Sicily: A Traveller's Guide by Paul Duncan (John Murray, £16.95): South Italy: A Traveller's Guide by Paul Holberton (John Murray. £16.95) Isabella di Lisi
THESE two volumes come as a welcome contribution to the almost non-existent travel guides on southern Italy.
Stendhal's dictum "see Naples and then die" has left the southernmost regions of the Italian peninsula penniless if unspoiled: tourism still stops at Naples.
Southern Italians may be forgiven for not shedding too many tears on this state of affairs: through the ages, hordes of visitors — Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Ostrogoths, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Spaniards and even the French trampled through the South and on to Sicily.
Their legacy accounts for much of the beauty found in this land: from Trajan's Arch in Benevento to the Byzantine splendour of San Domenico in Otranto. Both authors chart history's ponderous steps through heel, toe and isle indeed, virtually every site seems to touch off echoes of distant times for our erudite tour guides.
In Mr Holberton's case, this backward gazing could perhaps prove too excessive for those who aim to follow a time-conscious itinerary.
By the time we have learned the details of Hannibal's victory at Canne delta Battaglia. not much time is left for the town itself. For history buffs it is of course nice to know that Livy has been there before you, and that he had a good look at the cisterns and pits for grain storage; and readers of Church history will be relieved to know that Joachim of Fiore never espoused the heresies that stretched throughout the country in the 14th century.
Nature so harsh that poverty is endemic to most of the region's agricultural workers is, in the Mezzogiorno, a far cry from the pastoral serenity which British travellers expect from their habitual Tuscan destinations. Blinding white sunlight,
mountainous craggy rocks, stomach-sinking precipices abound in the cruel land of Etna and Scylla. Little wonder that in the 19th century neo-realistic novels of Sicily's Giovanni Verga, natural calamities abound. Both books do full justice to the dramatic landscapes against which medieval villages cluster and to the ever-present Mediterranean.
Paul Duncan's descriptions of Sicilian vistas and folklore, and its unique brand of aristocratic decadence fill the reader with the urge to board the first plane.