You’re looking at the upper deck – not sure if that’s a correct maritime term – of the ferry that shuttles between Reggio di Calabria, on the tippy toe of the Italian peninsula, to Messina in Sicily. It’s a fairly typical ship except for the fact that it carries a commuter train in its bowels, as it has since 1899. Luciana and I took the train from Paola, in Calabria, to Giardini, Sicily, which included the unorthodox stopping and loading of the train cars onto the ferry, as shown below (in the only photo not from our trip).
After a short break at the Reggio di Calabria station, passengers board the train before it is pulled onto the ship in two sections. Once the ferry gets moving, you’re allowed to ascend to the observation decks or sit inside the ferry and enjoy a cappuccino, arancino (rice ball), and other concessions for the 25-minute ride.
From the stern, we said ciao to Calabria and mainland Italy, all the while marveling at the sparkling, deep blue water of the Strait of Messina.
And from the bow (now I’m sounding more like a sailor), it was buongiorno a Sicilia, where after docking the two rows of train cars would be pulled out, reattached, and ready to chug down the east coastline.
Greeting us in Messina was the Virgin Mary herself, above the inscription, “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus,” Latin for “You and your city are blessed.” Those were the words Madonna sent here from Palestine in 42 A.D., to thank and protect the locals after their conversion to Christianity. (The conversion, and the delivery of the letter, were both courtesy of St. Paul.) The letter arrived in Messina on September 8, wrapped in a lock of her hair. So sacred was this missive that Messina today celebrates two feasts in honor of Madonna, one celebrating the letter (June 3) and the other celebrating her assumption to Heaven (August 13-15).
The stele and statue were erected in 1934, and the fort was built in the 16th century.