Syracuse 10/02 – 13/02/2016
Anyone expecting this entry to have anything like the visual impact of the last one is I’m afraid going to be disappointed. We are still buzzing about the sights and sounds we saw for Mardi-Gras and feel lucky we were in the right place at the right time. The other positive aspect is the weather has taken a serious turn for the better, we have had a couple of degrees up-grade in temperature with daily highs now hitting 20°C during the day but more importantly overnight lows are a sultry 13°C.
We are parked up in the centre of town with views across the bay to the old city of Ortigia and the main reason for being here was to celebrate Tracy’s birthday and we did it by eating fish, fish and fish. More of that later but first a view of Ortigia:
Island of Ortigia
As you can see from the map we came down the motorway from Acireale as we did not want to drive through the middle of Catania, total cost for the Homie was €0.50, yep 50 cents. As we are coming back to Acireale to meet up with our friends in a couple of weeks we missed out a wizz around Catania as we will be doing the tour of the city with them. The journey down was uneventful with the coastline flattening out and losing the Amalfi-esque landscape that exists between Messini and Catania.
Birthday Day 1
Breakfast in bed for Tracy was not as smooth as I had hoped with the bread being stale, the coffee a little bitter and the eggs runny. Tracy, unlike the coffee saw the funny side of my dismal offering and as always her response was a joke and a smile. After a leisurely start to the day we left the Homie and walked across the bridge to the Island of Ortigia. Syracuse as a city is split into two with the new and ancient city on the mainland and the rebuilt baroque metropolis on the island of Ortigia.
And let’s be honest the mainland part of Syracuse is not too attractive.
Syracuse (or Siracusa) was the most important city of Magna Graecia. It defeated the mighty Athens in 413 and was home to many a great Greek, including the inimitable Archimedes, him of lounging in the bath fame. At the height of its economic, political and military powers, the city had a population of 300,000 and, according to Cicero, was the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all’. Unfortunately, as the power of Greece diminished it became a Roman Colony and all of its treasures were looted. The next spot of bad-luck was the earthquake of 1693 which devastated this part of the world: But as we all know every cloud………… and they built a wonderful place to walk around for an afternoon consisting of narrow alleyways packed with art shops and restaurants, marble-floored Piazzas and extravagant buildings.
One of the highlights is of course the Cathedral built after the earthquake on what was the skeleton of the former Greek Temple of Athena. Pictures:
Duomo, note Greek Columns
Other highlights in the Cathedral Square are the town hall and the Chiesa di Santa Maria alla Badia which houses Caravaggio’s Burial of St Lucy as an altarpiece. As fans of the ‘Vagg’ we were doubly pleased to be able to see this priceless masterpiece for free, a rarity in Italy where everything costs.
Chiesa di Santa Maria alla Badia
Burial of St Lucy by ‘the Vagg’
After this we stopped for a birthday lunch of fishes and wine in a little establishment recommended by the tourist office. It wasn’t too bad but we did feel a little rushed and as such we will not recommend it. Afterwards we carried on our walk around this delightful town taking in the remaining sights; The Fontana Aretusa and the Castello Maniace. The fountain is not a fountain at all but a natural spring that still bubbles up as it did 2,500 years ago when it was Ortigia’s main water supply. According to legend, the Goddess Artemis, founder of a well-known after-shave, transformed her beautiful hand maiden Aretusa into the spring to protect her from the river god Alpheus. To me it looks like a duck pond with some weeds in the middle. You can decide now.
Greek myth or duck pond?
We carried on around the island in an anti-clockwise direction taking in the neighbourhood of Giudecca before returning back to the Homie. Last couple of pics of this attractive place.
Towards the Castle
Birthday Day 2
This morning we went exploring the mainland of Syracuse and it is not great. However, it does though have one of the best modern churches we have seen in a long time. Bearing a strong resemblance to ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ in Liverpool; both churches were built at a similar time, it dominates this otherwise drab urban sprawl. As this was also free we ventured in and were impressed by the feeling of spiritual awareness due the open arena given by the design. There is nothing wrong with a good old church but you can feel a lot closer to God in a well-designed modern space. You feel like you have entered a space-ship on its way to the heavens and it is absorbing.
Our new Favourite Church:
All aboard for Heaven
Inside the Tardis
For €10 each you can enter the Parco Archeological della Neapolis where you can see a Greek Theatre, a limestone quarry and a cave known as the ear of Dionysius, or you can buy two bottles of Gin. Having spent the last three months in Greece we decided to give the rubble a miss and support the British economy in our own small way. Here is the site.
The cave is the ear
We took a similar decision with the adjacent Museum which wanted €8 a pop. Why? We can go to the British Museum, which is the best in the world for this ancient stuff for free. Get a grip Italy. Loaded with all the money we had saved from not traipsing around the town of Bedrock we whooshed down to the Red Moon restaurant for a wonderful second birthday meal of Spaghetti with Sea Urchins followed by a couple of grilled fishes all washed down with a delicate local white. The second Birthday was ended with a few episodes of Benidorm before bed. And that is our visit to Syracuse, high on fish and low on ancient culture. Budgets, budgets, budgets.
All our Love