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Eastern Sicily has known many invading forces over the millennia. The ancient Greeks settled Siracusa (Syracuse). According to Wikipedia, the city became a very powerful city-state. It was allied with Sparta and Corinth. It was described by Cicero as the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all. It was the same size as Athens in the 5th century BCE. Later Siracusa became part of the Roman Republic and Byzantine empire.
We caught the Interbus from Catania to Siracusa. It took about 20 minutes longer than scheduled without any clear reason, making me wonder if the timetable is just inaccurate.
We walked down Corso Umberto and met the parents of my husband. They are travelling in Italy from Australia. It was a joyful reunion after nearly 12 months without seeing each other. We enjoyed a tasty morning coffee together before starting to explore.
We walked together to Ortigia Island. Our first stop was to admire the Doric style temple to the god Apollo. I think these are the first Greek ruins that I’ve seen anywhere. I read that the blocks of building stone were brought to Siracusa by boat. The blocks are carefully cut to matching sizes and shapes which must have been exceedingly hard and dusty work. Some of the stones are over 4m above the ground so we stood imagining the scaffolding and pulley system required to raise the stones to those heights.
The site of the temple has been used and abused in different ways over the millennia since the temple was constructed. It was rediscovered and different episodes of renovations have been performed. In some cases the renovations are deteriorating and I saw crumbled concrete with exposed iron rods in some places. It’s a shame and it makes it difficult to identify what is original but I’m really glad that it was rediscovered and protected so that we can enjoy it.
There were more tourists on Ortigia island than we’ve seen in Catania. Also, some of the buildings have been renovated and look much more attractive than the crumbling facades in Catania. I do like the decrepit charm of Catania though.
Our next stop was to admire the fountain to goddess Diana. For the first time in nearly a year we could look at something without worrying about where our children were and if they were safe because we were with their grandparents.
We walked into the main square and had a quick look through the cathedral before it closed for a mid afternoon break (nearly everything closes in Italy in the middle of the afternoon for about 3 hours).
The cathedral has been through several life phases, depending on who was the ruler of eastern Sicily at that time. We admired the Greek columns, Norman floor mosaics and Byzantine influences.
I think that the highlight for all of us was taking a free tour under a church in the Jewish quarter.
Originally it was a synagogue and 20m below the ground is the original purification pool for woman to bathe after menstruating and giving birth. 10m above that is the aqueduct built by the ancient Greeks. It’s amazing how much rock they excavated by hand. It extends under the entire island. It was closed off at some point and then used as an air raid shelter during the allied bombings in WWII.