Today we spent time in Ortygia, which is the historical center of ancient Siracusa. This 2,700-year-old city played quite a role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.
We took a boat ride around the island, and stopped into a few of the lovely grottos in the Gulf of Syracuse, next to the Ionian Sea. Perfect day to be on the water, and a great way to admire the setting of the original city. The sea was crystal-clear and the caves almost rivaled the Blue Grotto.
We strolled throughout the old city, which has been formed by many wars and a few earthquakes. Each time it was rebuilt, another layer of history and richness was added.
After lunch, we saw the most impressive site of all. The Duomo of Syracuse is a marvelous cathedral that incorporates architectural fragments from a 5th-century-B.C. temple honoring Athena. In its heyday, this Greek temple was spoken of in revered tones by the people of the Mediterranean. From miles away, sailors could see the golden statue of Athena shining like a beacon. Today, a statue of the Virgin sits in the same place. Twenty-six of the temple’s Doric columns are still in place, and they provide a wonderful contrast to the 18th century Baroque fascade and interior. The baptismal font is fashioned from a Greek marble krater held up by seven 13th-century wrought-iron lions. One ornate chapel honors patron saint Lucia, and contains a relic of her arm.
The Piazza del Duomo is evidently considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Today it was filled with sun and families, and tourists eating gelato – all creating one more layer of history in this lovely city.
Don’s Food Corner
We had some good luck today in Siracusa. Although the most highly touted restaurants in this beautiful city are closed on Sunday, we found our way down a charming narrow street to a place specializing in Sicilian fare.
Our starter was ravioli with shrimp and pistachio. Since this is the heart of pistachio land, I intend on tasting all combinations. We thought the ravioli would be stuffed with shrimp and pistachio. But the stuffing was just pistachio, ground up and mixed with something else (egg and flour?) to make a kind of dumpling filling. The shrimp was in the sauce on top — along with more pistachios. It was a cream sauce and featured both baby shrimp and one huge whole shrimp, with head and tail attached, of course. It was a very nice start.
Jo went on to her now-familiar scallopine, this time in a white wine sauce. Successful. Tender meat; flavorful sauce. I went with a slice of swordfish lightly fried with a pistachio crust. It came with two large whole shrimp, also pistachio-crusted and pan fried. The fish was perfect and not at all “fishy.” And not overcooked. Interestingly, the shrimp had been peeled (but not deveined) between the intact tail and head. Overall, very fine. The carafe of white wine was good as well. I am going to have to search Sicilian wine when we get back. I don’t recall seeing it very often.
The real treat of the day, however, was the gelato we ate while strolling through Siracusa’s twisting streets. We had been promised that the best gelato in Italy is in Sicily, where it was invented, and Siracusa was one of the best places in Sicily to get it. I had a cone of pistachio (of course!); Jo had the lemon version. The texture was as creamy as any ice cream I’ve ever had. But it was much more dense and the flavor much more intense. It is served just barely frozen. Apparently that is to capture the origins of the treat — first concocted with fresh snows from the slopes Mt. Etna. Exquisite.