Siracusa, Italy: a cultural city guide

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For such an unheralded city, Siracusa, in south-east Sicily, is surprisingly large, with a population of around 125,000. Yet remarkably at the height of its influence around 400 BC, that figure is estimated to have been between 200,000 and 300,000. After destroying a great invading fleet sent from Athens in 415 BC, it became perhaps the most powerful city state in the Western world. 

The finest area today is Ortygia – Greek for “quail” – the island on which the first Corinthians settled in 733 BC. It feels more like a peninsula than an island, but it has quite a different character – the mainland part of the city was bombed heavily during the Second World War. 

Ortygia is tiny, but an absolute gem, dense with gorgeously crumbly but also beautifully restored Baroque buildings, super restaurants, and an unexpected number of fine hotels, with romantic sea views never more than a two-minute stroll away. 

We arrived on a stormy night, and on a tour of the sea walls thrilled to the sight of mighty breakers smashing against the stonework. We felt almost snug on our island fortress, under siege from the elements as, in centuries past, it had been assaulted by Romans, Byzantines, Vandals, Arabs, Normans and Spanish.  

The best example of how these cultural invasions have fused is the cathedral in the Piazza Duomo, itself one of the most attractive piazzas in Italy. Stop to admire the cathedral’s 18th-century façade, erected, like so much of the architecture, following an earthquake in 1693. 

But then step down Via Minerva to inspect its flank, where you’ll see how the giant Doric columns of the Greek temple to Athena were incorporated into the church that superseded it. 

The sixth-century BC Temple of Apollo was not so lucky – only a few columns remain. Gaze through the window in the wall between two of them, and you’ll have a perfectly framed view of the daily morning market. 

Whichever route you wander, you’re bound to encounter the Fonte Arethusa, a pretty sunken spring from which Nelson is said to have replenished his water supplies en route to the Battle of the Nile. 

However, the biggest attraction for many will be the mainland’s Neapolis Archaeological Park. Here is a Greek theatre, where the plays of Aeschylus and Euripedes are still performed in summer, as they were more than 2,000 years ago. Perhaps even more evocative is a vast hole in the ground – a quarry, first dug around 500 BC, from which was removed limestone for the building of Siracusa. These days it is covered in orange and lemon groves, but wander into the vast man-made chamber known as Dionysius’s Ear, with chisel-marks visible on its walls, and it’s hard not to be moved at the thought of the sweat and blood sacrificed in the sculpting of this illustrious city.  

Author: Tim Pozzi | Source: The Telegraph/UK [May 09, 2011]

1 COMMENT

  1. Αλλαγή έλεγε ο Ανδρέας, Αλλαγή ο Σημίτης (ο κινέζος όπως τον αποκαλούσαν οι εφημερίδες), αλλάγή ο Καραμανλής, Αλλαγή ο Τζέφρυ (Γιωργάκης κατά τον Μητσοτάκη και άν θυμάμαι καλά είχε επίσης πεί ότι δεν κάνει για πρωθυπουργός- κ' όμως έγινε), αλλαγή ο ΣαμαρΑΣΣ, Χορτάσαμε από αλλαγές – μαςαλλάξανε τον αδόξαστο. Θέλω Τον Καραϊσκάκη.

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