Sicily: history and myth in the city of Syracuse

Syracuse was the only city of antiquity to rival Athens and this should be enough to convince you to pack your bags! The great Greek philosopher Plato visited it three times because he thought it was the right city to found his ideal Republic. Also linked to Greece is the myth of Arethusa, a Greek nymph transformed by Artemis into the fountain of Ortigia. It was precisely to Artemis (Minerva) that the extraordinary temple was dedicated, which today is incorporated and still visible in the walls of the Cathedral.

The oldest part of Syracuse, the historical centre of the city, is Ortigia: considered one of the most beautiful inhabited islands in the world it is actually connected to the mainland by two bridges, the Ponte Umbertino and the Ponte Santa Lucia. Here, in a maze of narrow streets, there are many of the most important monuments and museums, as well as many restaurants and clubs. The district from where to start to discover the city, and the one where to return at the end of the day.

It is all a succession of temples, churches, palaces, fountains and places of myth. A promenade full of restaurants, bars and clubs offers shelter during the day to animate the nights of Ortigia.
Once over the bridge you will find the Temple of Apollo, the oldest in Sicily. Unfortunately there is not much left because over the centuries it was used as a mosque and then as a Christian church. A little further on is the Fountain of Diana (Artemis), which tells the myth of the Arethusa Nymph transformed into a spring by the goddess herself. To this myth is linked the Arethusa Fountain, symbol of Ortigia and sung over the centuries by poets and writers. Arethusa was a Greek nymph loved by Alphaeus but she did not want to be with him: she asked Artemis to help her and she transformed her into the spring of Ortigia. Alfeo, in order not to separate himself from her, asked the gods to transform it into a river so that he could live forever in the embrace with his nymph. The spring is a large pool of water in which papyrus has always grown, the only place in Europe.

The Duomo, was in the past a Greek temple, dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Located in the highest part of Ortigia, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mary of Syracuse boasts one of the most beautiful facades in Sicily, designed and completed in the first half of the eighteenth century in a mixture of Baroque and Rococo elements. The interior, older, also houses a beautiful Byzantine crucifix and a rich treasure.
Under it, during the Second World War, the inhabitants dug an air-raid shelter, widening the excavations of an ancient stone quarry: the Hypogeum of Piazza Duomo can be visited today.

The galleries, which also host temporary exhibitions, pass through Ortigia like holes in a form of gruyère: you will meet a large cistern under the Archbishop’s Palace and – all of a sudden – you will emerge from the walls of the Marina.

The Greek Theatre, the Amphitheatre, the Ear of Dionysius and the Temple of Hieron and the Tomb of Archimedes are one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe: these monuments are defended by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
The Roman Theatre has preserved intact its shape dug into the rock that defended it from the despoliation of material. It could hold thousands of spectators: here Aeschylus represented the Persians and the Etnaeans for the first time.

The theatre is still used for theatrical performances and shows. On the contrary, part of the Amphitheatre, originally 140 metres long, was removed by the Spanish who used the stones to build the defence ramparts of Ortigia. Here they held shows with gladiators and beasts. Not to be missed is a visit to the latomie present in the park, large cracks in the rock resulting from the extraction of stones for construction. The biggest latomia is that of Paradise, inside which there is the famous Ear of Dionysius. It was defined in this way by Caravaggio because it has the shape of a large ear pavilion and because, according to legend, the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysus I, used the extraordinary acoustic characteristics of this place to listen from far away to the speeches of the prisoners he kept locked up here. Not to be missed is also a visit to the presumed Tomb of Archimedes and the suggestive Via dei Sepolcri.

With the Mediterranean around it and the Hyblean Mountains behind it, Syracuse is able to bring to the tables sea and land products of extraordinary quality: fried pasta with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs (anciova and muddica), ravioli stuffed with fish, cavatelli (cavateddi) with tuna roe and Pachino cherry tomatoes, lolli, a pasta seasoned with pork sauce or broad beans (Lolli no Maccu). Among the second courses, the tuna fish soup and the fish soup., pan-fried rabbit (Cunigghiu a’ stimpirata) and meatballs (purpetti), accompanied by caponata and various vegetables.

Among the wines, we remember the 24 DOP of Syracuse including Syracuse and Erolo.