Siracusa: Greece in Italy!

This time we are in south-eastern Sicily just a few km South from Catania and the international airport of Fontanarossa, in one of the most beautiful places of Italy. If you want to go back in time to the splendor of Magna Grecia, to the magnificence of Greek civilization, you have to spend a few days in Siracusa,  Cicerone said it was “the largest and the most beautiful of all Greek cities”, the city in 2017 celebrates the anniversary of its founding, 2750 years ago,one among the most ancient cities in Italy… its name  comes from the greek term “Syraka”, that means “plenty of water”, for the presence of several water sources in the surrounding area: one of them, “Fonte Aretusa”, a source of fresh water flowing into the subsoil and then emerging just a few meters from the sea, creates an enchanting pond surrounded by papyrus, populated with ducks and fishes,  located in the oldest part of the city, the island of Ortigia.

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The Aretusa spring in the heart of Ortigia.

Ortigia

Connected to the city by a bridge, the island of Ortigia is considered the heart of Siracusa and the place of its foundation: as handed down by the historian Tucidide, the Greeks arrived on the Island in the 8th century BC, deporting the local population who took refuge in the interior, and choosing this place as the political and administrative center of Magna Grecia. Today Ortigia is offered to visitors in all its splendor, also thanks to the creation of a large pedestrian area that allows to walk on foot through small streets that open on astonishing squares with stunning views, between Greek columns and baroque palaces … This is the case of Piazza Duomo, clear and sharp even with the beautiful evening lighting, where the Cathedral  of the Nativity of Holy Mary rises.

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The Ortigia seafront promenade.
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The seafront  of Ortigia by night.

The Cathedral of Siracusa

The Church incorporates what was the main sacred temple in Doric style of the original Greek pòlis, dedicated to Athena (Minerva) and built by the tyrant Gelone after the victory against the Carthaginians in the battle of Imera. Following the advent of Christianity, the temple was converted into a church, and still today within it are visible the ruins of the temple, along with medieval vestiges, while the exterior style is mainly baroque and rococo. On the right side of the Cathedral, at the bottom, there is the statue of St. Paul of Tarsus, the apostle who stopped for three days in Siracusa on his journey to Rome, preaching the newly born Christianity.

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The facade of the baroque Cathedral of Siracusa.
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The main portal of the Cathedral

The church of “Santa Lucia alla Badia”

Still in Piazza Duomo there is the Church of Santa Lucia, the patron saint of Siracusa, in which is preserved an invaluable painting of Caravaggio depicting “The Burial of the Blessed Virgin”: the painting of 1608 is the first Sicilian work of Caravaggio, brought to term by the painter in just two months.

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The spectacular Piazza Duomo in Ortigia.
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The Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia.

The Maniace castle

Continuing the walk  along Ortigia’s promenade you will come across a beautiful fortress of the eleventh century, the Maniace Castle, built by Emperor Federico II of Svevia, returning from the Crusade to the Holy Land, and realized by the architect Riccardo da Lentini.

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The Maniace Castle, on the extreme tip of the island of Ortigia.

The castle, erected at the same time as other castles built by Federico II in Sicily and southern Italy, dues improperly its name to the Byzantine commander Giorgio Maniace, who had conquered the city of Syracuse from the Arabs, bringing as a tribute two bronze rams, later placed at the entrance to the Swabian castle.

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A view on the ortigia gulf from a window of the Maniace Castle.

 Today it’s a prestigious place for many events related to music and theater, such as those of the Ortigia Festival, or a venue for events of world interest, such as the Environmental  G8

.

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The Ionian sea struggles against the wall of the Maniace Castle.

The pearl of Magna Grecia

As we have said, we must not forget that Siracusa was the centerpiece of Greek civilization in the Mediterranean: the great physical mathematician and inventor Archimede was born in Siracusa in 287 BC, and lots of testimonials of this golden age are spread everywhere around the city.

The Greek theatre

Within the archaeological park of Neapolis is one of the largest and most important Greek theaters in the world. Here Eschilo first represented “Le Etnee”, written in honor of the tyrant Jerone I after the foundation of Catania in 476 BC, and then again “The Persians”, the oldest theatrical work that has come to us to our days. Testimonials and quotations of the theater are also contained in the works of many authors of antiquity, beginning with Diodoro Siculo up to Plutarch. The current structure of the Theater is due to the tyrant Jerone II, who reconstructed it almost entirely with its characteristic horseshoe shape typical of Hellenic culture between 238 and 215 BC, making the most of the acoustics. The theater cave, as designed by Jerone II, is one of the largest in the Greek world, and originally consisted of 67 steps, mostly excavated in the rock, and 9 sectors: facing the sea, it also offers to te viewers an extraordinary natural show . With the sunset of the Roman Empire, the theater knows a long period of decay and abandonment: in 1526 it was severely plundered by the Spaniards, who used the large stone boulders to build fortifications around the island of Ortigia. The interest for the Theater resumed at the end of the 18th century, when the restoration work starts and continues until today: since 1914, the National Institute of Ancient Drama (INDA) annually represents here the most important theatrical works of Greek civilization.

The Latomies

In the sourroundings of Siracusa it is possible to visit the caves created in the Greek Era for the extraction of limestone rock necessary for the construction of temples, monuments and defensive walls. These are the Latomies of Siracusa, originally born as quarries, but later used as prison for prisoners of war or delinquents: Tucidides wrote that following the Athenian expedition in Sicily in the III sec. a. C, the Athenians defeated by the Siracusans were imprisoned in these Latomies, and subjected to hunger, thirst and physical labor for no less than seventy days. In one of these quarries, called “Latomia del Paradiso”, right below the Greek Theater, there is a cave called “Ear of Dionysus”.

Ear of Dionysus

The Ear of Dionysus” is an artificial cave about 23m high, excavated in limestone and shaped like S: it was the Caravaggio who visited the cave in 1608 to give it this name, precisely because of its sinuous shape, capable of amplifying sounds up to 16 times. Legend says that Dionysius tyrant hid in a cavity at the top of the cave to hear the talk of his enemies locked down without being seen. Actually the shape of the cave is due to the construction technique that proceeding from above, following the path of a natural aqueduct, widened as it descended deeply. Whether real or not, anybody who visits the cave today can only be charmed by its majesty, competing with other visitors in singing, to experience its acoustic peculiarity!

 


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