I’d just started to get used to seeing Roman bits and pieces lying around the countryside of Italy when I went to Siracusa and ran smack into a new concept – Greek ruins. For some reason this seemed so dramatically much more ancient that I kept catching sight of Greek letters carved on things and repeating to myself “Greek, greek, greek.”
Before visiting the archaeological sights however, I took the morning to wander the picturesque medieval city of Siracusa located on an island (now functionally made a peninsula with several sturdy bridges). The (now) familiar medieval street patter – a tangle of narrow streets at random angles – is varied there by the sea coast on all sides and I realized as I walked out from between tall buildings onto a brilliantly blue seascape that the ocean always smells like California to me. The Greek historical presence is strong even here – a partially excavated temple makes up a city park just over the main bridge. Further the Duomo was built in the 7th century over the Greek temple of Athena and incorporates its structure. The Doric columns can be seen along the long sides (with block filling the spaces between them) and arches were hacked out of the walls of the Cella to make a central Nave with flanking aisles. The exterior is pure Baroque (as is the rest of the piazza it faces) and all were beautiful in the gleaming sunlight.
I passed this church on my way in to town on the bus and again while walking around. I’ve posted so many venerable and ancient churches, it seems only right to include one of the more modern variety. This one, the Our Lady of Tears shrine has some interesting moments, and is certainly original.
The Greek theater itself. It was impressive in scale compared to everything I’ve seen thus far (its one of the largest the Greeks constructed) and pretty well preserved as well. I was curious about the shrine like water feature at the top of the theater which wasn’t explained or signed at all. An archaeological survey team was measuring as I walked around the sight. The bulk of the theater is not built of stone so much as it is carved out of the hillside – a reason it is so well preserved, perhaps. Adjacent to the site is a huge quarry where stone for the other ancient buildings was sourced. It is also where the Siracusan ruler Dionysis imprisoned some 7000 of his enemies – soldiers who had been sent from Athens to try to take the city. Knowing that made walking around the peaceful dell filled with birdsong into a somewhat unsettling experience. I tried hard not to imagine being cooped up in there for years as a prisoner of war.
The excellent (and aggressively 70’s modern hexagonal) museum explained much of the ancient history of the area and featured a number of statues and pottery items found on the site. I was particularly struck by its quotation of Thucydides: “The men, not the walls, are the city.”