#6 Sicily, Oct. 25, 2006

Dear Everybody,

Lovely Siracusa! It was definitely my favorite so far in Sicily. It was founded in 734 BC by the Greeks from Corinth and became THE world power between 400 and 200 BC (my B and B landlord said, “The America of its day”) until it was defeated by the Romans in 211 BC. This was a battle in which the mathematician, Archimedes—its most famous citizen—was killed.

The 6th century BC theatre was gorgeous. It is the only ancient Greek theatre that was carved right out of the rocky hillside rather than being built out of cut stones. It seated 16,000 people. When it was a 700 year old ruin, the Romans built an amphitheater nearby in 200 AD.

The archeological museum was one of the best! In about 1910 Paolo Orsi excavated a whole lot of tombs in the area and the museum had the grave goods arranged and exhibited so that it really told a story, but it went on and on until it nearly wore me out.

Additionally there are castles, palaces and, oh yes, the Cathedral. It was built by the Greeks in the 5th century BC as a Temple to Athena; the Romans used it for a temple, then the Byzantines, then the Arabs (a mosque) and then in about 600 AD it became a Christian church. It has been in continuous use as a religious building for 2500 years! (Or so my landlord said). You can plainly see the Greek columns supporting the church on both the exterior and the interior. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Siracusa has lovely fountains, medieval streets, good restaurants, and, of course, one is never more than a few blocks from the blue, blue Mediterranean! I have often thought of where I will hang out when I get too old to hop on a bus every other day. My thought would be to rent a little apartment a few months at a time—cook a little, read a little, walk a little, entertain family and friends, and Siracusa will definitely be on that list of places to stay.

I spent three nights there and then hopped a bus (actually two buses) to go to Agrigento to see some more Greek temples. They were wonderful but somehow not as satisfying as the ones, for example, at Paestum. I’m becoming jaded with 6th century BC temples!

It happened again in Agrigento. I asked directions from a young woman one day, and the next day when I waited for a bus to go to the temples, there she was! She laughed too, and helped me get the right bus.

I took another bus (I really like seeing the countryside from the buses) to Castelvetrano from where I got to a tiny out of the way place on the Sea called Marinella Selinunte, which has yet another Greek ruin site. These temples were very dramatically situated but only one was really complete. The city was founded in 651 BC but was sacked by the Carthigenians in 409 BC.

Here I also went for a dip in the beautiful Mediterranean, if only going up to my waist counts as a dip. The weather was perfect even if the water was a little cold, but very clear.

Yesterday morning before dawn I got a bus in Marinella Selinunte to go to Castelvetano to catch a train to Marsala. I didn’t sleep very well as I didn’t trust the alarm on my watch which I have just started using and it’s complicated! But yes, it did go off on schedule.

At one point the conquering Arabs named this city Marsa Allah (Port of God) which got shortened to Marsala. The sweet dessert wine comes from here, and yesterday at lunch I tried some—not my cup of tea but KIND of good in a funny way. And Marsala is unique in another way—it has street signs on almost every corner. I’ve been somewhat lost all over Sicily because of a scarcity of street signs.

Marsala also has several Internet Points which I was glad to see as I had been without Internet for five days. Now I was able to book my Palermo hotel which I did using Hostelworld.com—a nice service that I have been using quite a bit on this trip.

Today I visited the Marsala archeological museum which has a reconstructed Phoenician ship that sank in the first Punic War in 263 BC. There was only about 10% of the ship but from that they could infer the shape and method of shipbuilding. It was 120 feet long and 15 feet wide and used 68 oarsmen.

Then I visited the Museo degli Arazzi which houses eight huge tapestries that were donated to the city of Marsala in 1589—I don’t know how much earlier they were made. Anyway, they tell the story of a war between the Jews and the Romans. The detail is exquisite but I always wonder how many women went blind doing them.

Speaking of women, today I stepped inside a church to find all the regular church things but, to my surprise, the seats were gone and in their place was a used clothing store to “help women,” a sign said.




My mosquito bites have mostly cleared up—I guess they were individual bites but I was unaware of being bitten and I had over a hundred welts—so all’s well.


This entry was posted in 2006, So. Italy/Sicily. Bookmark the permalink.

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