Friday, June 15, 2012

Astronomy in Palermo Cathedral

Summer is the best time to add an astronomical touch to your visit of Palermo's fascinating medieval Cathedral. In fact it is during the warmer months of the year that you can really observe the floor Meridian Line at work. During the colder months, the sunlight appears on it at noon, but is not very strong, and the disc of light on the Meridian is very quick in passing. During the summer months, thanks to daylight saving time,  LAN (local apparent noon) takes place around 1:00 PM. Due to clear summer skies, the effect of the disc of light on the colorful marble inlay zodiac signs is out of this world! Be sure not to miss this when visiting Palermo. It is a delight to see for adults and for children, and it definitely makes you ponder how quickly the earth is moving.

Palermo Cathedral

Believe it or not, we sometimes update articles or revisit topics. That's what we've done with Palermo Cathedral this month.

We really just wanted to give you more information - hopefully not to the point of being boring. But in this case there's a lot to tell. Sicily's largest church was built on the foundations of a Byzantine structure during the 12th century. That structure, which was a mosque for over two centuries, had in turn been constructed on the site of a Roman temple. Even earlier, before 400 BC (BCE), a Carthaginian temple may have stood there until the Romans took control of western Sicily - not that there were always great differences between Punic divinities and Roman ones.

So the site has been a place of worship - of one kind or another - for two thousand years.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sicily Tour Guides

Adapting Sicily's regional laws to Italian and European Union norms, the Sicilian Region (Sicily is "semi-autonomous" along the lines of Bavaria, Catalonia and Scotland) has finally instituted licensing of tour guides in Sicily for the entire island instead of province by province. On our tour guide page we've divided Sicily in two because most guides specialize in specific areas.

The new policy, implemented belatedly following three years of silly debate, won't have an impact on most visitors, but it means that (for example) a guide based in Palermo can accompany a group to Segesta, in the next province, without the jurisdictional complexities which existed in the past. This is generally a welcome change. Excessive bureaucracy is seldom a good thing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Discovering Jewish Palermo

We published a post about the Jewish side of Palermo over two years ago. In view of increasing interest in this subject, we've now published an article with a focus on the Jews of Palermo. It is an elusive topic, and in some ways an eclectic one. In recent years we've seen a certain amount of fantasy make its way into the field of Siculo-Judaic studies, and Sicily's monoglot "experts" are not always very informed or insightful; few local professors know enough about Judaism to interpret Sicily's Judaic history with any degree of accuracy. Yet there has been exceptional work done by distinguished scholars - most of them Jewish professors and researchers from outside Italy.

Jackie Alio, one of our writers, does personalized guided tours with a focus on Palermo's Jewish history. What's especially interesting is that her itineraries and comments include details based on original scholarly research which has not made its way into books or the internet. We won't reveal too much here (competing tour guides might "borrow" it and that would detract from the uniqueness of Jackie's tours), but in any tour of Sicily it's the "secret" details that spell the difference. And of course an understanding of the topic.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sicilian Surnames

It's a new month. Time for a new issue of our online magazine. But one particular article isn't linked there...

It's amazing how many requests we get relating to various aspects of family history. Obviously, with hundreds of emails each week, on all kinds of subjects - some quite bizarre - we can't respond to many.

Sicilian descendants abroad often ask about surname origins. Onomastics, the study of surnames, is a field that often confuses genealogists. That is certainly the case here in Sicily where family names are based on the Sicilian language, in turn influenced by Greek, French and Arabic. So we've finally published an article on Sicilian surnames.