Day 68 Taormina to Syracuse

Today we bade farewell to Taormina, and headed south along the Ionian Coast to Syracuse. Mount Etna was looking stunning this morning, and for many miles along the autoroute, we were in it’s shadow.
We arrived at our destination about lunchtime, and after a quick stop for a coffee, we walked the kilometre or so into the old town of Syracuse, which sits on the island of Ortygia, jutting out into the Ionian Sea, and connected to the mainland by two bridges. Syracuse was inhabited back as far as 733 BC by a Greek colony from Corinth. Within 250 years, it had not only become the most important port in Sicily, but one of the most powerful cities in the whole Mediterranean, on a par with Athens and Carthage. Eventually it was overtaken by the Romans, but Syracuse remained the most important Roman city in Sicily, and later, for a short time, was the capital of the Byzantine empire. Archimedes was born in Syracuse, and is where he discovered his famous ‘principal’. So basically lots went on here, and the place is oozing in history.
The modern town is pretty unremarkable, but the old town of Ortygia is a gem. We walked past the harbour and marina, crossed the bridge Ponte Nuovo, and it was like stepping back into the past. We were immediately met with a series of Greek columns, the remains of a Temple to Apollo. We then walked into a square named after Archimedes, with a spectacular fountain with a statue of Diana at it’s heart. The town then becomes a labyrinth of narrow streets and walkways, extending towards the sea. We walked along the main street Via Roma, took a right into a glamorous looking piazza, and then caught our first sight of the side of the huge white cathedral, the Duomo. It sits on the original site of the Greek Temple of Athena, and although rebuilt by the Romans, then the Normans, some of the Greek columns remain in the structure. The cathedral received a new Baroque facade after an earthquake in 1693. This spectacular white building completely dominates the elegant Piazza de Duomo, which today was almost deserted apart from the odd tourist and a passing group of school children. Inside, it is much less impressive than it’s outer shell, but it houses the remains of Saint Lucy, whose bones are on display in a cabinet inside.
After a look at the Cathedral, Howard dragged me off to an archeological site, which seemed to be explaining the difference between Ionian and Corinthian columns. Apologies to any history buffs, but I needed a wee, and couldn’t really get too embroiled until I had met my needs.
We found a lovely little cafe in a piazza round the side of the Duomo, and enjoyed a drink and shared a pizza. As we sat there, the square was deserted apart from a pair of small children on scooters, who were having an absolute ball scooting around this enormous space all to themselves.
Refreshed, we continued on, walking first to the castle, and then around the periphery of Ortygia where it bounds the sea. It was a pleasant meander back through the labyrinth of streets, but we avoided the last bit through the new town by grabbing a taxi home.
I think we probably saw Syracuse at it’s best, on a quiet Monday afternoon in the sunshine. For now though, I must admit to being rather ‘historied’ out. But if history is your thing, then I defy you not to love Sicily, and especially Syracuse.

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