This morning we enjoyed a crash course in Sicilian history, peeling back the layers with the help of our local guide Rosa Rizza.
We learned the story of Alpheus & Arethusa whose bodies are forever joined and flowing in the heart of Ortigia.
And check out these balconines…did you know that there was method to their design? Apparently, in the 18th century, young women were as much slaves to fashion as they are now only they weren’t allowed to passegiatta in the streets and were limited to being seen from their balconies–the only problem was that the vertical design of the railings raised their skirts (suppported by iron) in an unbecoming and immodest fashion. Architects brilliantly solved the problem by accommodating a curvature to the railings, allowing for the skirts. Who knew?
We also learned that at the convent of Santa Lucia, the balcony design allowed for the young nuns to lean out into public space, resting their elbows into the curvature of the railings, catching glimpses of life on the outside.
But the most impressive piece of architecture we experienced was the Duomo (cathedral)/temple/mosque. Tell me, looking at the image below, when would you guess this church was built?
From the facade, it appears a baroque masterpiece, but enter inside and you are instantly transported back in time, to the 8th century B.C. We sat surrounded by the near perfect Doric columns of Greek Ortigia’s grandest temple on what would have been the Acropolis. We stripped the walls of their cement, brick, iron, and were mediating in the cella of the ancient temple.
We traveled through centuries–millennia–as we observed the Roman remodeling, Orthodox improvements, Muslim modifications into a mosque, Norman alterations back into a Christian church, Spanish touches of iron and finally baroque flourishes.
We then stepped back even further into Ortigia’s beginnings to see its earliest temple, the temple of Apollo, now juxtaposed with the fish market and bustling bridge joining the mainland with the ancient island.
As Ortigia swelled in population, it moved to the mainland where new cities were established. Siracusa housed an impressive theater, which as Rosa explained, was the heart and soul of Greek culture. It was through the Greek tragedies that the populace experienced the catharsis of lessons better left on stage than repeated in their own lives.
Tomorrow, when we go see Le Vespe, or The Wasps, we will experience a rare thing: Greek comedy, which was not so common, nor so funny as I understand. However, we were able to experience the theater in daylight, and learned that it was carved entirely out of the mountain side–the only monolithic theater in the world–and the reason it remains nearly in tact.
We then crawled into the ear of Dionysius–a marvel of engineering–where the stone used to build Siracusa was quarried by 7,000 slaves. The cave stands below an ancient aqueduct that served the quarry and whose path can be traced in the ceiling of the cavern.
But all good things do come to an end and even as the Greek civilization was superseded by the Romans, so too did our time with Rosa come to an end learning about the Roman invasion of Sicily. We closed with the Roman amphitheater, imagining a time when humans watched gladiators fight animals, elements, and one another for sport, rather than the dramatic reenactments of hubris. Thank goodness we’ve gotten beyond that (or wait, have we)?