"Inside the myth" Siracusa Travelogue by isolina_it

Siracusa Travel Guide: 273 reviews and 942 photos

Isola di Ortigia (The Ortigia Isle)

This Isle is about one kilometre long,surrounded by two natural harbors, full of freshwater sources ( the most famous is Aretusa) with an enviable climate and a very fertile soil.
it was developed by the greek people, which adorned it with many temples, as the one of Apollo, at the entry of the Isles, and the one of Atena, now englobed in the cathedral.

Castello Maniace

Orecchio di Dionigi (Dionigi ear)

It is the most misterious of all the monumets in Siracusa. It is an artificial cave, thus called by Caravaggio in 1608: in the painter's opinion, the tyrant Dionigi loched here the political prisoners and listened to their speeches from a cavity situated in the upper part of the cave, thus taking benefit of its considerable acoustic skills.

The Greek Theatre

Hieron II had it built on the site of a pre-existing theatre whose history is associated with Aeschylus of Eleusis (c 524-456 BC), the first of the great Greek tragedicians, Epicharmus (6C-5C BC), the Syracusan father of Greek comedy, and their contemporaries Phormides and Deinolochus. This earlier teatre witnessed the premiere of Aeschylus’ tragedy “The Persians” and, in 476 BC, “The Women of Etna”, written to celebrate the foundation of Etna by Hieron I the Etnean. The name of the architect who built this earlier theatre, Demokopos, has been handed down to us by the mime-writer Sophron (late 5C BC). In Roman times the theatre was altered so as to adapt it to the performance of circus and water games. During the reign of Charles V, the ancient stones of the theatre, amphitheatre and the Altar of Hieron II were used to build the fortifications on the island of Ortygia, suffering the same fate as many other noble monuments of ancient Sicily.
Strabo, the Greek historian and man of letters born in Amasea, Pontus (c 64 BC), who spent long years in Rome during the first Imperial Age between Augustus and Tiberius, thus wrote about the foundation of Syracuse in his valuable treatise of Italic geography: “Syracuse was founded by Archias, who sailed from Corinth about the same time that Naxos and Megara were colonised. It is said that Archias went to Delphi at the same time as Myscellus, and when they were consulting the oracle, the god asked them whether they chose wealth or health; accordingly, the god granted to the former to found Syracuse and to the latter Croton. And it actually came to pass that the Crotoniates took up their adobe in a city that was exceedingly healthful, as I have related, and that Syracuse fell into such exceptional wealth that the name of the Syracuse was spread abroad in a proverb applied to the excessively stravagant – “The tithe of the Syracusans would not be sufficient for them”. […] And the city grew, both on account of the fertility of the soil and on account of the natural excellence of its harbours. Furthermore, the men of Syracuse proved to have the gift of leadership, with the result that when the Syracusans were ruled by tyrants they lorded it over the rest, and when set free themselves they set free those who were oppressed by the barbarians”. (Strabo, Geography, Italy: VI, 2. 3-4, transl. by H. L. Jones, Harvard University Press) .
Historical references to the period following the foundation of the city, up to the early 5C BC, have been lost. During this obscure period, political power was wielded by the “gamoroi”, aristocrats and landowners, expelled by a popular democratic revolt at the beginning of the 5C BC. The city’s great historical epoch began when Gelon, of the Deinomenids of Gela, came to power; he provided for the return of the aristocrats and set himself at the head at the Greek settlement of Sicily against the Carthaginians, who aimed at conquering the whole island. Under Hieron I, the city grew more powerful and consolidated its supremacy over the western Mediterranean following the naval victory off Cumae in 474 BC over the Etruscans.

Aretusa fountain

It is a freshwater source flowing into Ortigia Isle, by the sea. the mythology tells about Aretusa who, nymph of Artemis, to escape to Alfeo's love, was trasformed in a fountain by the goddess; Alfeo, trasformed in a river, reached her emerging near the source. In the centre of the source there's the well know papyrus plant which, in ancient times provided the paper.

“Right o’er against Plemmyrium’s wat’ry strand,
there lie and isle once call’d the Ortygian land.
Alpheus, as old same reports, has found
from Greece a secret passage under ground,
by love to beauteous Arethusa led;
and, by mingling here, they roll in the same sacred bed.
As Helenus enjoin’d, we next adore
Diana’s name, protectress of the shore.
With prosp’rous gales we pass the quiet sound
of still Elorus, and his fruitful bounds”.

(Virgil; Aeneid, book III-151, transl. by J. Dryden, the Harvard Classic).

The Roman Amphitheatre

This majestic construction, dating from the 4C-3C BC, is one of the largest among the late-Roman Amphitheatres of Catania, Pompei and Pola. Elliptical in plan, it measures 140 x 119 m in the external diameter and 70 x 40 m in the arena, with a central cistern supplied by two canals. Its lower part was carved from the rock, according to Syarcusan tradition. The steps were originally lined with slabs of stone, in order to prevent rock deterioration. At the ends of the long axis, two entrances led into the arena, the main entrance being originally to the right. At the foot of the steps there was a vaulted corridor for the entrance of wild animals and gladiators taking part in the bloody performances held in the arena.

  • Page Updated Apr 2, 2003
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