A big deal in its day

We are in Siracusa (Syracuse, as we know it), which has been a lively Sicilian metropolis for 3,000 years. Founded by Corinthian colonists, it became the largest city in the ancient world, larger even than Athens or Corinth itself.

Five hundred years after its founding, the Romans took control and things went a bit downhill after that. It became a provincial capital after Italian unification in 1865, which helped it grow to its present size.

Our first stop was the Archaeological Park, which has some amazing features. For starters, there is the Teatro Greco, hewn out of rock above the city and its port. But this is not just any ancient Greek theatre. It is where Aeschylus held his out-of-town tryouts, and his last tragedies were performed here – in his presence. This is still an active theatre, so we had to forgive the construction going on to create some new seating.

At the top of the theatre are some porticos used to honor nymphs, considered the divinities of nature, along with a fountain as old as the theatre.

Not far away is the Latomia del Paradiso, a deep limestone quarry out of which the stones of the ancient city came. In 413 BC, the 7000 survivors of the war between Syracuse and Athens were imprisoned here. Today it’s a leafy glen, but those prisoners wouldn’t have been enjoying the shade.

Nearby is an oddity call the Orecchio di Dionisio – the Ear of Dionysius – a grotto named by Caravaggio after the tyrant, who was said to have used the perfect acoustics of the quarry to eavesdrop on his prisoners.

There is also a Roman amphitheatre, which gives a hint of past glories – and gories.

Moving into the current century, we visited the modern Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Tears, built to house a statue of the Virgin that allegedly wept for five days in 1953 in the home of a local family. Believe what you will, but don’t try to make us like the design, modeled on the shape of a tear…

Don’s Food Corner

Since the major tourist event of the day was across the street from the hotel, I knew we shouldn’t get trapped in having to deal with a meal at whatever was actually within the walls of the site.  The reception people at the hotel recommended a place around the corner.  We went there, but decided it looked too much like a cafeteria serving food we have already seen too much of in the last few days.  Next door, however, was a small restaurant that seemed to be somewhat more interesting.

We got lucky.  It was.

It was a new place just opened by a young couple.  The husband is a trained architect who hasn’t been able to find work in his field.  His wife, apparently, is a fine cook who seems to be drawing on a variety of Mediterranean cuisines, with some emphasis on North African preparation.

There was an array of various dishes — both hot and cold — spread out on the counter.  We just went down the line and took samplings of various delectable-looking things.  (It was somewhat like going to Dean and DeLucca and getting tastes of everything in the display case.)

Jo had a vegetarian lasagna, featuring pumpkin in a light sauce between layers of thin (fresh!) pasta sheets.  She also had some roasted potatoes, a zucchini dish, a carrot dish, and a rice/chicken/vegetable pilaf.  All tasty.

I had a nicely prepared slice of fish that I think was swordfish.   That was surrounded by a warm carrot dish with cumin, a cold orzo salad with various fresh veggies and something looking like an egg roll (but not crispy) filled with fresh tuna and vegetables.

We gobbled everything down along with a carafe of very nice white wine.

The young owners were ecstatic that we were so happy with what they had made.  I’ll try to give them a boost with a good recommendation on TripAdvisor.

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