Part XLVII: Syracuse, Sicily
Dawn, Syracuse, Sicily
Dawn, Syracuse, Sicily

A bad night. I attribute it to the peas. Around 1:00 AM, some drunken hooligans stood screaming outside our windows and then proceeded to pound on four or five doors before stumbling off into the night. I imagine they also had peas for dinner.

Late September is proving surprisingly rainy in Sicily. The sky is still cloaked with gray when I leave our flat for the morning photo shoot. It is difficult to capture glorious dawn light when it's buried beneath 2,000 feet of clouds. The seaward side of the island reminds me of the Oregon coast: a hard wind drives breakers ashore, battering the rocks and sending sea spume flying. Hardly the gentle blue Mediterranean we've grown accustomed to.

Syracuse, Sicily
Syracuse, Sicily

The city of Syracuse, especially its historical core, Ortigia, is ancient. It was originally founded by Greek settlers from Corinth around 733 BC. The city would grow rapidly, and for many years, it was one of the largest and most important Greek cities in the world. Its size rivaled Athens, and like its better known counterpart, Syracuse also experimented with rule by its people, a democratic form of government.

Corinth would, however, become an enemy of Athens and the Delian League. During the truce between the two phases of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians elected to vent their hostility on Syracuse. In 415, Athens and the Delian League sailed west and attempted to capture the island of Sicily. The campaign did not go well. Syracuse and the Sicilians proved to be more formidable than anticipated, and ultimately, the Athenians were repelled with great loss of life and ships. The ill-fated Sicilian campaign weakened Athens. It proved to be the first in a series of disasters that would culminate in the defeat of Delian League, the ascendancy of the Spartans, and the ultimate conquest of the Greeks by Philip of Macedonia.

By 10:00 AM the rain is again sluicing down, rattling in the drain pipes like peas falling into a garbage chute. The storm does not relent until late afternoon. We take advantage of the break in the downpour to embark on a stroll around the island.

Our first stop is the city cathedral, the Duomo. Situated at the center of a beautiful marble piazza, the Duomo hides behind a beautiful eighteenth century facade, all columns and statues of saints. Large marble representations of Peter and Paul guard the door. Inside, the building is a composite of several different structures, beginning with an ancient Greek Temple of Athena, which dates to the fifth century BC. In the seventh century AD, the temple was repurposed, rebuilt, and converted into a Christian church. The result is lovely, with two aisles flanking a central nave and a wealth of side chapels. We enjoy wandering through the cavernous spaces and poking our heads into the chapels.

Virgin Mary, Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily
Virgin Mary, Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily

From the Duomo we walk south and then hook around to the Aquarium. Grace has been keen to visit the Aquarium since she saw it on our first night here. It is an unprepossessing structure, a single aisle lined with fish tanks. We see the obligatory pink anemones, gray groupers, and pent up sea turtles. There is also a moray eel, but something was wrong with his eyes – they were covered with white patches as if he was blind.

The Aquarium opened out onto the Fountain of Arethusa. According to Greek myth, Arethusa, after hunting with Diana, decided to take a swim in the Alfeo River. The river (Alfeo) fell in love with the girl, took human form, and chased her. Arethusa cried out for Diana's intervention and the goddess turned Arethusa into a spring. This is the famous spring, celebrated in ancient poets such as Pindar and Virgil.

Fountain of Arethusa, Syracuse, Sicily
Fountain of Arethusa, Syracuse, Sicily

Arethusa has fallen on hard times. Encircled by a stone retaining wall, choked with papyrus plants, she now spends her days as a wading pool for ducks. Arethusa weeps, her tears bubbling ever upward into the city. The sky began to weep. We all wept, and as the rain began anew, we grew wet.

Piazza Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily
Piazza Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily

I did not want to sacrifice another day of shooting, so I jury-rigged a plastic cover for my camera and headed out into the evening. I took up a post in the Piazza Duomo, snapping rain-streaked photos of both the Duomo and the nearby Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia.

For dinner we found a nice restaurant just off the Piazza Duomo. Having memorized the Italian word for peas (“piselli”) I scrutinized the menu carefully to ensure my pizza selection was pea free. I ended up with a perfectly delightful Pizza Romano: anchovies, capers, and black olives. Not a pea in sight.

I call that a victory.

Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Syracuse, Sicily
Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Syracuse, Sicily
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