7. The Mezzogiorno

The “Other Renaissance” in Naples and Sicily

This is Sicilian artist Antonello da Messina’s painting of the Virgin Mary, who has just learned of her destiny from the Angel Gabriel…


Antonello da Messina Virgin Annunciate 




Antonello da Messina St. Jerome in his Study


Antonello’s Portrait of a Man in the National Gallery in London:


Antonello was a great  artist who lived during the Renaissance, but Sicily’s past stretches far before that into the depths of time…

The fertile island in the middle of the Mediterranean was inviting to settlers

Nasa satellite image of the Island of  Sicily with Etna erupting

Despite the forbidding presence of an active volcano…


Mount Etna

First there were the Phoenicians who came in their ships and settled along the coast of the island as early as 800 BCE.

Then came the Greeks…


Ancient Greek temple at Segesta


Ancient Greek temple of Hera at Selinunte

greek vase from sicily 

Greek Sicilian vase 5th century BCE


After the Greeks, the Romans developed vast latifundia (plantations) in the center of the island

Some scenes from mosaics in the ancient hunting lodge of Villa Casale in Piazza Armerina where Romans went for rest and relaxation:

piazza armerina amanti_orig


piazza armerinaIMG_2238



Like Sicily, the southern portion of the Italian Peninsula was colonized by the Ancient Greeks, who called the region Magna Graecia

In the 7th century BCE the Greeks founded a settlement named Parthenope, later rebuilt and a new city was built on the site, which was dubbed Neapolis, today known as Naples.

View of the Bay of Naples from Sorrento


Later incorporated into the Roman Empire, Naples became a thriving center of culture and the arts, with many  aristocratic villas.


Here is the location of the Villa built by the Emperor Tiberius on the nearby Island of Capri


Villa Jovis Capri

Villa Jovis, where the Emperor Tiberius lived from 27-37 CE



Hovering over the Bay of Naples is Mt. Vesuvius, an active volcano.


When Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE it devastated the region, burying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and much of the population as well.


Ancient Roman Fresco from Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii


Other troubles awaited the mezzogiorno in the wake of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

There were invasions:


First the Vandals, then the Goths, and then the Greeks.

Justinian I,  Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna


Under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 541 there was a devastating plague


In 529 Benedict of Nursia had founded the remote hilltop monastery of Montecassino

The restored Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino

Monte Cassino

In locations like this, traditions of  learning were kept alive.


By the 7th century, as it began to recover, the mezzogiorno became something of a melting pot with its variety of cultural influences.

Arabic paintings on the walls of the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo, Sicily


Church of San Cataldo, Palermo





Arabic inscription on column, Martorana, Palermo


The Norman  Roger II being crowned King of Sicily

Martorana, Palermo


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