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Day 20, Thursday, June 11, 2015 Siracusa and Ortigia

sunny 80 °F

Our last day in Ragusa and we were both interested in visiting the ancient city of Siracusa and the equally ancient island next to it, Ortigia. Kate the Navigator told us it was an hour and a half drive south of Ragusa...which does not take into account getting lost time. The tricky part of navigating Sicilian roads has to do with conquering the roundabout, and being able to accurately count, in sync with Kate, the proper roundabout exit to take. I obviously missed a couple and it sent us through little unheard of villages that were not part of our itinerary plans...and the narrow streets...oh those narrow streets that strike fear into the heart of my human navigator, Margaret.
We eventually made it to our destination, Siracusa. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheaters, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. Syracuse is located in the southeast corner of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Syracuse next to the Ionian Sea.
The city was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans and became a very powerful city-state. Syracuse was allied with Sparta and Corinth and exerted influence over the entirety of Magna Graecia, of which it was the most important city. Described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it equaled Athens in size during the fifth century BC. It later became part of the Roman Republic and Byzantine Empire. Eventually, Palermo overtook it in importance, as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily which would be united with the Kingdom of Naples to form the Two Sicilies until the Italian unification of 1860.
In the modern day, the city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the Necropolis of Pantalica. In the central area, the city itself has a population of around 125,000 people.
Although rated 3 stars by Michelin, the Greek Theater we drove an hour and a half to see was a little disappointing. The Greek Theatre, whose cavea is one of the largest ever built by the ancient Greeks… it has 67 rows, divided into nine sections with eight aisles. Only traces of the scene and the orchestra remain. The edifice (still used today) was modified by the Romans, who adapted it to their different style of spectacles, including also circus games. Near the theater are the latomìe, stone quarries, also used as prisons in ancient times. The most famous latomìa is the Orecchio di Dionisio ("Ear of Dionysius").

After about an hour wandering around the theater, we drove to the island of Ortigia., a small island which is the historical center of Syracuse. The island, also known as Città Vecchia (Old City), contains many historical landmarks. The Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo has it that the goddess Leto stopped at Ortygia to give birth to Artemis, the first born of her twins. Artemis then helped Leto across the sea to the island of Delos, where Leto gave birth to Apollo. Other ancient sources state that the twins were born in the same place—which was either Delos or Ortygia— but Ortygia was an old name of Delos. It was also said that Asteria, the sister of Leto, metamorphosed into a quail, threw herself into the sea and was metamorphosed into the island Ortygia. Another myth suggested that it was Delos instead of Ortygia.

So while there may be a heavenly Greek mythology background to the island, this is where we first encountered driving hell on this trip. It is bad enough being on a two lane road, stuck behind a convoy of trucks, with crazy people on scooters passing into oncoming traffic...or the manic Italian who is three feet from your rear bumper, a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other...gesturing wildly to whoever is on the other end of the phone. Some of the streets on Ortigia are so skinny that two people walking would have a hard time passing each other. We somehow ended up driving through a series of these streets until we reached a point where there was no way this Volvo station wagon could turn onto the next street. We were stuck and left with the only alternative of backing out of this mess...slight problem...there is a car behind me honking furiously. I stood my ground and he backed up. I backed up to a certain point but didn't like the idea of having to back up the length of an entire street...so I decided to try and turn around...one of the slickest maneuvers ever. There was a point where you could not have fit a credit card between the side of the car and the wall it was about to scrape. But, alas, I made it and drove to the end of the street...only to be confronted by a crazy (redundant) Italian woman that wanted to turn in my direction!!!!! There was no way. I held up two fingers in the shape of an X...not necessarily the two fingers I wanted to hold up...so she stops in the middle of the street that can only fit one car...with seven cars behind her...each furiously pounding on their horns. Finally, she realized the futility of her plight and she made a left turn onto a street that you had to fold in the side mirrors...and then there was no guarantee. I followed her and the other seven maniacs and we eventually made it to the port where we parked and had a lemonade and a hot dog...it was more like a Panini dog...but it was good.

We saw a number of Greek and Roman ruins on Ortigia and Margaret visited an outdoor flea market. We then asked Kate the Nav to take us back to Ragusa and we did so without missing a beat this time. Back at the hotel we reminded the concierge that our package included a dinner one night at the hotel restaurant which was closed for maintenance. They had made arrangements with a nearby local restaurant, Taberna del Cinque Sensi, and we made a reservation for 8pm.

From the number of times I have been to Italy, I have come to realize that it is hard to find a bad meal. Even at the gas station stops on the Autostrada the food is good. We had another very nice meal at “Five Senses”. Margaret had veal carpaccio followed by tagliatelli with a pork ragu sauce. I had a steak with fries and we shared a huge salad. It tasted even better knowing that the hotel was paying. Back to the hotel for a game of doms under our solar table lamp and an early goodnight for me in anticipation of Game 4…hoping I was wrong about my prior Dub posts!!

Posted by stevencavalli07 10:07 Archived in Italy

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