28 June 2020 - Day 78 –Siracusa


After waking up at 8, I rolled over and slept another hour. I then got cleaned up, packed and brought my roller downstairs. The breakfast buffet was pretty much the European breakfast fare, with a slight Sicilian flare – a bit more spice to the choices. Returning to my room to clean my teeth and grab my rucksack, I was off to the Catania Centrale station. A bit early, I had to wait 5 minutes before the 10:45 train to #Siracusa was announced.

The train had originated in Palermo, so there were a good number of people getting off this Sunday morning. While they were descending from the carriages, I walked forward to the back of the second car, and boarded. I found a spot in the rack for the roller on the bottom level, and then found a seat by the window on the left side, so that I could watch the water. Four stops (Lenti, Augusta, and Priolo Melilli) before we pulled into the Siracusa station, a terminus. The ride was 75 minutes, so we arrived at just about noon.



My lodgings at the B&B Gymnasium were less than a half kilometer away, and very flat.

Located on the Piazza Marconi, I had a straight shot out the front door to one of the two bridges to the island containing the old city. They weren’t quite ready for me, so I registered and left my bag. With three levels of rooms, I saw an elevator, so had no concerns.


Siracusa is another Sicilian port city, located in the southeastern corner, next to the Gulf of Syracuse and the Ionian Sea. Founded by Greeks from Corinth about 2700 years ago, it was a major power in Greece, and rivaled Athens in size. Birthplace of Archimedes, for a short time it was capital of the Byzantine Empire. For my consideration, there was an ex-cathedral on the mainland, and the current cathedral on the Isola di Ortigia. My research indicated both closed at 17:30, but the cathedral was open all day, while the former cathedral closed for 2 hours at 12:30. That made the decision of where to start simple.

Corso Umberto was directly across for the giraffe that stared at the hotel from the Piazza Marconi. The Ponte Umbertino carried me across the small channel separating the island and mainland, with a view of the Statua di Archimede on a small island midspan.


#Archimedes in #Syracuse

At the Tempio di Apollo, my directions said to turn south which took me to the Piazza Minerva and the Duomo.


The Cattedrale della Natività di Maria Santissima was rebuilt as most everything in southeastern Sicily after the 1693 earthquake. It incorporates columns from the Greek Temple of Athena in the interior.


The exterior western facade is early 18th century Sicilian baroque, with columns, pediments, capitals flourishes and statues on two levels in what I’ve come to think of as “standard layout”. Entering, the piers are simple octagonal columns of beige stone and arches supporting a wood ladder vault. The north aisle is fairly simple, while the south aisle has both elaborate and simple chapels. The full nave floor is paved with polychromic marble in geometric patterns.

A pulpit and a lectern signal the beginning of the presbytery. A single step up from the nave, the tile pattern on the floor continues to through the choir, up two steps to the chancel, and five steps to the intricately decorated silver high altar. At the entrance, the cathedra is up five steps on the left, opposite seating for the celebrant and attendants; wooden choir stalls continue along the walls. Organ lofts on the side walls frame the reredos of two columns with gilt highlights, and an oil painting with a scene from the life of St Lucy, with a medallion of Christ the Pantokrator above.

Having some time before heading back off island, I continued walking south to observe the exterior of the Palazzo Borgia del Casala, a lovely palace and a historic museum;

the Fonte Aretusa, a natural spring;

and, at the point, the Castello Maniace, a fortress with great views to the sea and a lighthouse.

[In Sicily, on the eastern coast, everywhere south of Taormina looks due east to Greece.] When I came south on the Isola di Ortigia, I walked the western coastline. On my return north, I started along the eastern side, checking out the Forte Vigliena, a promenade projecting out over old fortress walls.

Shortly thereafter, I turned west to visit the Fontana di Diana, an elaborately beautiful presentation of the huntress goddess.


As I approached the other bridge, I passed by the Porta Urbica. A former city gate and part of the protective walls of Ortigia, all that remains are blocks which had been sections of the arch’s support and wall remnants in a block long pit.

From the Ponte Santa Lucia, I saw the back of the statue of Archimedes, and walked the Via Malta, parallel to Corso Umberto, until I came to the Parco del Foro Siracusano. Nominally a “forest” it is a nice greensward with trees, grass, shrubs, fountains and walkways that I crossed as I turned to head north.


Exiting the park, a cylindrical building caught my interest. The Chiesa di San Tommaso al Pantheon is a memorial to Syracusan soldiers of World War I who perished. Built in 1919, the green stained glass yields a pervasive green glow throughout the church floor.

The memorial was moving, triggering my saying a prayer for my grandfather who was a Marine and part of the AEF in France. Exiting, now I was entering a dormant commercial district. Sunday afternoon, it seemed everything was closed. And pedestrians and cars were few, but I stayed on the shady side.

Just before I reached the ex-cathedral, off across the street to my right was a huge modern circular church, Basilica Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime. I promised myself I’d stop on my return. Walking up Via San Sebastiano, I crossed at the next corner and walked through the Piazzale San Marziano to reach the Ex-cattedrale San Giovanni alle Catacombe (San Giovanni e San Marziano).

Now a ruin, its catacombs are a major (“must see”) tourist draw, and they are second to Rome in size and scope. [Gcatholic indicates this was a former cathedral without dates, and I can find no corroborating data online.] Carved from the limestone rock around the tomb of St Marciano, the catacombs became the burial place for the early Christians. Moving from the actual ruins of the church to a nearby building, after paying an entrance fee, I was admitted and able to descend and wander in the catacombs. I will admit that this was one of the better adventures I’ve been on during this trip.


Coming up into the bright sunlight after at least a half hour, I sat for a bit in the chairs over in the church ruins. What a thrill! Once I was ready to move again, I was faced with a decision: back to that church, or west to the archeological park? I opted for the latter, figuring I might be done in 90 minutes and still be able to enter what I learned is a basilica. I headed northwest, and started at the Tomba di #Archimede. Met with a slight slope and a mass of ruins, I stood at a distance to photo three dark openings which might have been the physicist-mathematician’s tomb; the sign said that Cicero wrote he was buried in Agrigento. I was close enough.



Then a pair of good chuckles: Prometeo incatenato, or Prometheus chained, a bronze sculpture of 3m, with the titan hanging upside down chained to two rock pillars. The sculptor was born nearby, and donated it to the city of Syracuse. And just down the slope, Ficus secolare, a large banyan-like ficus tree. I had no idea why this was on the list for the archeological park.



At the Latomie del Paradiso, and archeological site because it is an ancient quarry, I noted the cliff faces which had been carved away, leaving behind exposed raw stone, similar to the cliffs in Roussillon in Provence (France). I decided I didn’t need to climb up for a closer view.

But the path took me to the Orecchio di Dionisio, the Ear of Dionysius, (as named by Michelangelo di Caravaggio) a limestone cave carved by Greeks for water storage. The cool echo effect where a sound can repeat as frequently as 16 times. I gave it my B-flat below low C “bum”, and got 7 repeats.


Next, I came to the Greek theater. An amazingly well-preserved amphitheater, built in the 5th century BCE, rebuilt in the 3rd, and again during the Roman period. With a view from the seats down to the city below, they will occasionally perform Greek theater here. Then when I got to the Anfiteatro Romano, its poor condition surprised me.


The explanation that the Greek theater had been in a more serviceable state, that it had been recovered first. Maybe having the two as they are is good for contrast?

Leaving the park, I looked across the two-lane road to see the ruins of some structure in a field wild with scrub behind a metal fence. The Maps identification was that this is the Arco Augusteo di Siracusa, an archeological find dating to the period of Augustus: two pillars for an archway, dividing two districts.

I had to walk around the hospital to get over to the basilica. The Basilica Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime is a modern Marian shrine, honoring a miracle which occurred in 1953 where human tears were emitted from a plaster statue of St Mary.

Built in the late 20th century, it was consecrated in 1994 and elevated to a minor basilica in 2002, both by Pope John Paul II. I found both the upper church and the lower church in the crypt to be very uplifting and moving. This is rather stunning architecture, at least for me.

Walking down towards the hotel, I took several different streets, spending a little time window-shopping. It was nearly 6pm by the time I walked in the door, and I was able to collect my key and roller and head up the lift one level. A nice simple room, with enough floor space, a desk and chair for working on the netbook (although the lighting needed to be moved.)


I was hungry and thirsty, so I took my journal and camera with me and crossed catty-corner to Cavallino rosso, a bar-roticceria. I found a table outside at the end (furthest from the smokers) and asked for a pizzoli with bresaola e rucola and a beer.

I started scratching in my journal, recalling as much as the camera and the phone would help as I enjoyed my mini-pizza and beer. Another beer came so that I was able to finish all I’d done and could relax while at dinner.

Out on the street and moving towards the island, I ran into Le 7 spezie. They had a nice prix fixe menu, but I really didn’t feel like that much fish. So I tried the old “two pastas” request, taking my waiter’s suggestions (and here I’m going to use my most non-technical descriptions):the short twisty pasta with small shrimp and chopped octopus, chopped celery, chopped pistachio, seasoned with thyme; the second was the large flat loop pasta with ribbing, with black beans, garbanzo and pine nuts in a lightly applied tomato gravy with basil and shredded parmesan.

The house wine was a Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of nero d’Avola and Frappato, a medium body red which I decided would be okay for my second glass. After some digging, they found a Fantini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosé, which they opened and pour a glass for me. Both wines worked great.

Between the pizzoli and the two pastas, I was full, and didn’t need anything else. A plate with three cookies, two in wraps, appeared, so I got a decaf and ate the one unwrapped, and took the two others away with me. I was back at the hotel in a flash, and go comfortable and started with my downloads, chargings and writing this blog. My Eurail pass had expired with my ride here to Siracusa, so tomorrow I needed to get my ticket for Pozzallo in the morning, but that train is at 10:27. Easy.

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