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Visiting Cefalu, the Jewel of Sicily

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Situated on the northern coast of Sicily facing the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea sits one of the most beautiful coastal villages in all of Italy. Relatively unknown to those of us in the western hemisphere, this quaint fishing village is steeped in history and charm.

Cefalu

Cefalu

History

The origins of Cefalu go back to at least the 3rd century BC. Although it is unclear precisely when the community was founded it is known to be of Greek origin. It was most likely that Cefalu, which was known then as Cephaloedium, was used as just a fortress early on and was not settled until refugees arrived following the destruction of Himera, another Greek colony on the coast.

The first recorded mention of Cefalu in history was found to be in 396 BC when the Carthaginians signed a treaty with the Himeraeans and the residents of Cephaloedium. For those not familiar with the terminology here the Carthaginians are Arab North African and the Himeraeans are Greek.

The village of Cefalu went on to change hands many times over the centuries and at various times was controlled by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spaniards, Normans and of course the Italians. While the history of Cefalu is long and complicated, today life here is simple and remarkably uncomplicated.

La Rocca

As you approach Cefalu your attention will quickly be drawn to La Rocca or the “Rock” as it is referred to. This large rock formation casts a shadow on the village and makes for a very scenic backdrop to the community. There are some ruins remaining at the top of the rock and along parts the climb, and it is evident that at one time there was a presence on top of the Rock.

There is a path that leads to the top of La Rocca and it passes the ruins of the Temple of Diana along the way. The climb takes visitors up 290 meters and should take about 40 minutes or so. At the top is what is thought to be the ruins of a 13th-century castle known as the Cefalu Castle. With its great view of the coast and the village below, the castle may have been a key to protecting the town and its harbor.

La Rocca

La Rocca

The Beach

The Village of Cefalu sits directly on the coast and has what I think is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in all of Sicily. Not all beaches in Sicily are sand, many are rocky, but Cefalu has been blessed with fine golden sand that runs the length of the beach.

If you are looking for a beach holiday in a quaint and scenic Sicilian village then Cefalu certainly makes for a great destination. The beach, known as Lungomare, is easy to get to and is just a short walk from the town’s main road. There are numerous lidos up and down the beach that offer umbrellas and beach chairs for a fee. There are also public stretches of the beach that are free. From October to April the entire stretch of beach is free of the lidos and is considered public.

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Surfs up in Cefalu

Surfs up in Cefalu

The Duomo of Cefalu

The focal point of Cefalu is undoubtedly its Duomo, which sits prominently at the base of La Rocca.

Constructed in 1131 by the Norman King, Roger II, the Cathedral stands guard over Cefalu with its twin towers visible from anywhere in the village. Originally designed to double as a fortress, the cathedral resembles a fortified castle.

The Duomo of Cefalu

The Duomo of Cefalu

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Legend has it that Roger II, the King of Sicily at the time, was lost at sea during a storm and made a vow to his Savior that if his life were spared he would build a grand Cathedral in his honor. He survived the storm and landed on the beaches of Cefalu.

Fulfilling his vow, Roger II began construction of this magnificent Cathedral in 1131. Unfortunately, he died in 1154 and did not see the Cathedral of Cefula completed. It was not until 1267 that the cathedral was finally completed and consecrated. The body of King Roger II and that of his wife were originally interred in the Cathedral but were later moved to the Cathedral of Palermo

Duomo of Cefalu

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo

Mosaic of Christ Pantokrator

Mosaic of Christ Pantokrator

As you approach the Duomo you will notice that in addition to the twin towers there are the three arches over the portico. The portico was not part of the original construction but was added in the 15th century. The cathedral sits in the beautiful Piazza Duomo and this area makes for a great meeting spot or a place to sit and unwind while having a cappuccino or a gelato.

Once inside the cathedral, the long open timber ceiling leads the eye to the main apse and the magnificent mosaic of the Christ Pantokrator. Depicted holding the Gospel of John in his left hand, the mosaic work here is simply amazing and is considered some of the best-preserved in all of Sicily. The mosaics that cover the apse and parts of the side walls were done by craftsmen from Constantinople and are considered some of the finest Byzantine mosaic work in all of Italy. Consider for a moment that each tiny piece of stone, marble or glass is about the size of a dice and was cut and set by hand. One can only imagine how many pieces it took to cover the walls of this cathedral.

Cefalu coast

Cefalu coast

When you are done marveling at the stunning craftsmanship of the Duomo and have had enough sun at the beach it is time to partake in one of Cefalu’s best activities, walking its narrow, winding, medieval streets. The old section of Cefalu is a maze of unique shops, cafes, and wonderful restaurants. It is here that you will discover the charm that makes this village so special.

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Cefalu certainly has enough to do that would warrant spending a couple of nights here, especially if you are looking for some relaxing time at the beach interspersed with visits to the old section of town and its churches. Due to its convenient location on the Palermo to Messina rail-line it can also be done as a daytrip from either location. Numerous trains run to and from Palermo and the trip is just under an hour. From Messina the trip is longer and will take from 2 to 2 ½ hours depending on which train you take.

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If you find yourself visiting Sicily be sure to consider a stop in Cefalu. Its warm sandy beaches, beautiful setting, and centuries of ancient history combine to make this jewel of the Mediterranean a wonderful vacation destination.

Ciao for now.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 04, 2017:

Hi Adrienne. Thank you and you are most welcome. We really, really enjoyed our time in Cefalu. The Duomo, as you mentioned is amazing and the coastal scenery is stunning. And yes, we did enjoy some amazing food while there. We look forward to returning soon.

Adrienne Farricelli on March 04, 2017:

Thank you so much for posting this! My family lives nearby and I have visited Cefalu' many times. It is a beautiful town that has become more and more frequented by tourists and the Duomo is amazing. I hope you got to enjoy the great food while you were in Sicily!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 04, 2017:

Hi Josephine. Thank you. You are correct, Sicily does have it all. We really enjoyed our time in Sicily and were fortunate to visit some amazing places. We spent a week there and still didn't see everything we wanted to see, but we did make a good dent in it. The history is amazing and the architecture, especially in the southeast corner is very different from mainland Italy. Give it a whirl sometime, I think you will love it. Ciao!

Josephine Hou on March 04, 2017:

Hi Bill,

I am enjoying your travel blogs. We would love to visit Sicily one day in depth. We were in Messina a few years ago but only a few hours. Recently we watched one of Andrew Zimmern food series on Sicily, it triggers a trip soon :) We love old historic places with local fares, and Sicily has it all!.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 04, 2012:

Hi Pam. You would love Sicily and Cefalu in particular. The history of some of these Sicilian villages is hard to comprehend, thousands of years of history. Hopefully your dream comes true someday. Thanks for stopping by.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 04, 2012:

What a beautiful place! I love historic building and visiting there would be a dream come true for me. Your descriptions were fantastic and I also enjoyed the history of the area. Awesome hub!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Hi Debbie. I am very excited for you. I'll bet you can't wait. I'm sure no matter where you visit you'll have a wonderful time. Sicily has some wonderful areas and Cefalu was certainly one of them. Keep us posted on your travel plans. Many thanks for the nice comments.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Thank you hawaiianodysseus. Glad you enjoyed it. We really enjoyed this part of Sicily. More to come soon.

Very much appreciate the rate, vote, share, etc.

Debbie Pinkston from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas on November 03, 2012:

Bill, you have me all excited now about visiting Cefalu. I plan to visit Europe next spring so I'm hoping to go there. Thanks for sharing the great travel information and beautiful photos!

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on November 03, 2012:

Reading your Hub and enjoying the beautiful photography is the next best thing to making the trip myself. Thank you for the great travel reviews, Bill! Very enjoyable!

Rated, voted up and then some, and socially shared!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Thanks Bill, finally found it and added it. Go figure, I knew nothing about the rating capsule until you mentioned it. Guess I still have a few things to learn.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 03, 2012:

It goes on the month of November; every time you do one of these, just make sure the rating stars are included and you are entered. :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Hi Bill. Thanks so much for the nice comments. I'm not even sure what the review contest is but I'll add the rating stars.

As always the support is very much appreciated. Have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Hi Carol. Thanks for stopping by. It was a great experience. Appreciate the visit and vote.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 03, 2012:

Thanks Peggy. Cefalu was an amazing place and the mosaics were unbelievable. It was a great trip. Thanks so much for the read, support, vote and share. Have a great weekend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 03, 2012:

It seems like this should be in the review contest; all you have to do is add the rating stars and you are entered for cash prizes. These reviews you do of places in Europe are always so well-written; you might as well win some money for your efforts. :)

Great job Bill!

carol stanley from Arizona on November 03, 2012:

I always feel with your travel hubs that the pictures speak for themselves. However the words are fine also, Thanks for this beautiful experience. Voted up.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2012:

Ah Bill,

You are taking me to parts of the world that I have never seen and in glorious style. I like your descriptions of Cefalu in Sicily and like always your photos are beautiful. Thank you! The mosaic work in that Duomo is amazing! Many up votes and sharing.