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