Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Syracuse and Noto

Syracuse has a picturesque harbour and is connected to the Island of Ortigia. It was founded by Corinthian settlers in 734BC though there had been settlement there since 14thC BC. Since then it has seen almost all civilisations trying to take it over and often succeeding. It’s a city of art and considerable archaeological riches.

The temple of Apollo is the oldest of the Doric temples in Sicily (12thC BC). It was later turned into a Byzantine church, then a mosque and then back into a church by the Normans. Archimedes the mathematician was born here in 287 BC. He’s the guy that jumped up and exclaimed ‘Eureka’. He was killed by an invading Roman arrow.

Visiting the Neapolis archaeological zone with its ruins of the Hellenic and Roman periods was really interesting. It was the first time I have seen a Greek Theatre. It can seat 15,000 people. It was altered in Roman times to accommodate gladiatorial combats before the Roman amphitheatre was finished. Performances are still staged at the Greek Theatre. At the back of the theatre, at the top of the slope is a Grotto. The water supplied is from a Greek aquaduct built underground. It still works after all these millennia but the water is no longer potable. Such engineering is inspired.

Along from that is a series of Byzantine tombs and votive niches where bodies and plaques naming the dead were placed. It’s a bit dank but not spooky.

The enormous cave known as the ear of Dionysius is situated in one of the former limestone quarries. There’s a garden outside and we saw a couple of wild bee hives had established themselves at the cliff face, high up. The cave has amazing acoustics. If you shout or clap your hands at the entranceway the echo is superb. It’s said that in this way Dionysius heard his enemies coming without seeing them. Our guide told us it was entirely chiselled out by hand. It’s really too amazing to believe. A number of these grottos were also used as prisons in olden times.

There is also the Roman amphitheatre, built for gladiators and animals for public sacrifice. Nearly 4000 bulls would have been put to death. You can still see the passageways where they would have entered the arena. It dates from the first century BC and is carved out of living rock. Ah, if crumbled walls could talk.

And where would we be if we didn’t visit yet another cathedral. We’d all had enough of that by this stage but there we were, led along by Salvatore, visiting the Duomo in Syracuse.

Just along from it we discovered a wedding. The groom and his attendents seemed to be policemen but I just can't work out why I didn't see a bride and why it was the groom who was carrying a floral bouquet. How odd.

After lunch we travelled to the baroque town of Noto. This is relatively clean and has some charm.

An artisan was working in his shop carving limestone into Greek and Roman architectural shapes. I’d have loved to bring back some carved bookends in a classical theme but they would have been a bit too heavy.

The cathedral of Noto has two belltowers and a three-ramp staircase. It’s opposite an attractive building housing the city local government. A much nicer design than Kiwi local government buildings.

I quite liked Noto. We were melting in the intense heat so we sought sanctuary at a cafe and ordered two granita. Rather like a sorbet, the flavours were lemon and blackbury. Yummy! A very effective on a hot day.


Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, contributions and feedback.