Son of Janus

In one of my Genovan posts I casually mentioned the city’s name being derived from Janus.  This is far from certain as there are other theories about the origins of the name (including the Italian word for knee!), but the presence of the great statue in the Palazzo Bianco was enough to convince me of the Roman God’s influence.  Still, as we’ll see below, it’s possible that if the Genoese aren’t completely bought into claiming him he may have headed for the warmer climes of Sicily.

Janus is famously the two-faced deity who is god of transitions, which of course is why we have January named after him as one year moves into the next, but his patronage also extends to doorways, the transition between in and out.

A recent post by fellow blogger Staci di Anna Pollard reminded me just how many doorways I’d photographed on my trip to Sicily at Easter and prompted me to gather a selection together for this post.  (Believe me there are more!).

Doorways in Italy always make for good photographs; whether for design, colour, texture or for the hidden scenes beyond and in Sicily I found another reason to be drawn to them; their size, or more precisely their lack of size.  Yes, the churches, opera houses, museums and public buildings have rather grand entrances as you’d expect, but up in the hill towns the homes of ordinary folk seemed to feature doorways that would require anyone of even above average height to bend or risk injury.

And so despite my attendance at two of Christianity’s most engaging festivals during my visit it seemed fitting in these days when journalistic balance is a hot topic that my trip should be influenced by this pagan god too.  Or am I just being two-faced?

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Kephaloídion

Cold and wet are good news for some!

Before I began my rudimentary Italian lessons online I’d never heard of Cefalù, yet it is one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sicily.  Perhaps my apathy towards beach holidays is at fault.  In any event when I arrived there in late March, the island was still at the mercy of “The Beast from the East” or one of its variants and it was cold, grey and wet.

My sunglasses and swim shorts were untroubled.

So why did I make the journey along the coast from Palermo to begin my trip here, when the rest of my intended stops were in the opposite direction?  Well naturally, because the place has history.  Now you good be forgiven for thinking that it was originally a Greek settlement.  Even had I not given you its Greek name as my title, Cefalù (pronounced Cheffaloo) still looks a lot like Kephalonia, yet there is no mention in Thucydides, the bible of my long forgotten Ancient History lessons.  Kephale meant “head” in Classical Greek, and the headland may have been home to no more than a fort or lookout post.  It’s clear to understand why this may be so when you see the enormous cliff (La Rocca) that overshadows the little town.

I was here for more modern fare.  Not quite as modern as the chemist’s shop on Corso Ruggero, though it did have a quaint appeal, nor the church of Santo Stefano whose baroque facade dominates a tiny piazza.

It wasn’t the medieval wash-house located well below street level where the basins used for the laundry remain supplied by fresh running water.

No, the clue was in the name of that main street.  Corso Ruggero.  The course of Roger.

Following the Norman invasion of 1063, King Roger II of Sicily moved the settlement down from the headland to the small harbour below and began construction of a cathedral.  Though built in the Romanesque style, this is a very different building from the great Normal cathedral in Durham that I grew up with.

Externally the twin towers at the west end provide some echo of its English contemporary, but internally there are no vast load bearing columns (though as I clumsily clattered about with my tripod they may have been glad of them).  It has something that Durham does not.  Decoration.

Like so many of the churches in Sicily the Byzantine influence is here in golden mosaics and the vast figure of Christ Pantokrator looks down on all.  This was the first example that I’d seen.  By the time I left Sicily two weeks later I’d lost count!  Between the Greeks and the arriving Normans that small town on the rock had been Roman and then Arab.  The unique mix of influences that is peculiar to Sicily was suddenly tangible.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Not So Ugly (Enna I)

It’s shortly after lunchtime in a Sicilian hill town when the predators begin to gather in the otherwise empty streets.

A stiff breeze blows eddies of dust and detritus into neat circular deposits.  A soundtrack by Morricone is required.

The common lizard that hurries in and out of the cracks in the pock-marked wall of the cathedral need have no fear however, even though many of the hunters will be focusing their intention here.  For now though the man with no name rests before the action begins.  Van Cleef strolls nonchalantly.

A smaller group breaks off, largely unnoticed by the majority and makes for richer pickings.  I am one of them, and find myself with serious company.  Some hunt in packs, whilst others operate alone but with more fearsome weaponry than I might muster.  Hired guns among them.

Some adopt a sniper’s eyrie, effective but inflexible for moving prey; others shoot from the hip.

They have come from far and wide in search of rare quarry, but what would bring so many together here?  On a Friday in March?  Though it was my birthday, this wasn’t a photographer’s party.

It was a very different celebration, but one whose nature I won’t reveal.

At least not just yet.