Cefalu is a tiny city, an ancient fishing village, crouched between a towering headland and a little sheltered harbour.
From the train window between Catania and Palermo it looked just beautiful and I couldn’t wait to arrange a couple of days to have a good look around. It’s full of tourists in Summer and, I’m told, popular with young people at that time but I chose November to visit when, meno male, the town is relatively empty, the people in the streets are Sicilian and it’s a lovely place to sit on a bench and drink up the history.
Not surprisingly, there’s an absolutely stunning cathedral in Cefalu. The Normans left a lot of these around Sicily, grand confections of gleaming stone worked by superb artists. I often wonder where they found such peerless workmen. I think it was from Constantinople.
It’s said that the King, Ruggerio II, narrowly escaped death at sea when his ship limped into the harbour of Cefalu. In gratitude he had the cathedral raised. From where I stood it looked more like a fortress than a place of worship but I’m sure many churches in vulnerable places have doubled as defensive fortifications. I think the two big Norman towers are responsible for the grim effect.
The heavy gates and formidable guardians don’t lighten the mood much either.
Soaring arches and glorious light! Beautiful mosaics!
And, loveliest of all, a gorgeous, graceful Madonna and Child. Exquisite!
She is just beautiful. Pardon me, I’ve seen so many magnificent cathedrals and stunning statues in Sicily that I’ve run out of adjectives.
However I’m not here to gaze open-mouthed at the Madonna, I’m here to visit a much older place of prayer, the Temple of Diana or, as I know her, Artemis.
I knew there was a bit of a climb to get to the Temple, it’s up on Rocca, the immense headland, so I’d booked for 3 nights stay, giving me a day to explore the town then allowing me one full day for the hike and a good night’s sleep afterward.
For you go there on foot, you have to walk to the Temple of Diana.
I set out before 7.00 am with a stout heart, sunscreen and a packed lunch.
and I walked.
I was told it took two hours to walk up there. It took me almost four. But I was in no hurry and when my legs ran out of power and my lungs out of breath, I’d stop, sit and admire the view.
There’s no way I would have even tried getting up here in warmer weather. I did entertain second thoughts when I was halfway up but it’s not every day I get to call on Artemis in one of her own temples. Her shrine was most probably built with someone else in mind, an older goddess, but whoever was first honoured up here is certainly worthy of a visit.
I kept on.
Onwards and Upwards.
At one stage there was a split in the path. To the right would take me up to the ruins of a 13th-century Byzantine fortress but I went to the left, past ancient cisterns and a long crenellated wall. To find myself at the Temple.
My guidebook told me that Cefalu started out as a fortified Greek outpost but it has to be older. The Temple may date from 5th century BCE, but the available fresh water, the security and, let’s face it, the sheer beauty of the view would have tempted much earlier settlers.
I would have liked to have lunch inside the ruins but that somehow seemed disrespectful.
My padrone di casa had sent me off with a portable lunch. I’d explained that I wanted something light – light to carry and light to eat. He packed me a light salad.
So I sat, quite alone, gazing out over the harbour of Cefalu and dreaming of Artemis, Protector of Women.
Artemis herself is pre-Greek, Mistress of the Wildlands, the Breath of Forests and Hills, Ruler of the Beasts. I can imagine her sacred animals here, the deer, dogs and bears.
I left a slice of mozzarella to some busy black ants as an offering. To these creatures in your name. A hawk appeared above, and I felt that Artemis had answered me.
But what was the salad?
A Caprese Salad is supposed to be from Capri. Perhaps it is.
In any case, it’s a light and really refreshing dish. You can serve it with crusty bread for a full meal or have it for a side salad.
- 5 fat tomatoes, finely sliced
- 2 buffalo mozzarella, finely sliced
- basil leaves
- red onion, finely diced
- good-quality white wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- baby capers
- pinch of dried oregano
- Lay slices of tomato on a flat serving dish.
- Top each slice with a slice of mozzarella and then a basil leaf.
- Scatter with some onion and dress with vinegar and olive oil.
- Sprinkle with salt, pepper, capers and oregano.