Archimedes Principle in Syracuse
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.
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?
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
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 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?
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.