«Syracuse is not only a city where it’s nice to live, it deserves to be lived: there isn’t any other city that at the same time denies itself, dissimulates and becomes hidden and visionary; mysterious». – Leonardo Sciascia
I decided to start this article with the words of a great Sicilian author because I think that they perfectly reflect the essence of this place. We are not talking about a metropolis but about a heap of history, arts, traditions and legends that only a few cities in the world, probably, boast.
Syracuse, I want to tell about it with my eyes, from my current point of view but also from the one that I had when I went there for the first time (I was 10 years old), and then again when I was a teenager. Each age allows to catch different shades. I admit to having a great passion for theatre. Almost every year this passion pushes me toward Southern Sicily to enjoy the classical plays at the Greek Theater. If you have never tried the ‘time machine’ effect, this is the best way to do it. Let’s go step by step, I promise that I won’t omit any detail.
37°05′N 15°17′E, once we insert coordinates, we are ready to go together to Syracuse. The city was founded by Corinthians in 734 B.C. and during the classic age, it stood out like Athens: it was the birthplace of philosophers, artists and scientists such as the famous Archimedes. Rome conquered it in 212 B.C. and Cicero described Syracuse as «the greatest and most beautiful Greek city».
One could imagine that almost nothing survived. On the contrary, its glorious past between myth and reality is still alive and, once you get there, you’ll feel its deep and present spirit. And if in this moment you are wondering what you cannot miss in your itinerary to completely plunge into the suggestive atmosphere of Syracuse, go forth and read.
First stop…Archaeological Park of Neapolis
Stones? Even more! It’s a natural area full of discoveries, and nowadays is considered one of the most important archaeological areas in Italy. Not bad, eh? While walking through the several paths that allow to cross the park, visitors – it doesn’t matter if they are there for the first or the tenth time – will be astonished by the beauty around them. And it’ll be the same (or maybe it was), even for you: you will see the Ear of Dionysius and will have fun while hearing the echo of you voice, thinking about the prisoners that many centuries ago were closed in the cave. You will be enchanted by the quarries (sometimes, you could get lucky and see them enlightened just after the sunset!), the Grotta dei Cordari or the necropolis, where it’s said that Archimedes’ grave is.
…but we never stop: welcome to the Greek Theatre of Syracuse
If you continue exploring the Archaeological Park, you will arrive in front of the real jewel of Syracuse: the Greek Theatre. Well, I have already mentioned my passion for theatre, but believe me…this judgement is 100% impartial. If I should suggest you the ideal period to totally enjoy this place, I would say in May/June. And it’s not because of the weather (because in Southern Sicily, even in January it isn’t too cold!), I recommend those months because in this way, you can attend one of the classical plays organized by I.N.D.A. (Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico). Sun will set behind you while leaving the magnificence of the stage with the night – and the actors -.
Just an historical hint: this theatre dates back to the fifth century B.C. but has been restored during the Roman age. That’s the stage where Aeschylus, one of the most famous dramatists, put on “The Persians” for the first time to honor the tyrant Hieron I.
Ortygia: third stop, the old city
Pindar defined it «Artemis’ cradle», because the Goddess was the protector of the city. The history of this small island, that is even the most ancient part of Syracuse, is so remote and mixed with mythology: still now it’s partially shrouded in mystery.
The Temple of Apollo Doric (the most ancient in Sicily), for example, shows that the Sun cult was strongly heart-felt. Another well-known legend is about the nymph Arethusa, it justifies the cult of Artemis and leads us towards one of the beauties of Ortygia: The Fountain of Arethusa.
The legend says that god Alpheus fell in love with her, but it was an unreciprocated love. So, she ran away and went to Syracuse, where the hunting goddess turned her into a stream that still exists. It’s a sheet of water where papyrus grows and that flows into the Main Harbor of the city.
Walking around Ortygia…the Cathedral
Another stop you cannot miss is the Cathedral of Syracuse: it’s called Cattedrale metropolitana della Natività di Maria Santissima, part of its structure was originally a Doric temple (Temple of Athena). Its baroque and rococo styles make it an architectonical masterpiece included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Once you finish your visit, sit at a bar in the square and savor an almond slush with a soft brioche: for me it’s an undeniable routine.
Discover the city. You will bump into the Castello Maniace, an example of the military architecture of Frederick II’s reign (Norman age), the Archimedeion, a museum dedicated to the inventions of Archimedes, and into several churches, historical buildings and even the market in front of the sea, with its typical smells and colors. And who knows, maybe you will have a walk in a place that has been the cinematographic set where some directors such as Vittorio De Sica or Giuseppe Tornatore shot their movies. Or probably you will visit Syracuse in winter, the ideal period to celebrate the holiday of Saint Lucy on December 13th and to take part into the events organized for Christmas and the New Year’s. Dimensione Sicilia and Sicilian Secrets will bring you here on December 31st during Sicilian Secrets tour – special edition. Goodbye, 2017! In the evening, we will move to Catania all together to make a toast with you and welcome 2018. It’s a very special tour that in 7 days will make you fall in love with Sicily.
Your days will be intense, but at sunset, once you get close to the sea – paraphrasing De Amicis -, you will see the horizon becoming gold, the water under the bridge becoming gold, everything rises from the sea and draws in the gold. It should be a sunset like the one that Carducci described as beautiful as a sunset in Syracuse.