Siracusa, The Ancient Greek jewel in Sicily’s Crown

We had a holiday in Siracusa this summer, over on the south eastern corner of the island.

That side of Sicily has a lot of Baroque architecture. Sicilian baroque is a distinctive style developed under Spanish and Bourbon rule (17th century).

Here’s Siracusa cathedral:

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The Museum of Archaeology in Siracusa is wonderful. Since my degree is in Classical Antiquities, I have made it my business to visit a great many such museums: the collection of Greek vases and architectural sculpture surprised me with its outstandingly high quality and interest. Its quality makes it one of the most important museums of antiquity in the Mediterranean region.

The numismatics section down in the basement is, to my knowledge, unique in scope and size. The absolutely charming curator of that part of the museum gives her visitors a guided tour, which was so fascinating and entertaining that it was the highlight of my whole holiday.

This part of the museum will be getting its own blog post soon!

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The Tecnoparco Archimede contains life size models of all Archimedes’ inventions. There is another Archimedes museum in town which uses lots of computer simulations but, despite the sweltering heat, the open air park was much more fun. They let us play with all the stuff.

Archimedes was probably Siracusa’s most famous resident. The ticket price here also includes a guided tour, by a couple of men who are highly knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.

We put a tissue at the focal centre of this parabolic mirror and it burst into flames in two seconds. Archimedes used lots of these to set fire to the invading Roman ships’ sails: the Romans waterproofed their sails with tar, which made them highly flammable.

Archimedes was a terrible practical joker and so he also made himself a mini one of these, which he would use to set people’s clothes alight when he was trapped by intolerable bores. Apparently it started a mini craze in ancient Siracusa, with citizens igniting each others’ tunics and sandals recklessly the way modern people keep posting each other messages on their smart phones.

They sold keyring versions of them in the gift shop, which I may use on the next person who offers me un-requested parenting advice.

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This is the ancient Greek theatre of Siracusa, which is still used each summer for open air theatrical productions, operas and concerts. As you can see, in this photo it is all ready for the evening’s performance of Aida.

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This natural rock formation is called the ear of Dionysus. Dionysus was a tyrannical dictator of Siracusa who became paranoid. He imprisoned lots of people, whom he thought were political enemies, in this cave.

Local legend has it that he would hang about the entrance, taking advantage of the cave’s strange accoustics, which enabled him to hear what prisoners deep inside were saying – even if they spoke in a hushed whisper.

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This is the remains of the Roman amphitheatre. The Greeks built theatres to perform poetic tragedies with operatic choruses. The Romans built round amphitheatres in which to hold circuses, where prisoners of war were fed to the lions.

The Romans long yearned to conquer Siracusa because, in ancient times, it was the most important city in the Mediterranean. Once they managed to take the city over, though, it declined in importance and wealth. The main reason it had been so successful was its independence.

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We took a boat ride around Ortygia, the island jutting off the tip of Siracusa where the ancient city stood. It was wonderfully refreshing and the view of this white fortress was beautiful.

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If you like travelling,Β Siracusa deserves to added to your bucket list. We really had a wonderful holiday!

 

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24 thoughts on “Siracusa, The Ancient Greek jewel in Sicily’s Crown

  1. What an interesting article. We visited Siracusa/Ortygia during a memorable first trip to Sicily back in 2001 and were knocked out by it. We are planning a re-run next spring during a tour of the east of the island so will be sure to include your recommendations in our itinerary. Any advice about Catania?

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    1. Erm, I have to confess I am a bit vague about Catania. Every time we go there I am taken off to my husband’s in-laws (yes, in Sicily you have to spend Easters and Christmases with your in-laws’ in-laws). So I never get to see Catania; they make me sit at the table literally all day till I have consumed slightly more than my own body weight in food.
      But I think my friend Unwilling Expat who lives over that side of the island could probably give you some top tips!
      http://unwillingexpat.wordpress.com/?s=catania

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  2. Ah, you have been inside the museum I only could watch from outside … *pure-envy* … and the coin collection … amazing … I didn’t know that! They don’t tell it loudly. Maybe it is the Villa-Cattolica syndrome? “Keep your treasures and don’t tell anybody about it, and have sometimes a mancanza di corrente”. Isn’t this an electricity cable behind the lion, there? – The dolphin rider on the coin is Taras, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taras_(mythology)

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    1. Oh, thank you! Do you know the connection between Taras and Siracusa? I’ve done a little search but haven’t found anything yet…

      I am really sorry that you didn’t get to see the coin part of the museum. That’s a real shame. But having met the wonderful and enthusiastic curator of the coin museum, I can tell you she is absolutely worlds apart from the people at Villa Cattolica. She is very keen to publicise the museum as much as possible, and was very happy that I offered to write a blog post about the coins – which will be my next post.
      As you say, more publicity would be good, but at least they have a website and they are in the guide books too. It’s a start!

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  3. Every one of your sight-seeing posts so far has made me want to jump on a plane and visit Sicily. Perhaps you will consider opening a tourist guide service in Sicily when your son is older.

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    1. Thank you Beba!
      I have actually been thinking about becoming a tour guide, as I really enjoy showing people around and they usually go off feeling very pleased! Once when I was describing the history of the Cappella Palatina I ended up gathering a group of about 15 tourists who thought I was the official guide!
      My only reservation is marketing, I am not sure I really know how to go about it in a cost effective way.
      But if you ever do hop on a plane, Beba, please contact me as I would love to meet you and give you a tour! πŸ™‚

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      1. Thanks for the offer! Someday, I may even be able to take it up.
        As for marketing, perhaps there is a Sicilian tourism bureau in Palermo – assuming Sicily wants tourists, that is.
        i just returned from a trip to Japan, where my husband had a couple of work days and then we went sightseeing mostly on our own but also on two, day-long guided tours – one near Tokyo and one in Kyoto. Japan still seems somewhat ambivalent about tourists. They are very polite, efficient, and try to accommodate (a bit, anyway) but they don’t seem to really enjoy tourists or know what to make of them. It’s a society full of rules and they don’t trust outsiders will keep to them. And maybe they are shy. But, I am pretty sure Sicilians are not shy.

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      2. You’re right, Sicilians are not shy and most of them seem to enjoy meeting foreigners when they get the chance.
        I think Japanese people are freaked out by foreigners being loud (by their standards) and committing all kinds of social gaffes without realising it. But here in Sicily, it’s usually the Sicilians being loud and wild and the tourists feeling overwhelmed!!!
        And that’s a sensible idea, to just find out what I need to do to leave some leaflets in the tourist office in Palermo.

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  4. My family is from Floridia, so Siracusa was always a stop when we visited the family. My cousin works at the museum so we were able to get a “backstage” tour when we were there last, loved all the places you mentioned! So love ancient history and most recently my son and daughter in law spent their honeymoon there….

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