In the most recent segment of this series, I offered the reader a snapshot of our Sicilian experiences as my wife Melody and I traveled the backroads of that storied isle, following (or more accurately, leading) the footsteps of my newest heroine, Laura Pace.
Editor’s note: “Laura Pace?” you ask. “Who the heck is that?” Find out by ordering a copy of Laura’s chilling introductory adventure, Killing Pace, just released by St. Martin’s Press.
As I briefly foreshadowed in Part III of “Adventures in Research,” this next stage in our Sicilian explorations involved assistance from a geology professor. Dr. Enrico Curcuruto is the Director of the Mineralogical Museum of Caltanissetta. Over two lengthy research trips to Sicily, Dr. Curcuruto—“Enrico,” as he quickly became—proved to be warm-hearted, welcoming, and astonishingly generous with his time. Much of what I learned about the history of child slavery in the sulfur mines at Palazzo Pennisi (see Storm Rising, and check out Part II of this series), I learned from Enrico.
That dark past is captured in this painting, which hangs in the museum’s foyer:
On our second visit, Enrico had a surprise for us: a guided tour of the Realmonte salt mine—a vast underground complex of chambers, drifts, and tunnels extending for kilometers in every direction under Sicilian littoral and the Mediterranean Sea.
In other words, not something the casual tourist or even a determined novelist on a research trip was likely to see every day. It should come as no surprise that Melody and I jumped at the chance.
This is where our adventure began:
We climbed into a minibus, and for what seemed like an hour (but was only about 15 minutes), we ramped downward into a pit of blackness:
Finally arriving at this jaw-dropping scene:
You are looking at a cathedral, carved entirely out of salt.
It is a cathedral where, one of the mine officials told us, the Pope had once conducted a Mass. (I couldn’t find any evidence of that on the internet where, as we all know, only proven facts are to be found.)
Sculpted out of the eons-old salt deposits were an altar:
And several finely executed frescoes:
Impressive and inspirational? Yes, and inspirational in more ways than one—because I knew instantly that this underworld cathedral would make the perfect setting for a pivotal scene in Killing Pace.
But another astonishing sight still awaited us.
After our visit to the cathedral, and before returning to the surface, we were driven through some of the mine’s countless tunnels and chambers. During that tour, our breath was taken away by sights like these:
(That’s my dear Melody … just to give you a sense of scale.)
Modern art … created by gigantic tunneling machines. Who would have guessed?
Later that afternoon, Melody and I wended our way home through the mountains of central Sicily, where we were greeted by another arresting sight:
Sicily truly is a magical place.
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Douglas Schofield is the author of Time of Departure and Storm Rising. He was raised and educated in British Columbia, where he earned degrees in history and law. Over the past thirty years, he has worked as a lawyer in Canada, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands. Douglas and his wife, Melody, live on Grand Cayman, along with their most excellent and amazing talking cat, Juno.