[I haven’t spoken Latin since I was an altar boy…About fifty years ago. This statue greets our boat as we entered the Harbor of Messina. Photo is mine.]
After an entire day at sea, we tied up at the dock in the city of Messina. It is our only port-of-call in Sicily. We paid 15 Euros each for a little trolley ride (45 minutes in length) to see the highlights. In the interests of brevity, I will add the rest of the photos (taken from a bumpy Disneyland-like train). Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the vehicle. Suffice it to say that I felt a bit silly sitting on the bright yellow and red tour mobile. I lost what little dignity I have left when I boarded. This is in no way for a grown man to sightsee. And none of what I’m saying is in any way being disrespectful to this charming and historic city.
So, let’s go back in time to take a closer look at what happened in this place. If history bores you, you need to sit up and take notes. This isn’t just another stop among seven days of stops. What occurred here changed the course of history…several times.
How long have people inhabited Messina? You may well ask. Fasten your seatbelt.
The Chalcidians founded a settlement here around 756 BC. Exactly who these people were is something I am at a loss to explain. I’ll google it when I get home. Dorian settlers came next in the 5th century BC from Messina, hence the modern name. You know who (the Romans, of course) arrived in 264 BC. Occupations that followed include the Byzantines, Arabs and the Normans. During the Middle Ages it became a major port city and (Mr. Gatto, you’re gonna love this), it became the most important point of departure for European knights on their way to the Crusades.
Moving on to the darker side of history…The Bubonic Plague came to Europe from here. The story goes: Twelve ships from the Black Sea docked in Messina in October, 1347. When the locals came to the dock to greet the ships, they found most of the sailors were dead. Those still alive were gravely ill (no pun intended) and clutching to what little life they had left. The authorities ordered the ships out of the harbor, but the damage was done. The Black Death killed more than 20,000,000 victims in Europe and England.
Let’s jump ahead to the brighter times centuries later. World War II. Operation Husky began before dawn on July 10, 1943. The Allies, 150,000 troops, 3,000 ships and 4,000 aircraft landed on the southern shore of Sicily and began to push north. Generals Patton and Montgomery were the guys in charge. Messina was heavily bombed. The invasion of Italy had begun and the end of Hitler and the Nazi occupation, and the end of the War in Europe was approaching.
So there it is, my dear readers. I gave you a thimbleful of essential history that we all should know.
Knowledge is Power.
These things we learn from history will help history from repeating itself.
And we all know how true that is…
(Looking over the blog, I noticed that I mentioned The Godfather. Not much to say on this. We didn’t take In The Footsteps of the Godfather excursion. All I can is that many scenes were filmed in and around Messina.)
[The Bell Tower. Photo is mine.]
[A Messina side street. Photo is mine.]
[The Shrine of Cristo Re. Photo is mine.]
[Not a really photo of a side street. But it illustrates the second story balconies, most of which are laden with cascades of flowers. Photo is mine.]
[NOTE: I did the best I could to take photos to illustrate just a tiny portion of the beauty of Messina. To be fair, an abundance of modern apartment buildings interrupt the ancient ruins, churches and other significant points of archetechural note. I should also mention (to avoid certain legal issues) that in the content above, I have liberally quoted, sometimes word for word, from the Port Information Bulletin provided by Windstar Cruises. Finding a cafe with a strong WiFi signal and a great espresso is like trying to find a Studebaker at a Lamborghini Convention. And, a special ‘thank you’ to Mr. Nick Gatto, my teacher in high school who did much to instill in me a love of all things historical. Thank you, sir!