On our second day in Syracuse, we made our way to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, where some of Sicily's greatest ruins are bunched together, almost as though our ancient forebears wanted to facilitate future tourist groups.
The Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse is one of the more spacious plazas that we've seen while in Sicily, and definitely the most serene. The piazza is framed by gorgeous palaces, churches, cafes and the cathedral, and there's no traffic to worry about so you can keep stepping backwards to better gawk at the beauty, without having to worry about getting run over. We spent a long, mild evening at one of the bars, drinking wine and silently soaking up the plaza's beauty.
Syracuse had been under the control of the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs, but was always home to a healthy Jewish population. As in many of the European cities to which Jews emigrated following the diaspora, the ruling hierarchies were grudgingly tolerant of them and their religion. That is, until the arrival of the Spanish who decreed the total expulsion of Jews from their kingdom, in 1492.
The moment you cross the bridge onto the island Ortigia, where the ancient center of Syracuse is found, you're confronted with what the word "ancient" truly means. The ruins of the Temple of Apollo greet visitors at the island's gateway, and serve as the perfect introduction to a city rich in myth and history.
Once upon a time, Syracuse was the most mightiest city-state in the world. Ruled by famous tyrants like Dionysius the Elder, and home to Archimedes, one of history's greatest thinkers, the power of Syracuse extended far beyond the Greek Empire, to which it belonged. The city's influence waned only during the Arab occupation of Sicily, when the capital was moved to Palermo.
Saint Lucy was a 4th century Sicilian martyr, born and executed in Syracuse. She's thought to be responsible for ending a famine 1582, and Sicilians honor her feast day on December 13th by abstaining from bread.
Before we moved to Palermo, we had the great fortune of making contact with the guys behind Visit Palermo. They helped us find an apartment, gave us a ton of advice, and have assisted our stay in the city in too many ways to count. And not only are they incredibly helpful; they're about the coolest people you could hope for.
More than anything else, Palermo is awash in historic, beautiful churches. At least once a week, Jürgen and I will swear off visits to any further churches. "It's enough", we'll cry! "We're not even religious!" But then, we'll read about another one, like the Magione. Founded in 1191. Used for three centuries as a lodge for the Teutonic Knights. Arab-Norman architecture. Five minutes from our house. With a lovely cloister. "A lovely cloister, you say? Let's do it."
Among Palermo's many qualities is an air of mystery, especially towards dusk. Perhaps it's due to the city's deep and often troubled history, perhaps the unpolished instability of its streets. Bars can disappear from one day to the next, and new graffiti springs up frequently. Battered doors which were locked yesterday are open tonight, revealing strange courtyards. This city would make a perfect setting for a chilling film noir.
When I was just a teenager in Ohio, Pizza Hut brought out its stuffed crust pizza. A revelation! It made... so much sense! Stuff the crust of the pizza with cheese! For the next week, I couldn't sleep and talked of nothing else. How could no one have thought of this before?