Siracusa, an archeo-baroque adventure.

After my demanding excursion to the Etna I slept at a small village close to the sea called Aci Sant’Antonio and had a nice Aperitivo with a local white wine made with grapes cultivated at the feet of the volcano, called Inzolia. It’s a simple white wine with a low alcoholic content, very good for a toast at sunset with your loved ones.

The next morning I drove along the recently completed highway from Aci Sant’Antonio to Siracusa, the capital of the greek culture in Southern Italy. As a matter of fact, when the greeks invaded southern Italy, they also brought their incredibly advanced culture with them, and gave us a lot of things we do still use today: theatre, philosophy, medicine. Even the concept of democracy itself comes from the Greek words “Demos” (People) and Kratè (Government) thus democracy means “governed by the people”.

When the Greeks came to southern Italy they called it “Enotria”: which means “the land of wine”, thus grapes were cultivated massively in Italy even before they conquered the area. Siracusa was certainly the main Greek Colony in Sicily, thus the remains of their dominations are numerous and well preserved, despite their age.

The entrance to the “archeologic park” of Siracusa is just outside the modern city. There is a lack of parking everywhere in Sicily, including Siracusa, thus be prepared to roam around a bit before finding and emply slot. If you just plan to stay for a couple of hours pay for that only, otherwise, if you want to walk to Ortigia, the old city of Siracusa you can pay the full day parking fee, but be prepared to walk for approximately 20 minutes under a scorching sun.

I parked, paid the entrance fee and entered the archeologic pak: the first highlight is the famous “Ear of Dionysus”. This is an amazing “S” shaped grotto which is famous for its Eco effect. Just try to speak a little louder than usual and you’ll get to hear your own voice resounding dozens of times against the rock beofre vanishing.

The ear of Dioysus, Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Inside the Ear of Dionysus. Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Around the grotto there are several quarries used by the greeks to built their homes, temples and public buildings, such as the mighty theatre that opens up before your eyes as soon as you climb the few steps that divide the quarries area from it. Greek and Roman Theatres do look alike as the structure is the same, however it were the Romans who got inspiration by the Greeks and made their theatres even bigger.

The greek theatre of Siracusa is the biggest of souther Italy and north Africa

The Greek Theatre of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

You may notice from the pictire that due to Covid the setting of the theatre has been changed for the 2020 summer season: the audience seats on the the stage where chairs have been placed at a 1.5 meters of distance from each other, while the actors performs on the marble steps. This theatre is home to a “classic theatre festival” where greek comedies and tragedies are performed. It is the perfect place to watch Euripides, Aristofanes and other greek authors’ masterpieces and get to learn how modern theatre has been highly influenced by them.

The greek theatre of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Walking out of the theatre I reached an area which was taken by the Romans, who built and “Amphitheatre” (meaning a “double theater”) where the stage is in the middle of an oval shaped arena. The concept is exactly the same as per the Colosseum, on a smaller scale.

The amphitheatre of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
The amphitheatre of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

After that, I walked back to the entrance, took my car and drove to Ortigia.

Ortigia is the name of an Island where the city of Siracusa was actually founded, and it is connected to the mainland by a set of bridges that even prevent you to feel you are leaving the mainland. There are few big parkings available here, I used Molo Sant’Antonio, which is the closest to the entrance of Ortigia.

The Island is pretty small and meandering throguh its narrow alleys is very nice and pleasant, especially because you can walk in the shade. I saw endless souvenir shops here as well as restaurants but I walked straight to my destination which was the Cathedral square. When I reached the place I understood immediately why it is protected by UNESCO as part of the world heritage.

The Cathedral square of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

This half moon shaped piazza is home to one of the most impressive Cathedral I have ever seen, which really has a double personality. The first one is Baroque: one of the most impressive baroque facade whose white roks are almost blinding when hit directly by the sunlight.

The facade of the cathedral of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
The Cathedral of Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The outer left wall of the Cathedral give us some clues about the second personality of the building, which internally is not baroque at all, but Greek. The Church in fact was built by reshaping a former pagan temple, one of the biggest in the area, thus the columns which divide the naves are still the original and remind us of the previous use of the place by the greeks.

Outer left wall of the Cathedral. Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Side nave of the Cathedral. Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Central nave of the Cathedral. Siracusa. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Cathedral of Siracusa. Detail. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Upon completing my visit to the Cathedral I thought I deserved a good Arancino, thus I sat at a famous place right in front of the Curch’s facade, called Condorelli and ordered it. The Arancino is an organge looking fried rice ball originally stuffed with peas and ragout only, but nowadays you can find it with several different stuffings such as Norma (eggplant and ricotta cheese), Pistachos, cheese and so on. I do usually stick to tradition thus I ordered a peas and ragout Arancino.

Sicilian Arangino with ragout and peas

What makes this recipe unique is that unless you live in Sicily you will never get the same taste regardless of your cooking abilities. The bread crumbs they use is different because Sicilian bread is different, thus when you bite it you feel a texture and a crunchiness that is impossible to reproduce elsewhere. The rest is easy: simple boiled rice scented with saffron, stuffed at the centre with a filling of your choice, breaded and fried. It’s a full meal, don’t order for two, you won’t make it to eat both. The original shape is round, as big as an orange but nowadays you find it also pyramid shaped arancini, menat to ease your biting.

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