Sun 19 Feb 2012
Located on the southeastern shore of Sicily, Syracuse is one of the most famous locations on the island. It offers a variety of objectives, some of them extremely interesting, some other a little bit over-rated, but all together they make of the city a mandatory stop even in a rather short stay. The older and the more interesting part of the city lays on the Ortigia island and the way it is accessed reminded me a little bit the entrance and the access to Venice, although most of the parallels stop here.
The first objective after crossing the long road and one of the two access bridges to the island is the Temple of Apollo. The ruins may not look extremely impressive today compared to other similar objectives that I have seen in Greece, Rome and even Sicily, but one must take into account that this is the oldest Doric temple in Sicily and some say in the whole world, built in the 6th century BC.
Our next stop was in Piazza Archimede which bears the name of the most famous character of the Greek antiquity whose death is located by history and legend on the beaches around. In the center of the square we could see the beautiful Fountain of Diana created in 1906 by Giulio Moschetti. The Greek goddess turned the nymph Arethusa into a spring to save her from a malevolent pursuer. More later.
The Duomo ws for me by far the most impressive monument in the city. The strong impression starts with the baroque facade created in the 18th century by Andrea Palma.
It is only when you enter inside the Duomo that you feel the power and the uniqueness of the place. The current structure remained largely the same since the 7th century, when it recycled a Temple of Athens. Six columns on one side and fourteen columns on the other side from the previous Doric buildings are incorporated in the walls of the current church.
There is more beauty inside this church – for example the spiral-shaped decorated columns.
The patron saint of the city is Santa Lucia, patron of the blinds and many churches and works of art are dedicated to her. Another church in the town hosts a masterpiece of Caravaggio representing her burial, which unfortunately I did not get to see. In the Duomo we can find however several statues of Santa Lucia, some of them are taken out in processions on her day, December 13.
A series of beautiful (and beautifully conseved) stastues belong to the Gagini brothers, contemporary of Michelangelo. The Madonna of the Snow above, dated 1512 is by Antonello Gagini.
We exited the Duomo and wondered through the narrow streets typical to Italian cities that kept something close to the historical design to the Jewish Quarter, in search of memories of Jewish life. There has been a Jewish presence in the city since the fall of the Second Temple in AD 70 until the expulsion of Jews in 1492. Rabbi Akiva, “Rosh la-Chachamim” (Head of all the Sages) visited here. As in Spain after the catastrophe of 1492 some Jews chose to stay, convert, and leave a clandestine Jewish life. It is even said that pizza was invented by Jews, it was probably not a peperoni one though The most famous objective is the Miqveh dating from the Byzantine period but its state and the way it is exposed and presented (fixed and spare hours, unfriendly personal, unprofessional guide, an amateurish museum and no photos allowed) make me not to recommend the place.
We walked along the shore, it was quite windy, and we could only imagine that one of the beaches around was the one where Archimedes defended his circles. The Maniace Castle built in the 13th during the Byzantine rule is another objective that we did not get to visit, and we did not even get closer to the lighthouse!
A Pascal banner in Romanian and Italian on one of the buildings signalize that some of the estimated one million of Romanian living today in Italy settled and work here. As it was October we could not decide if this was for the previous Easter six months before or for the upcoming Easter six months later
At the end of the visit that day we reached the spring and Fountain of Arthusa, the very place where Diana exercised the goddess power.
That day we did not get to see the archeological park which is located on the main island, as we arrived a few minutes after the ticket office closed although the park staid open for almost another hour. So we returned in the last full day of our stay in Sicily on purpose to see this place three-stared by the Michelin guide. Two of the places in the park are remarkable. The Greek Theater started to be carved in the rock of the hill in the 5th century BC and is the largest in Sicily and one of the largest in the Ancient Greek world.
The Ear of Dyonisios is a fascinating cave part created by stone excavations made in the ancient times. Its shape creates acoustics that are said to have helped the tyrant Denys to spy upon his people. The name of the place was given by no other than Caravaggio.
There are a few more places that we did not get to see. I already mentioned the Santa Lucia church with the painting by Caravaggio and the castle. Add to this the art museum which was closed on the first day we were there (a Monday) and the impressive modern sanctuary of Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of Tears). The Michelin guide was right again recommending two-three days to know and appreciate Syracuse.