Monday, September 5, 2011

Mysteries of Messina- sea monsters, a musical clock and a phantom museum

According  to  Greek mythology  the  Straits of  Messina  were home to   sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Celebrated  by  Virgil and Homer,   these dangerous monsters  represented  the difficulties   sailors  met  when   passing through   the  narrow passage   separating   Sicily from the  Italian  mainland.

The names  Scylla and Charybdis  ( in Italian  Scilla  e  Cariddi )  have   remained, even   in the  English language, to  signify  danger and  the plight of  having  to decide between two  evils.

Lovely beaches,  villages and medieval castles dot  both  the Calabrian and Sicilian  sides  of the Straits , but  the coast line is also marred  by  two huge steel  plyons used  between  1955 and  1994 to  carry electric lines across the straits. 
Let’s hope that  no other  monsters- giant wind towers or  Berlusconi’s planned  bridge- are constructed   here.
Madonna  greets cruise ships in Messina

When cruise ships  arrive  to the port of  Messina, they are greeted  by   the Madonna  della Lettera   and find that  they are  in the heart of  the city , making it easy  to explore  Messina  on their own.  

cruise  ships  next to an  historic church   

aftermath of  1908 earthquake 
 Most of the city  was  rebuilt  after  the 1908 earthquake  which killed over 150,000 people. The bombings  of  World War II  are another reason for   the city’s present low buildings and  wide  streets.  

Messina has seen  a succession of civilizations:  Greek  , Roman,   Saracen  and  Norman , but sadly very little of  these  ancient layers of  history  is  evident at first glance.  What  is evident is the amazing   astronomical clock on the bell tower next to the Duomo.
detail of  Duomo's main doorway
Messina's  rebuilt  Duomo 

the bell man, near Messina's Duomo 

moving figures on the clock tower

Created  by the  Ungerer brothers of Strasbourg  and installed  in the rebuilt tower in  1933, it  is more than  a reference point to  locate  the city center.
 The  gilded mechanical figures  representing people and happenings  of local history make it the city’s  major tourist attraction.  

 One wonders  today  about the  political mechanisms  and friendships that were activated (local bishop, governments of  Mussolini and Hitler) to organize and pay for  this mechanical wonder.
the angel  points out the season, month, day

the astronomical  clock, Messina 

Renaissance  fountain
   At   noon each day   the main  piazza with its magnificent 16th century  fountain,  Duomo  and tower  is crowded  with  tour buses and visitors milling around waiting for  the  show.    

A  young  couple, hoping  for tips,  entertains the crowds with  their interpretation of the  tarantella until the clock strikes noon and the bells peal. Then   numerous  mechanical beasts and statues  put on a sound and  motion  show that lasts for  a quarter of an hour.  
improvising  a profession in Messina 

dancing   couple  

A 4 metre  high gilded lion holds a banner, roars and moves its head and tail ,  a giant cockerel crows and flaps its wings  and numerous figures representing other  important  moments in the city’s history move  across the  façade of the bell tower . 
tourist  train   Messina 

Following  the  show the crowd disperses to  indulge  in  ricotta filled  cannoli  at the nearby  pasticceria, or  to   ride the  mini train that criss crosses  the  city center. 

Another  of Messina’s mysteries  is the phantom   museum located  at  the  northern  end of the  modern single  track train  that runs  the length of the city  along the seaside.   
Phantom museum of the Sicilian Region

  The Regional Museum of Sicily, a  huge modern complex  meant to house the region’s art masterpieces must have cost  a fortune. 
 Upon arrival  at the end of the metro line  - the crude  reality.  The majestic brick  and glass building  has never  been opened, rather it is abandoned  to the elements and  overgrown with weeds.

Just  built  and abandoned

Visitors  find  the entrances  closed up  tight and  after asking around, will be  directed to an adjacent   building .     
 This was once  a spinning mill but for the past several  decades  is has been used as a storage depot where some of the region’s   treasures can be seen. 
entrance  and guardian at  old museum 
Courtyard  of old museum
bells at old museum entrance 

blue and white ceramics  in old museum


  1. Great post, Mary Jane - love your blog!

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