|Into the mists and up to the Castle go the intrepid Australian explorer and his trusty American companion. They strike out, wading their way through the swirling grey clouds. They can hardly see in front of them. Shapes loom in the half-light. There is no sound except their footsteps. The doors of the village are slammed shut, the windows shuttered. The dampness seeps beneath their jackets, dripping across the glasses of our hero. The Cathedral emerges and disappears just as quickly, as does the Town Hall. Eventually they trudge to the gates of the Castle - only the mist can be seen inside. Is that a wolf howling in the distance... We are in Enna, in central Sicily, a hilltop town that apparently has fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and a very impressive medieval castle. Not that we could see it, as the mist descended. We got to the Castle, went briefly inside and then repaired quickly to a nearby cafe for a warm cuppa and some cold gelati. Not terribly intrepid I know, but hey! Sicily is a fantastic place to visit - the Greek and Roman ruins are superb and located in visually stunning locations, the small towns (perhaps like Enna) are picturesque, and there is so much history here. I am fascinated by the Muslim influence. I didn't know that it was the invading Arab armies who introduced pasta to Italy (not Marco Polo!) and who really promoted the production of olive oil, something that Sicily does particularly well. Many Sicilian towns have bastardised Arabian names, and in some places, like Mazarra del Vallo on the southern coast, you can still visit what would have been the Souk in the 300 years of Arab rule and wander around the narrow streets and easily picture yourself somewhere in the Middle East. Sicily is one of those places that has changed hands repeatedly, a kind of crossroads, but was always exploited and ignored. It is a sad history, particularly for the peasants who appear to have been squeezed by each overlord in succession. Sicily was seen as a place that grew grain for others, and any attempt to move beyond that was brutally suppressed. This perhaps serve to explain the kind of environment that would produce the mafia. There is one shining exception to this rule. Nearly 1000 years ago, the Normans took over Sicily (evidently it was a copy cat exercise after their countryman William took over England). They established their "kingdom in the Sun" and a series of good and effective princes actually lived in Sicily and governed it like they really wanted to improve the place. What was most remarkable was the multi-cultural nature of this Kingdom. The first Norman ruler, Roger (sounds better when you call him Ruggero), kept the Muslim civil service, and had an Arab as his Prime Minister. He had a Jewish treasurer, and a Byzantine admiral. The court was modelled on that of the Islamic world and the architecture became a blend of Moorish, Greek and Western European. So many of the most beautiful buildings in Sicily date from this period. Sadly however the Kingdom of the Sun faded, and one of Roger's successors expelled his Muslim and Jewish subjects and began pillaging Sicily to pay for other wars. Things went down hill from there, when the Germans took over, and then the French and then the Spanish. Persistent attempts were made to erase any record of this period, by remodelling buildings, covering mosaics, and removing Arabic inscriptions. Luckily this was not entirely successful.