Big boot Italy, kicking little Sicily helps us to remember where to find the largest island in the Mediterranean. Not only big but centrally located and fertile, she has been an attractive asset to many different cultures over the years. SICILY: CULTURE AND CONQUEST focuses on two them, the arrival of the Greeks in seventh century BC and later the attentions of the Normans.
Ancient Greeks would have you believe that it was the Greeks that spread civilization around the Mediterranean, but in Sicily the Phoenicians already had a thriving and sophisticated trading hub established before the Greeks came in with their own brand of civilization. Splendid Greek ruins dot the Sicilian countryside, they are plainly too big to be transported to London for the duration of the exhibition so we have to make do with wall-sized photos and very fine they are too. What we do see is a splendid Gorgon face. She perched at the highest point of a building waiting to turn ill-wishers into stone; presumably nice people were immune to her charms.
Say the words “Norman Conquest” in the UK and we all think of William the Conqueror, say it in Sicily and it will be Roger that springs to mind. Roger and his two successors, both William, established a superpower here. Whilst they built stunning mosaic-bedecked cathedrals reflecting their Christian culture, they borrowed widely from the many cultures and traditions that could be found in Sicily. Jews, Muslims, Orthodox and Roman Christians all practiced their religions side by side. On display is a tombstone written in four languages that illustrates this harmonious living perfectly.
Many fabulous objects jostle for attention in this exhibition but it is the walls covered with life-size photos of ruins, beaches and cities that grab your attention first. Our summer holiday is already booked but now I’m wondering what Sicily would be like in October. Mr CW works just around the corner from the British Museum and knew just the place to meet up afterwards, Caffé Paradiso on Store Street with its tempting array of Sicilian cakes.
21 April 2016 – 14 August 2016
Admission: £10, concessions available, members go free
Open: Daily 10am-5.30pm, Friday until 8.30pm