Author’s note: So this should have gone out in September last year, but alas, I forgot about my drafts folder. So here you go! Enjoy a last piece of Sicily. I very much enjoyed reliving the memories too.
One word. One City… Siracusa.
That’s Syracuse to english speakers and it is coming a very close second to my favourite city in the world. It is beautiful, baroque-rebuilt costal city with lots of Greek ruins (including a still functional theatre), beautiful buildings, churches and cool little museums.
One of the favourites was the Archimedes Techno Park, run by a married couple and that is full of models of some of Archimedes’ inventions and demonstration of principles he articulated. It came complete with a home produced movie featuring a clip of the epic 1960s film The Siege of Syracuse, complete with Romans running around like headless chickens on fire, followed by a guided tour entirely in Italian. I understood half of it…
We spent most of our time on Ortygia, which is the old, Greek-now Baroque settlement stood. I looked up the price of an apartment on Ortygia. Average three bedroom apartment is in the $800,000 mark. Totally affordable! Commute is a bit long however.
So here are the favourite things from Syracuse:
1. Ruins of the Temple of Apollo
2. The Greek Theatre
This is actually a functional theatre that hosts regular performances. To this day, there are no speakers or amplifying equipment. 2,500 years later and the acoustics are still as good as they day it was built.
3. The Ortiygian Streetscape
Loads of tiny little picturesque streets! Some of them are so narrow, you can’t fit much beyond people and a scooter (But that’s never stopped Italians!).
4. The Artemision
This is the remains of the Artemision. An (unfinished) replica of the actual Artemision in Ephesus. It was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world and someone very bravely, paid for a replica to be built in Syracuse. It was never finished (a conflict was the culprit) however, the identifying ionic column capitals and the remains of the foundations were discovered and are open to the public.
5. The Duomo
This Cathedral has survived multiple earthquakes and was originally one of the largest temples to Athena in Italy.
We joined for the Sunday night Mass and were greeted with a very familiar scene, music provided by a warbling little nun, a grumpy priest telling off tourists wandering quietly through and a tiny, but reverent congregation spread out among the entire church. It was just like being home!
Apart from that, this building is amazing, reverent to the awe inspiring structure that it was as a temple to Athena and yet a beautiful, quite spartan Church; showcasing the various periods of its history, from the Greeks, to Byzantines to the Bourbon Baroque.
6. The Ear of Dionysius
This is located in the Greek ruin precinct and was the source of limestone that built much of Greek Syracuse. This quarry began as a small, square tunnel that grew into an enormous catenary spiral into the cliff. It is survived numerous, massive earthquakes because of the strength of this arch. It was not a normal part of Greek architecture and it appears to be a fortunate accident as the people who quarried it found good stone in exactly this pattern.
Syracuse has loads of other cool little things, awesome cuisine from very traditional Sicilian to more modern Italian with fish and other seafood being the most delicious features and some good fashion shopping too.
But these things are definitely my favourites. Greek architecture was a new thing for me and despite the fact that Romans very much copied Greece as a civilisation, the Greek has a distinctly different feel to Roman. It seems more sure of itself, less imperious and (dare I say it) more refined.
If you could only visit one city in Sicily, make it Siracusa. It is worth it.