Sicily is a land that must be discovered little by little and surely more journeys are needed. After the first tour in the eastern part from Mazara del Vallo to Palermo, which we have already told on the blog (the posts can be found in the section dedicated to Sicily), on our last tour we traveled from east to west with the layout of soul of the curious traveler treasuring the variety of landscapes and the richness of art and culture.
That make the whole Trinacria a huge patrimony made up of magnificent Greek theaters, like the one in Syracuse and the superb archaeological sites like Piazza Armerina and Segesta, which we have included in our tour started right from the city of Archimedes.
Syracuse, from Archimede to Caravaggio
What are the best adjectives to describe Syracuse? Beautiful, sumptuous, powerful and manifold, so much so that it cannot be enclosed all in one name but of having five: Ortigia, Epipoli, Neapolis, Tyche and Acradina.
Ortigia is the island in the city, its historic heart, as well as its first urban nucleus. Our advice? Stroll through the monuments and streets, the same ones on which Archimede and Caravaggio laid their feet, at different times of the day enjoying the lights and shadows on the baroque facade of the cathedral and among the mighty columns of the Temple of Apollo, the oldest of Sicily.
From here you climb towards Piazza Archimede, at the center of which is the Diana fountain by sculptor Giulio Moschetti, which tells the legend of Arethusa: the nymph is depicted fleeing from Alpheus who tries to grab her while Diana, the goddess, acts as a shield. All around the imposing Baroque palaces seem to admire the scene.
Again the nymph gives her name to the underground freshwater spring that creates a small lake called Fonte Aretusa in which the papyrus grow luxuriantly, among which ducks and fish roam.
From 6 August this year it is possible to make an open tour for the first time to the public that tells the myths and history of the lake through audioguides in English, French, Spanish and Chinese and allows you to admire it from the inside beauty. At this time the Fonte Aretusa is open only Saturday and Sunday from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm. (Info and reservations: +39 0931 65681 – 335 7304378 – firstname.lastname@example.org).
But in Ortigia, the real attraction is Piazza Duomo, one of the most beautiful in Italy, which takes its name from the cathedral which behind its splendid Baroque façade preserves the Doric columns of the temple dedicated to Athena that seem to emerge from the walls of the great church , one in a kind.
Inside, which boasts a magnificent fifteenth-century flooring in polychrome marble, the relics of the virgin and martyr Lucia, patron saint of Syracuse, are kept.
On the same square is the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia with the famous painting on the Burial of Saint Lucia painted in 1608 by Cavaraggio during his stay in Syracuse on the run from Malta.
A lucky case has it that after being enchanted by the two Caravaggio masterpieces in the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in the Maltese capital, also in Syracuse, in addition to the canvas depicting the burial of Saint Lucia, we were able to enjoy the temporary exhibition at the Palazzo della Soprintendenza ai Beni Culturali (until 10 January 2020) of another painting by Merisi: the Crucifixion of Sant’Andrea, a work owned by a private fund that arrived for the first time in Italy.
The tour in Ortigia continues between courts, alleys and secret squares that show off Baroque elegance and oriental atmospheres, up to the point occupied by the Maniace Castle, a magnificent example of Frederick II’s military architecture, which serves as sentinel to the Aretuseo port, the most great natural port of Sicily (open from Monday to Sunday from 8.30 to 16.30, for info: +39 0931 4508211).
Going back, narrow alleyways open onto glimpses of the sea and lead to the Jewish Quarter where, in the basement of the Alla Giudecca Residence, 18 meters below street level, are hidden five tanks of Jewish purification baths dating back to the 6th century AD, fed they say from the same source of fresh water that flows from the Fonte Aretusa. The water used for the ritual bath, in fact, had to be very pure and never collected in containers. In the tanks one immersed oneself completely and for women it was mandatory, after childbirth, to wash oneself to purify the body for the subsequent procreation and for the salvation of the community itself.
Recently restored, after being discovered by chance during the renovations of the building that houses the residence, they can be visited from 11 am to 7 pm at a cost of € 5 per person. And it’s worth it because the Ortigia miqweh is among the only ritual baths in Europe that has preserved its integrity and its charm with the three central tanks in which the water still flows and the three two tanks placed inside hollowed niches in the wall.
Back on the surface, the tour of what until March 31, 1492 when his large community was expelled from Sicily was the Giudecca of Syracuse, can continue to the charming church of San Giovannello, without a roof but with a beautiful fifteenth-century portal surmounted by a rosette. Its history is singular: the first early Christian basilica, later a synagogue and later converted into a Christian church until 1915, it was deconsecrated and used as a theater and hall for congresses and performances, then reopened for worship in 2015.