer routing, but different for me, Via Empedocle had the train tracks off to the right, I checked out the retail spaces. Turning left and starting to face a slight incline, I continued to window shop until I came to the alley. Up near the top of the stairs was Cana Bistro, which proved to be more than the sandwich shop Maps said it was: it was a bar.
When I proposed having a glass of wine, but from a bottle that I could take, they didn’t bat an eye and said sure. They had a Carricante from the Etna designation, Cusumano’s Alta Mora. Not a varietal I’d even heard of, I found it a blend of floral and wet slate on the nose, citrus and nutty to taste; I was happy. I asked if they could put together an antipasto to go, heavier on the varieties of cheese, and again it was not problem. It was early, so I sat and sipped and we chatted, and then I took my goodies with me up a few more steps and then climbed to my room. With my rucksack, my netbook and the charger, and my journal plus the goodies and a wine glass, I headed up to the top deck.
After plugging in to one of two sockets, I began downloading from the camera’s chip and set out my feast. I retrieved my journal from the rucksack and updated it for St Dominic’s and the walk back. Then I started writing my blog, while pulling the photos from the phone. An hour into the process, another trio came up the stairs, so I shutdown the netbook and we chatted for a while, sharing the collective foodstuffs.
At the point I needed the WC, I brought my electronics downstairs. Returning, the discussion had moved on to dinner, and I listened to hear where they’d been so far, as these northern Italians from near Bolzano had been here over a week. They had a car, and had been at the beach most of their stay, but were glad for the warmer weather today. Soon, they were off to meet friends staying in Licata. As they packed up, I settled into my third (small) glass of wine, and started to nod off. Figuring a nap was in order, albeit it was just after 6pm, I collected my stuff and headed down for a half hour snooze.
Feeling refreshed after 40 minutes of nap, I checked out the recommendations that were posted in the room. I wasn’t really hungry, and I really didn’t want to experiment. Yellow Risto Vintage, a few blocks away, promised down home cooking.
So, with bottles of water and beer, I ordered a Hamburger di bufalo, hamburger di suino nero dei Nebrodi con spiedino di pane, fonduta di formaggio ed insalata mista. And I couldn’t even get half way through either burger, albeit both were very tasty. A doggie bag didn’t seem practical (not anything I’d have for snacks), so I just paid my tab and headed back to the room. A few more notes for the journal, and the second half of the blog, and I was ready to upload and crash. Maybe this heat is starting to get to me?