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Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 4
Map Introduction to  the Cruise, Venice and the initial day at Sea Korcula, Croatia Valletta, Malta Messina, Sicily, Italy Naples, Italy Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy Barcelona, Spain Ajaccio, Corsica, France Villefranche, France Livorno (for Florence and Pisa), Italy  

Messina, Italy - Thursday 27 September

We have visited Sicily may times but this was only our second visit to Messina. Our first visit was on the Queen Elizabeth Greek Islands Voyage in 2016, although Queen Victoria had also halted for an emergency transfer to hospital in October 2014 during the cruise "Wonders of the Mediterranean". The usual tours from Messina are to the medieval tourist resort of Taormina and its Greco-Roman theatre, and to Mount Etna which we did on the QE2 before the days of our writing up on the internet.

The harbour is always busy and several high speed ferries had to wait while the Queen Victoria turned around into her mooring. MSC Opera followed behind. Messina has had a tragic history, culminating in the great earthquake of 1908 which claimed about two thirds of the population. By the 1930s Messina had recovered but then the Allied bombing in 1943 reduced much of the reconstruction to rubble. The city is now restored and substantial public buildings and many churches were visible from the dock. This trip we planned to visit many of the same places as in 2016 but in a different order, so our first target was the Sanctuary of Christo Re and then the Sanctuary of Montalto.

We crossed the busy main road and headed in the direction of the Sanctuary of Christo Re, using our old map which we had collected from the very helpful Tourist Information Office in 2016. We passed the Municipio then turned just before the Theatre of Vittorio Emanuele. Passing the entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III it had not changed inside. The cafes were closed but there were dozens of students working at the tables. The shape of the glass roof was very typical and was magnificent in the sunlight and is always one of the highlights of the visit. Then there was a short climb up to the Via 24 May and more steps near the Monte di Pieta. Our road to the left went under the Viale Principe Umberto before rejoining it on a slip road and we were soon entering the gates.

The main reason that people climb up to the Christo Re is because of the superb views and it was open in the morning. The entrance is at the back, not at the main door with the viewpoint towards the waterfront. It was built in 1937 and contains a tomb to commemorate the fallen in the wars. One side states "Et nomen eorum vivit in generationem et generationem" and the other side "Corpora eorum in pace sepulta sunt". Each wall is covered with plaques with names of those who died, mainly in 1942 and 1943.

Rejoining the Viale Principe Umberto, the Sanctuary of Montalto was at the same level. It was rebuilt in 1930 and has a fine painted ceiling and a silver Byzantine covering, known as a mantle, for the picture of the Madonna and Child. There are good views over the city and towards the harbour. We were pleased that both places were open to visit. Steps from the Sanctuary of Montalto quickly lead down to the Piazza Crisafulli and then the Piazza Antonello. It is then just a few minutes to the Piazza Duomo.

Back outside the cathedral, our first challenge was to avoid the ticket-sellers for the various buses and tourist train and admire the buildings. The famous fountain of Orion by Montorsoli (1547) is opposite the cathedral.

 

It was before 11.00 and there was plenty of time to first go up the bell tower which is separate but next to the cathedral. Entry is by ticket and there is a joint ticket for 6 euros to also visit the Treasury. The 60 metre tall bell-tower was rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake and in 1933 was fitted with a mechanical device from Ungerer of Strasbourg. The figures move every day at noon. To begin the two girls ring their bells, then the lion moves its head and wags its tail and roars three times, the cock crows and flaps its wings three times, the dove flies over a rising model of the church of Montalto, and a group of figures preceded by an angel pass in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Another side has some complex atronomical clocks. We had time to climb the tower and look at the mechanisms as well as getting some magnificent views over the town and harbour before going into the square below to watch the spectacle. It is a major tourist occasion which the street venders took advantage of to sell trinkets, "murano" glass and cheap pashminas.

 

Originally built in 1092 the cathedral has been rebuilt many times and the ceiling restored. The sacred image of the Madonna of the Letter with its silver and gilt mantle is on display at the high altar. The Treasury contains a range of golden reliquaries, goblets and candle sticks. In addition there many votive gifts, with the highlight a spectacular gold votive black velvet wall hanging which was from the village of Pace, made entirely from donated items of their gold jewelry. The most famous work is the Manta d'Oro, the Golden Mantle. It is a fine covering, in the Byzantine tradition, for the sacred image of the Madonna of the Letter which we had seen at the high altar of the cathedral. The normal covering is silver, but it is replaced by this gold covering on the Saint's feast day, 3 June. The goldsmith worked from 1661 to 1668 and it resembles 16th century damask and brocades with embroidery detailing. Over subsequent years it was then ornamented with gifts of jewels, gemstones and precious enamels. The Virgin's crown is a masterpiece with gemstones, enamels, gold and pearls.

Having admired the fountain of Orion, the next visit was to the fountain of Neptune, also by Montorsoli (1557). This was beyond the Municipio and the Theatre of Vittorio Emanuele and just opposite the Prefetura. Walking back there were excellent views of the Queen Victoria but we had to walk all the way past her and MSC Opera and back to the Cruise Terminal before we could get back on board.

Our exploration of the southern part of Messina, beyond the Railway Station, is described in our visit during our Queen Elizabeth Greek Islands Voyage in 2016,.

On departing the port one passes close to the 7 metre tall, golden statue of the Madonna della Lettera guarding the city and the port from the top of a high column with the base inscribed with the words “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It is believed that the Apostle Paul came to Messina to convert the Sicilians to Christianity and that some of the converts accompanied him to Palestine. Here they met with the Mother of Christ and persuaded her to send a letter to the citizens of Messina. The letter, which was written in Hebrew in 42 AD, was alleged to have been rolled and tied with a lock of her hair. She said that their devotion was appreciated and she granted them perpetual protection. The letter ended with the words “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus” which loosely translates as “We bless you and your city”. Nineteen centuries later these words were inscribed on the old fort San Salvatore which serves as a plinth for the 60 metre tall octagonal column carrying the statue. The light was perfect in 2016 for a picture in the direction of the statue but we found our pictures of the waterfront from earlier were superior so we have reproduced some of them here.

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Content revised: 30th October, 2018