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September 6, 2018
by Ian Berry
Montalbano, BBC4’s hit TV programme about Commissario di Polizia Salvo Montalbano, Sicily’s detective chief, based on Andrea Camilleri’s novels, will return for a sixth series. Fans of Montalbano, played by actor Luca Zingaretti, are now visiting Sicily in droves, keen to see the beautiful locations where the programmes are filmed. First stop is Punta Secca on the south coast where Montalbano lives in a much-envied house with its balustraded terrace right on the beach.
Sicily is a seductive island, large enough to be extremely varied yet it is still possible in a couple of weeks to visit all the main sites of interest. Because of its strategic position at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, most civilisations have conquered the island and made it their own. Long before the Romans established their cities, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Elymians, and the Greeks built colonies on the island. Evidence of their civilisations remain in the classical perfection of the Tempio della Concordia in the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, the Phoenician salt pans still producing today, mountain top towns established during the Arab conquest, the Roman mosaics, the best in the world, in a villa near Piazza Armerina and the glorious statue of the victorious Greek charioteer displayed without guards or barriers on a small island off the west coast.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Sicily was ruled during the Early Middle Ages first by the Vandals, then the Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Empire and the Emirate of Sicily. The Norman Conquest of southern Italy led to the creation of a Kingdom of Sicily, which was then ruled by the Hohenstaufen, Spain’s House of Anjou and the Habsburgs. It was finally unified under the Bourbons.
Etna, the active volcano in the north east corner, also plays its part in shaping the island, as do the earthquakes, the most recent and serious of which was in 1693. It leveled much of the island but led to the marvelous baroque rebuild of churches and cathedrals, piazzas and palazzos.
For those less interested in the rich history of the island, there are the magnificent and unspoilt beaches, towns and villages perched on volcanic cones, their dwellings tumbling down the slopes, and the food. Unlike any other in Italy (though you can still find pizzas and ice cream), it is flavoured by the Arab conquest, influenced by Spain and uses the huge variety of ingredients that grow in abundance.
Sicilians are confident enough to produce dishes that belong to the island alone such as cannoli, sweet ricotta-filled pastries, deep-fried rice balls called arrancini and a marzipan-like paste for sweets. Then there are the wines, including the famous Marsala wines.
Make a plan to walk down the many steps of the churches of Ragusa and Modica in the wake of Montalbano and his Inspector Giuseppe Fazi, he who loves detail. Stroll in the square of Scicli, where the town hall doubles as the Commissariat, home to the bumbling but much-loved Catarella, and dine at the Trattoria da Enzo near the Scala dei Turchi where Mimi Augello, the police playboy, joins Montalbano at lunch to unravel the intricacies of the latest crime.
The TV programmes introduce us to some of the best and most exciting parts of the island - the domestic scenes of today and the reminders everywhere of earlier civilisations - bringing a flavour of Sicily past and present to our screens as well as some great detective stories, laced with intrigue and humour.
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