After my earlier Post on the Greek and Roman theatres in Syracuse, I thought I’d like to show you a few of the more colourful parts of the city. I hope you’ll enjoy the photographs that follow of the transparent seas around the island, Piazza Archimede and its magnificent fountain, the food market, a few more ruins – for how could one not include them as they are part of the street furniture.
Just to recap. In the 5th century, when Dionysus reigned, Syracuse was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, embellished by gardens, fountains, palaces and temples. Plato called it “an ideal city”, one of enormous military power capable of withstanding the might of Athens and Carthage.
Today, what remains of those days of glory, is preserved and presented to the visitor with pride, not hidden away or wrapped in cotton wool, but open to all who wish to, literally, enjoy touching the past, like the Temple of Apollo right in the middle of the city by the market-place.
With your back to the sea, you can walk either straight ahead to the old town and the Duomo, or to the left through the Porto Marina and into the old town and Ortygia. Either way, strolling around Syracuse at your leisure is sheer pleasure.
Although the image of the fishermen mending their nets is captioned, I hope you notice the massive cruise ship in the background, the old and the new side by side, the old struggling to make a living, the new a disaster, or a dividend to a city? The jury is still out on that one in Sicily.
As you leave the ruins of the 7th-century Temple of Apollo you will find yourself in the Corso Matteotti with its 14th-century Greek palace, and from here it is a short walk to the Piazza Archimede, opened in 1878 and dedicated to the Greek mathematics and physics genius, Archimedes (287-212 BC), and one of Syracuse’s most illustrious sons.
In the centre of the Piazza is the beautiful Artemis Fountain by Giulio Moschetti (1906) dedicated to Diana the goddess of the Hunt (Diana was the Roman name of the Goddess, Artemis the Greek). Appalled by the erotic pursuit of Alpheus the river god, Arethusa had asked the Goddess Diana for help: Diana then transformed Arethusa into a fountain which emerged on the nearby island of Ortygia, the core and oldest part of the Sicilian city, where you will find the spring named after Arethusa. In the fountain, Alpheus peers from behind the goddess while the nymph is about to slip into the water below where, as the tale goes, she will blend with the stream before re-emerging in Ortygia. Charging horses, Tritons and nymphs splash in the waters of the fountain and a good hour can be spent just walking around the admiring the work.
If you choose to go through the Porta Marina you will find yourself surrounded by fading Baroque Villas and Palaces facing the sea and hidden in the narrow alleyways, secretive dwellings with shades of a once glorious past still clinging to them. Along this long, narrow promenade you will pass the Church of the Holy Spirit which is worth a visit if time allows (but remember you have the Duomo and Santa Lucia alle Badia to explore as well).
Despite the lack of beach facilities the area around here is popular with swimmers, and often you will see people diving off the rocks into the near transparent waters or sunbathing in what looks like dangerous places along this rocky foreshore.
And now, my favourite part of the city, after a day spent among the relics of the past, the food market which runs along two streets in the town. The market is full of noise and energy from the buyers and sellers of the dried fruits, the cheeses, the fish, the olives, the urns of capers of all sizes (an essential in Sicilian cooking), the many different varieties of tomatoes, the aubergines, the jewel-coloured peppers, and the huge hessian bags full of pistachios, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, cobnuts, you name it, they have it here, all fresh and all ready to use.
The modern part of town is less interesting to those seeking signs of the past, but it has something worth seeing in the lovely Basilica Sanctuario Madonna delle Lacrime, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tears, located across the street from the archaeological museum. It was originally built to house a mass-produced gypsum bas-relief of the Madonna that had miraculously wept for 3 days in 1953 in the home of a poor Siracusan family. Although often described as resembling an upside-down ice-cream cone, the building is actually meant to represent a teardrop
Inside, the building is quite spacious, and there is always a number of the faithful praying to the little Madonna who is credited with having performed several miracles, mostly of the healing the halt and lame and the curing the blind type. There is a large shop attached to the Santuario (so, what’s new?) but it does have a marvellous collection of books and postcards.
There is another church right by the Duomo, often missed by visitors because of the wonderful golden-coloured Duomo with its complex history which stands beside it, and this is the Santa Lucia alla Badia church which houses The Burial of Santa Lucia by Caravaggio, above the altar. Caravaggio had arrived in Messina from Malta in December 1608 where he was commissioned to paint the Burial of Santa Lucia for the church of the same name: he completed this in less than a month.
It is difficult to see this picture because the church is kept fairly dark – I presume to preserve the painting – and no photography is allowed.
And with all the sight-seeing, don’t forget to stop occasionally for a snack at one of the many good cafes and restaurants around (very much cheaper in the modern part of the city, by the way), and make sure to have an ice-cream and that Sicilian favourite, a Granita.