EUROMEETING 2007, SICILIA. LONG LIVE SICILY
THANKS to our Italian friend's collaboration and the excellent organization of the European Group's Board of Directors (with the help of Halcon Viajes and AeroViaggi) the XIII Euromeeting of Retired Staff and Pensioners from Savings Banks, Banks and other similar Institutions was held for the first time abroad, on the beautiful Italian Island of Sicily. Six hundred and twenty members from Spain, Italy, Portugal, France; England, Scotland, Sweden, Belgium and Germany spent ten wonderful days, from the 20th to the 27th of April, 2007, in a hotel complex called Sciaccamare in the town of Sciacca (Agrigento).
Saint Peter was on our side the whole week and gave us splendid sunshine. The Aeroviaggi Club hotel is located right next to the sea among olive groves; we thought it was lovely and the food was delicious. The culinary specialities of the country and the Sicilian wine were elegantly and creatively served. The hotel staff was pleasant, helpful and considerate, which is typical of their Italian mentality. San Calogero was watching out for us constantly protecting us from Mount Kronio; he was an adored saint who lived there for 35 years and who cured many sick people. A sanctuary and Convent was built there in his honour in the XVII century.
On the 25th of April the European Group Managing Committee invited us to the Annual General Assembly. The main subject was “the discrimination problem of the elderly in the health system”. We found out from the reports presented by the representatives from the different countries that both medical and social care in many states is not 100% guaranteed. Approximately 80% of the older population suffers from some type of chronic disease. Furthermore there are not enough doctors specialising in geriatric illnesses, like senile demntia, Alzheimers, etc. the European Group wants humane conditions for elderly people to be established in all the countries and that a classist society in terms of health care is not tolerated. As a result, representatives from Italy, France and Spain sent the papers that had been drawn up to the European Community in Brussels as well as to the Health and Labour Ministers in their own countries. The Group's main priority is to age with dignity and be completely accepted by society. All of us must help so that new generations have a future.
Continuing with the Euromeeting account, we would like to add that the excursions were well organised and exceeded all expectations. We marvelled at the historical places, the flower filled meadows, the wide open mountainous scenery; the simplicity and hospitality shown by the Sicilians was also a pleasant surprise. Our guide, Irene who spoke German came with us on all the excursions and shared all her cultural knowledge, Sicilian charm and interesting tourist facts with us.
On the first day early in the morning our bus set out towards Palermo; on the way we went past the Belice Valley and in the distance we could just make out the city of Gibellina, which had been completely destroyed in 1968 by an earthquake and then was rebuilt with the donations and the active help of the locals. Irene also told us about the nearby city called Piano degli Albanesi, where the Albanese Christians had settled in the XV century, and that their descendents still continue to wear the regional costume today, they even continue to speak Albanese in the Sunday mass.
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is located at the foot of Mount Pellegrino in a plain surrounded by mountains called Conca d'Oro, probably because of the orange groves that were planted there during the Arabic rule. The municipal district now extends right out to this area. The historical centre is located at the crossroads which is perpendicular to the two main streets, it is bustling with traffic and is known as Quatto Canti, “the Four Corners”, in each corner there is a baroque style palace adorned with fountains that represent the four seasons of the year, statues of the kings of Palermo and the patron saints of the old quarters. Close by you can find the Piazza Pretoria, built in the XVI century, whose fountain bears the same name and is decorated with statues that were originally meant for the Tuscany Villa but were later acquired by the Town hall of Palermo in 1575. It is known as the “Fountain of Shame” as the statues are naked. This is something that Sicilians were not accustomed to in those days. We visited Palermo's most famous medieval church, the Martorana, built in the XII century, which was then developed by George of Antioquia, Syrian admiral to King Roger II. Inside the church there are two ancient mosaics that depict the admiral and the king's coronation respectively; there are also many Byzantine pictures of archangels, prophets and evangelists. We gazed at the cathedral's facade but unfortunately were not able to visit the temple that day because Father Francesco Spoto was being beatified.
After a filling meal at the Garden Beach restaurant, our bus took us past the la Porta Nuova, where you can see the eagle, symbol of Palermo, we then went on to Monreale. We saw the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nuova which is located in the top part of Parlermo, and we went in through a thick solid bronze door; the vault is supported by 18 columns. The walls are adorned with golden Byzantine mosaics from the XII and XIII centuries. These pictures which are in chronological order depict parts of the Old and New Testament for example from Genesis, from the Gospel, the blessings of Jesus Christ and the Virgin with Child. In the Monastery patio, next to the Cathedral you can see a beautiful cloister showing some of Sicily's most amazing works of art.
We went up to the top of the Mount of Saint Pellegrino to the Cave of Santa Rosalía, patron saint of Palermo. The legend goes that she liberated the city from the plague in the XVII century. Every year in the month of July celebrations are held in her honour.
The following day, along a steep stony path we went up to the Agrigento temples. The temple of
Hercules, Concordia and Juno were built between 570 and 554 BC. The Doric temple of Hercules is the oldest. There are only eight columns left out of the original thirty eight. The temple of Concordia is the best preserved Greek temple as it was converted into a catholic church in the VI century. Approximately 900 metres further on you will find the marvellous temple of Juno, and Hera; their twenty five well preserved columns are still standing today. Nearby there is an ancient altar and cistern.
After two days of history and culture we were able to relax and unwind by the sea and then the next day it was off to Marsala. The city is located in Sicily's most important wine producing area. Its name is Arabic, Marsaal-Allah, which means “God's port”. It is a very important city in Italy's recent histor~y: in 1860 Garibaldi and his army landed here to free Sicily from the Bourbon rule. Today, Marsala is the Guarantee of Origin for its wines and produces two thirds of all Sicily's wine. We visited the Pelligrino wine cellars where we sampled the wines and then bought a few bottles.
In Marsala you can find sweet wine and in Trapani you can find salt. We went along the coast and saw all the mountains of salt that were piled up high everywhere. The salt is extracted from the sea water by evaporating the water and drying it in the sun.
One of the most unforgettable excursions was to Erice. Thanks to the calmness and expertise of our bus driver, Calogero, we arrived in one piece along the winding roads to this picturesque village located 571 m above sea level. The city is surrounded by a huge wall with three medieval gates. The Cathedral, with its grandiose rosette from the XIV and the solid hand bell, ancient defence tower are very impressive. We wandered past the white houses decked with flowers and then we sampled the “pasta di mandorla” a marzipan bun in Italian and then we bought some to take home with us.
We thought that the temples in Segesta and Selinunte were also very impressive. The temple of Segesta which is surrounded by flower filled fields is a miraculous and moving vestige of a devastated and dying city. Nearby on a hill there is a marvellous Greek theatre surrounded by stone walls. The ruins of Selinunte, which was a thriving colony in the V century BC, are set in splendid and well protected scenery. The divinities that protected the temples have still not been identified and that is why the buildings are labelled with letters, the most important temples are E, F and G, probably dedicated to the Gods Hera, Minerva and Apollo. Material to build the temples was extracted from the di Cusa mines. Huge rounded off stones blocks that weigh 100 tonnes each were used.
pleasant break from the cultural visit was a trip to the cheese farm in the Caltabellotta mountain village. Here we saw how they make the cheese. They asked to sample the different types of soft sheep's cheese, olives, bruscetta and delicious wine, whilst we enjoyed the typical Sicilian songs and dances. When we had recharged our batteries we went down to the villa~ge centre. On a hill in the middle of the amazing farmland we visited the gothic church of San Salvatore and the church of the Virgin with its statue of San Pellegrino. This saint became the town's patron after slaying a dangerous dragon that wanted to eat a local child every day. He also helped the poor and sick by getting them food.
On the last day of this fantastic week we went gift shopping in Sciacca, one of Sicily's oldest cities, that was established in the VII century by the locals of Selinunte, which was then a spa.
The German group would like to thank all the organizers for having welcomed us so warmly in Sicily. We are very much looking forward to meeting up with our European colleagues again next year.
Ruth Rebert Christa Saia