One final blog post about our trip to Europe last year, 2022. The adventure to Europe ended with an exciting finish: It was a whirlwind trip. Just three nights in Sicily, to visit with friends, and tour the best of Sicily. I even got to travel up a good part of Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes (but visibility was poor due to rain that day).
Sicily has an incredibly grand and ancient history. Coming from my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, which prides itself in its rich colonial history going back 400 years, Williamsburg does not even begin to compare with a recorded history going back to the Sicilian and Punic wars.
I had started to listen to Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, while visiting Sicily. Fox’s immense survey of the history of the Greco-Roman world, finishing up with the reign of Emperor Hadrian, just as Christianity was emerging as a world changing movement in the early second century, clocks in at just under 24 hours as an audiobook. Though he is a secular British historian, whose rather aloof interest in the Christian faith is apparent, Fox is nevertheless a captivating story-teller, though the decadence and violence of the classical world that he chronicles made me yearn for more of the Christian story (I have Fox’s book on Saint Augustine queued up on my “to-be-read” list, but that is a long ways off from now!)
Having a book by a world-class historian at the ready makes for a more enjoyable visit to faraway places. The names of great places in Sicily were sprinkled throughout The Classical World, and I got a chance to see the highlights, and envision a bit of that remarkable ancient world. Take Agrigento for example. In southwest Sicily, the old city of Agrigento sits above an expansive historical park, the Valley of the Temples. On one end of the park stands the Temple of the Discouri.
In the middle of the park stands the Temple of Concordia. These were the great houses of worship to the “gods,” much of this dating back half a millennium before Jesus (around 500 BCE), and established mostly by the Greeks. By the time Christianity spread and conquered the Roman Empire nearly a millennium later, these great buildings were converted to use as churches. A photographic history of “Early Christian Agrigento” is a good resource on the web, showing where and how Christians in the early history of the church buried their dead.
The transformation of the Greco-Roman world into a Christian society, less than 500 years after the birth of Jesus, is simply a fascinating thing to consider. In many ways, contemporary secular culture is drifting back to the advocated virtues and religious pluralism of the Greco-Roman classical world. It makes me wonder: How was it that a movement of ragtag Jewish peasants, following a singular figure, whom his followers believed had been risen from the dead, end up completely overcoming such a rich classical culture, with a new story that has since spread far and wide across planet earth, the world’s largest spiritual movement of all time, representing some one-third of the 21st century world population?
It is an astounding thought to ponder.
Another highlight for me was the city of Syracuse, specifically the island of Ortigia, one of the most incredibly beautiful places I saw while in Europe. While much of the classical ruins still lie beneath the city, awaiting archaeological investigation, the Baroque architecture of much of the town is impressive, even when walking around at night! …. Plus, the food was simply fantastic!!
These are last of my photos I plan on posting on Veracity about the trip my wife and I took to Europe in 2022…. while I was in Sicily towards the end of the adventure, she was off in Venice with a friend…where unfortunately, the food was NOT as good!…. Oh, and about Mount Etna….. While in Sicily, I never got to see the top of the volcano, due to the rain and cloud cover. But on the flight out, I managed to be sitting on left side of the plane, which gave me a breathtaking view of the legendary volcano, at its very top. Enjoy!
Found a fun link here on Twitter. A museum in Hamburg animates Caesar Augustus singing “California Dreaming.” Augustus visited Sicily in 22 BCE.
Nachts im Museum: der römische Kaiser Augustus in der Ausstellung im Bucerius Kunst Forum in Hamburg.