He's screwed you

Archimedes principle. Throw your underwear at Syracuse

22nd March 2014
Ortigia and Syracuse

Archimedes Principle in Syracuse

Syracuse, Sicily

I was hoping that Syracuse (or Siracusa) would be a real dead end dive. Not because we wanted to be down and outs but because it would give us chance to write about something less pink and fluffy.

There is no doubt that Sicily is brimming with history, outstanding towns and friendly people but Syracuse… Syracuse is like being laid on a fur rug in front of a blazing fire in a log cabin with your favourite person and warm baby oil. That is unless you are a conservationist. In that case it would be laid on a straw mat, no fire because of CO2 emissions and in a tent as chopping trees down to make the cabin is a no, no. They would also rather have a book (How to build a hydroelectric dam from excess earwax) and the baby oil would be replaced by cold nettle soup.

Anyway, I digress but the old town of Syracuse is well worth climbing out of the grave to come back and see if you missed it the first time around.


Ortigia, Sicily

Ortigia front

Ortigia Front

The ancient part of the city of Syracuse is called Ortigia and stands to attention as if it had swallowed a bottle of little blue tablets. It fills the small island of Ortigia (or Ortygia) which fronts the huge natural harbour. You can anchor in thick gooey mud without fear of the harbour ever getting crowded or moor on the tree lined city front for free. There are several places to go ashore in the dinghy but we found the marina very accommodating and it is right next to the old city. The island is small so the only time you will get lost is in your own mind with all the history you are witnessing. Syracuse is actually Greek in origin and was described as the “The greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. Who am I to argue?



Archimedes statue

Archimedes statue

Syracuse is also the birthplace of Archimedes, famed for running into the street naked and shouting “Eureka”. Some say his assistant had a bad case of flatulence (think about it) but really he had just solved the problem of finding the mass of an irregular shape by putting it in water. Anyone who remembers physics from school will know it as “Archimedes’ principle” or taking a bath. He is also said to have invented the Archimedes Screw (which is not a sexual position), a crane to sink enemy ships and reflectors that could burn ships from a distance. Not bad for a man born in 287 BC. Unfortunately Mr Archimedes met his end when the Roman’s breached the cities defences. It is said that it had been ordered that he be taken alive but ignored the soldiers requests as he was too engrossed in a mathematical problem. I told you learning maths could only lead to a world of pain.

If you do wan’t to know more about the life and inventions of Archimedes then there is a museum dedicated to him in Ortigia.


The Greeks were good at blogging.

There is so much to see on such a small island. The architecture and buildings of Ortigia will bewilder and beguile you. The Aretus Fountain is where many poets and writers went to be inspired. (I tried writing a blog there but it didn’t work so you are now forced to read the same old rubbish I usually blog about). The legend says that Alpheus fell madly in love with a nymph named Aretusa. The nymph didn’t share their feelings. To save her, Artemides turned her into a water source. Zeus also turned Alpheus into a river, allowing him to meet up with Aretusa. I have to give it to the Greeks. They were pretty good at romantic stories and blogging.


Visit the old market

The market in Sicily

The market

Whilst in the old city of Ortigia you have to visit the street market with its rich display of fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. The colour and smell just jumps out and slaps your senses stupid.

Once you have flattened your camera battery taking images on the island of Ortigia you can cross one of the three small bridges into the newer part of Syracuse. I hesitate to say newer because further back in the city you will be transported back to the times of the great Greeks and Romans.


The Archaeological Site of Syracuse

The Greek theatre

The Greek theatre

The archaeological site on the outskirts of Syracuse is home to one of the biggest Greek theatres ever built. There equivalent of the O2 arena in London only with better acts. Even the Greek philosopher Plato did one of his gigs here. It is huge and in its heyday held 15,000 screaming Sicilian groupies who know doubt would have thrown their underwear at the stage. I say would have thrown it but the ancient Greeks did not wear underwear. Hence the saying “going Greek”.


The Ear of Dionysius

Near to the Greek Theatre on the archaeological site there is also a large stone quarry in which were kept prisoners. At one time there were 7,000 Athenian prisoners of war there. You will also find the “Ear of Dionysius”, a cave hewn into the rock which was said to have amazing acoustic qualities. Dionysius, the then tyrannical ruler is said to have put his most dangerous and political prisoners in here. Even whispering would be amplified to the point any plots could be heard by the guards. I believe my wife’s ears are modelled on the same principal but they have evolved to the point she knows my plots and schemes before I even think of them.


What to do with the bodies?

Ear of Dionysius

The Ear of Dionysius

The Roman amphitheatre is also built to impress.  At 140m long, it is one of the largest to be found anywhere. Ye old Romans preferred a bit of mutilation to Plato’s philosophical plays, with gladiators and wild animals providing blood-curdling violence. In the centre of the amphitheatre is a rectangular hole that is thought to have had one of two purposes: a space for scenic machinery or a drain for the blood and dismembered bodies!

There is a huge burial ground or should I say rock face next to the amphitheatre. Caves were cut into the rock to place dead bodies in. There are about 5,000 of them. Of course some of what was left of the Roman Gladiators just needed a sieve and a small pot.


The Syracuse Sunday market

On a more modern note the town holds its equivalent of a Roman gladiatorial contest for women each Sunday. A market is set up which sell second hand items. Just watching the women fighting on the stores that sell designer clothes for one euro was far more brutal than anything the Romans could come up with. They even had drains on the floor for the blood. I was going to throw my underwear at them in delight but then what would I have worn for the rest of the month?


A living history book

We spent a week anchored in Syracuse and marvelled at its beauty every day. The history proved it was not pink and fluffy. Far from it. It is also somewhere we yearn to return to and find out more. It would be good to hear your thoughts on anything you have read in this blog. Why not leave a comment or send us a message?

Syracuse is a living history book and I have only fumbled over the first line. Delve deeper and you will find a past in Syracuse that has something to fascinate everyone and a good reason not to wear underwear.



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  1. Mark,
    Thanks for sharing this one. You say you weren’t inspired when you visited the Aretus Fountain but your writing says otherwise. You made me want to visit this place and I’m not a traveler or history buff. Great job

    1. Jay, Thank you for your comment about Syracuse. I am always a winner when I write a post like this as I put in a lot of research and find out a lot about history. The good bits like no knickers and Archimedes on Viagra I can share with you.

  2. Hello Mark!
    Since this is the first time i have visited your blog, let me tell you that your website looks awesome! Nicely designed!
    Regarding this post I liked the Archimedes statue the most! Looks different, isn’t it? 🙂
    Nice pictures and nicely described!! 🙂

  3. I would love to see that Greek theater! I got really interested in the origins of drama when I had to teach Antigone for the first time. From there, I was inspired to go to Greece. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make it to Epidaurus, but I did see the theater in Delphi as well as one in Athens and Ancient Ephesus in Turkey.

    1. Jeri, The Greek theatre and the surroundings were so much intact you could imagine yourself there. We went back again last week and they are covering everything in wood to make it look as it did because in May every year they still use it to stage plays. Thank you for the comment.

  4. Hi Mark
    What an amazing life you have and you really know how to write about it. This post about Syracuse made it seem like I was there – which is a good thing as I am not a traveler but I admire all of you who are. What wonderful places you see. Good luck as you continue your journey.

    1. Thank you Lenie for your wonderful comments.
      You are right. We are so lucky but luck sometimes comes from a lifetime of hard work. We do get to do the things we enjoy, travel (to places like Syracuse), write, take photographs, meet wonderful people and swim in the biggest swimming pool in the world each day. (we have a lot of pet fish as well). Again thank you for the comment.. it means a lot.

  5. Hi Mark, I am a land wanderer myself, preferring pavement over the water – I get seasick 🙂 Interesting journey you are having sailing around. If I could, I would do the same, only on a motorcycle 🙂 I enjoyed reading about your exploits in Syracuse. A nice history lesson too! I will definitely be back to read more!

  6. Hi – it was rather spooky to come check out your blog and have the first post I read be on Syracuse, Ortigia and Archimedes as my husband and I were just talking about our adventures there last night! We had a great time there and your post was a nice reminder of our adventures there. It would be great to go back there someday on our boat! Cheers – Ellen

    1. Ellen and Jacquie,
      Thank you for reading the blog on Syracuse and Ortiga. Sicily has been a real eye opener to us with surprises around every corner. The atmosphere in the older town is a blanket of history that falls everywhere and the people are so friendly. It is an island everyone must see. Thank you again.

  7. What courage…to chuck it all and the see the world by sea! Syracuse certainly looks interesting…so interesting that it may have to make on my bucket list. I’ve been to Italy a few times, but not to Sicily. Beautiful descriptions and pictures.

  8. Great post, Mark! I will have to go back to Syracusa and have another look.
    When someone said “How did you find Syracuse?” I said “I got out of the tender and there it was!”
    Barbara and I did enjoy there but I would reccommend avoiding the Archimedes museum which has no redeeming features. Thanks, I’ll be back.

    1. Thanks Ned,
      Strangely enough we went back again yesterday by car and found a whole new world we had not seen before. We saw Syracuse through tourists eyes and still marvelled at the buildings and history. Did not see one boat at anchor though, just a huge empty harbour but they are working on building a big new marina.

  9. Hi Mark
    We very much enjoy your blogs. We are preparing our boat for our big trip starting in May 2015 with our first winter to be spent in southern Sicilia. You provide us with an insight into what our trip will be like. Particularly interested to learn about where is good to anchor. Where do you get your historical references information from ? A typical early spring day here in west Devon, sunshine and showers spring bulbs looking good.
    Fair winds
    Ian and Trina

    1. Ian and Trina,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on the blog. As I say, it means a lot to us.
      You will love Sicily. There is so much to see and do here and we have only just skimmed the surface. We have booked in again next year as have 90% of the people in the marina. Once you get into the med there are so many places to anchor everywhere as we have done. Don’t rush it as there are amazing places and people out there but if there is any help we can give then just ask.
      The historical references come from a mixture of research, places we visit and locals we speak to. I love history but to see it in front of you breathing is something that cannot be beaten.
      Fair winds.. watch out for the Atlantic fishing pots
      Mark and Angelina

  10. Your blog is like a little treasure falling into my mailbox now and then.
    If there is one town I would like to see again it would be Siracusa.

    I anchored there for over a month, before sailing to Greece.

    However You forgot to mention the best ice cream of the world, the fact that when the market is closed, the merchandise is left on the spot ( The importance of that will become clearer when cruising longer )

    Pity you did not visit Catania and his market. Imagine Siracusa market X 10.

    Fouling very bad in Siracusa and Sicily as you will know by now.

    Best blog I follow.


    1. Thank you for your kind words Old Bawley. Knowing that someone reads the blog makes it all worthwhile.
      We totally agree with you about the market in Catania as we have been there several times on the local bus. The fish market is something to behold. Angelina and her friend were watching Octopus’s trying to escape so they wanted to buy them to put them back in the sea! I have also never seen so much fruit and veg in the same place and we still have no idea what some of it was. It was just a total colour explosion.
      I will be writing a whole blog on Catania as there is so much there but Syaracuse will always stand out because of the history.
      Good sailing my friend and again thank you for the kind comment.

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