Time Travel

Sunday – April 30

We would leave Modica aboard our bus, with Salvo at the helm and head to the ancient Greek city of Siracusa (Syracuse). In one day, we will travel through time and experience past civilizations, their architecture, and major events that has impacted the past as well as things impacting the present. Our time travel will take us from 734 BC to 2023 AD and everything in between! After our day of time travel, we will arrive in Catania which is Sicily’s second largest city. Let the journey begin!

Of course, with a full day of travel and adventure in front of us, a power breakfast was required. The Modica Palace Hotel had a breakfast buffet that met everyone’s needs to get their day started. This even included a big brick size piece of chocolate. When in Modica… Eat local!

The ride from Modica to Siracusa was just over one hour. We passed some beautiful farms and small villages along the way. Arriving in Siracusa there was no doubt we were still in modern times. Parking outside the gates of the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, we stepped out into a tourist strip mall.

Our guide for the day, Olga, had caught a bus from Catania to meet us. We had a few minutes to shop and use the facilities before we entered the park. The only souvenir we bought was a black baseball cap so Tom could avoid the sun that had left his face and head sunburned yesterday at lunch. When Olga arrived, we began our journey back in time. Even before entering the park, no matter which way we looked, there was something to see in this amazing archeological site.

With our tickets stored safely on Danilo’s phone, we queued up to enter the park, only to be asked to step aside. No phone tickets said the attendant, you must have paper. Phone tickets and apps to order food are some of Tom’s major pet peeves, so of course he smiled internally as we moved aside. Danilo had to run back up the hill to get paper tickets.

We had a few minutes to wait until he returned with our passes. This was a great opportunity to take a a group shot!   (+ Olga – Danilo = Almost Everybody)

One by one, going through the turnstiles and through an orchard, we headed to the quarries of limestone that had been mined to build this historical city.

Built on an ancient Greek settlement founded by Corinthians in 734 BC (BCE) the excavation of the rock was something to behold. The history of Siracusa is so rich it cannot be covered in a blog. However, one milestone that is important occurred in 415 B.C. The Athenians attacked eastern Sicily and were defeated here in Siracusa. The defeated soldiers were then forced into quarries to carve out the stone used to develop this ancient metropolis to all its glory. It was during this period that Siracusa rivaled the great city of Athens as the center of Greek civilization.

The sheer size of the caverns and the cut outs of the limestone is amazing. Small holes could be seen in some formations where makeshift scaffolding was used to extract the rock. The work to accomplish the removal of stone was extremely hard and the life expectancy of the workers was very short. Many workers were forced to stay on the site itself in a cave known as the “Ear of Dionysius” because of its shape. Dionysius the Elder was a tyrant and ruled with a very heavy hand. Because of the acoustics in this cave, the guards could monitor what the prisoners were saying outside and report it to Dionysius.

The acoustics of this cave also became important in later years when a theater was built on top of it. The sounds made in the cave could be heard in the theater above and were used as very primitive sound effects of ghost and gods in plays being performed in the theater.

Now thousands of years later the tool marks made by the slaves can still be seen on the limestone walls of the quarry.

It was about this time we heard a roaring sound and the earth began to shake! Tom stretched his arm upwards to stop the rock from falling. It was a Herculean effort and he was able to hold back the falling rocks until everyone was safe.

Ok, in full disclosure, there was no roaring sound or earth shaking, but we know you already figured that out.

One of the most interesting sites to see was the “Teatro Greco”. Built in the 5th century B.C. and remodeled to improve the acoustics in the 3rd Century B.C., the theater has stood the test of time and neglect. In the early 1900s, they began to use the Teatro Greco once again for the performance of the original Greek plays written in the ancient times. Construction was underway to set the stage for this year’s summer performance schedule.

This young boy was not impressed by a 3000-year-old theater, but he sure was having fun climbing on the rocks!

We headed over to the Roman side of the city. This portion had not stood the test of time as well as the Greek side. The Roman amphitheater was larger than the Greek theater with dimensions of almost 450 feet by 400 feet. The surrounding wall that separated the onlookers from the performance was much higher in the Roman arena. There was also a large hole in the center of the arena which could be entered by underground tunnels. There were two corridors through which gladiators could make a grand entrance. Let the games begin!

Pondering what we had seen and experienced this morning, we were glad that Teatro Greco is still being used and the Roman amphitheater seats remain empty today.

Leaving the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis we headed to a small island in the port of Siracusa called Ortigia (Ortygia). The island, also known as Città Vecchia (Old City), is only accessible to tourists by foot. Less than a mile long and only seven hundred yards wide, it remains a bustling city center. Historically, the island has been important for the defense of Siracusa throughout the city’s history. However, one must remember that over the centuries Siracusa has been invaded and conquered by the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Arabs, the Normans, and the Byzantines. Also, in modern day we cannot forget the Allied forces in 1943.

Today the port is filled with fishing boats and one very large ship, Humanity 1. A German organization called SOS Humanity had a research vessel overhauled in 2022 to become a rescue ship. This was possible through private donations and the support of the organization United4Rescue. Sailing under the German flag, she patrols the central Mediterranean off North Africa looking for those souls fleeing violence and hunger. After a morning of learning about the past, the realities of today were staring at us. This large blue ship has provided safety for many a weary and wet traveler.

As we passed through the Città Vecchia walls, two things became apparent. The streets narrowed immediately and our vacation that had been free of rain would be no more. Our cloudy day had changed to a steady drizzle.

Entering through a narrow street, our destination was in view, Ristorante Porta Marina. Time for lunch!

The posse split into smaller groups of six at three tables in the corner of the restaurant. The food coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled amazing and our hunger grew. The lunch met all expectations except for Carol and Brenda who really wanted a Coke or Pepsi with their meal. Unfortunately, the Sicilian equivalent did not hit the mark as a substitute. The food and wines were very good and we enjoyed an after-lunch espresso and chatted as raindrops could be heard outside.

The rain had stopped and we ventured out to a commercial street which was lined with shops and vendors. There was just so much to see in every window we passed. This is an area that we would love to come back to and explore for a few days in the future.

We pressed on until we reached the Piazza Duomo. Standing at the entryway of the piazza were two young ladies trying to entice people to hold their birds for a photo opportunity. Tom’s warning bell sounded as he steered away from the cute girls.

Both he and Richard had learned in the past that one’s wallet can disappear quickly when distracted. We are not sure if the young girls were gypsies working the streets for wallets or just trying to earn a euro or two. Either way, we did not need a bird picture and we entered the Piazza Duomo with all our belongings still in our pockets. Not saying one should be paranoid in crowded places, but keen situational awareness is always advised.

Walking around the piazza the passage of time can be seen visibly on the walls of the cathedral. Initially a Greek Temple, then Roman, followed by a Christian Church. New construction and remodeling used current materials to build on to recreate this edifice.

The Cathedral was originally the ancient Temple of Athena. It was not until the 7th century that it became a Christian Church, however it was damaged badly in an earthquake in the late 1600s. When rebuilt it was done in a style that is known as Sicilian Baroque. Today it is one of the best examples of this architecture style in the world.

Not far from the piazza was another site to see, but this one was not man made. It is a natural spring of fresh water that borders the sea wall separating it from the Mediterranean. Of course, in Greek mythology there is a story of why fresh water can be found here, but we will just say it is peaceful and beautiful. Historically, the availability of fresh water made it hard for any army that laid siege to the city, because this small island always had water to drink.

This journey through the past now brought us to the Piazza Archimede. The piazza was dedicated to the famous Greek mathematician who was killed by the Romans. In the center of the square stands the Fountain of Diana, a Roman goddess. This fountain marks the geographic center of the island. It seemed like none of the fountains we have seen on our trip have had water flowing. Oh well, it was still a good phot op.

We slowly continued to weave our way through the streets of Ortigia. Each street offered another glimpse of time or culture. This little alley was in what is known as the “Arab Quarter”. The Arabs ruled Siracusa from 800 to the early 1100s. The Arabs were conquered by the invaders from the north, the Normans.

We all stopped and laughed as we saw this sign offering us some sage advice. It seemed in unison we all turned to size up Danilo. Internally everyone smiled and then kept walking.

Only a few blocks from the bridge that would take us back to Siracusa proper, was the Temple of Apollo. It is thought to be the first Greek temple built in Sicily. Although the structure is just a fraction of what it once was, it still causes one to reflect. Almost three thousand years ago, man created a building of this magnitude.

Across from the temple grounds, we could see a stage being set up and crowds gathering. Another political event was getting ready to start. Flags and banners were everywhere. Evidently, there is a heated mayoral race at the end of May, and one of the candidates would be speaking to rally his supporters.

With all the happenings in the square with the upcoming rally, we spotted the ultimate example of “Life is Good” above us. Three floors up on a small balcony, a gentleman was totally lost in a good book and a glass of wine. Totally aloof from the upcoming rally he would turn a page and take a sip of wine. Maybe that is the secret to achieving a better quality of life – read a good book, enjoy a glass of wine, and ignore Politicians!

Back on the bus, Sal headed north to our next stop, Catania. It was a little over an hour away and Olga had joined us to return to her home.

Staring out the window as the ancient city of Siracusa slowly disappeared, a very special place was sighted. It was a memorial made by modern man. A World War II cemetery flashed in our windows as we whizzed by. Olga explained that there were no Americans in this cemetery. The United States returned most of their dead to America following the war. There is an American cemetery on the mainland near Anzio, Italy that provides rest to our fallen. Lying here are Canadian and British soldiers that lost their lives in July of 1943. 

What Olga said next absolutely floored us. Relatives of the fallen can return to Sicily to visit and remember their loved ones, and Sicily will pay for their visit. It is a way the people of Italy can pay tribute to what those who are buried here accomplished and what they had to sacrifice to free Sicily from the Nazi scourge.

Arriving in Catania as the day became evening, we unloaded the bus about a block away from our hotel, The Roman House, a very nice hotel near the center of town. It would be our home for the next three nights. Salvo will be off tomorrow for a day of well deserve rest. Check in went quickly and we were instructed to be back in the lobby in two hours to walk to dinner. 

Everyone took their free time to settle in and chill from our day of time travel. Today is Sunday and Wi-Fi allowed us to connect to our daughter’s church back in Raleigh. Being able to stream Mass on a computer thousands of miles away was something the Greeks or Romans did not accomplish. 😊 Score a point for modern man!

Tonight’s dinner would be eclectic to say the least. A young chef who had worked in Michelin Star restaurants had ventured out on her own. Located upstairs in a small hotel not far from the Roman House, we were seated for our evening meal. The menu was intriguing as the wait staff poured our first wine and welcomed us.

The meal consisted of three courses that were all small in size and large in flavor. The wines that were paired with each course were “Natural Wines”. Although there is no official definition or regulation for natural wines, they are interesting but not our favorites. They are created with little to no human intervention, using organic fruit, and can be cloudy in the bottle. However, they are always full of exotic flavors and often have a yeast flavor on the finish. The wines did pair with the meal. From the presentation to the wine, the meal was a taste bud adventure and a culinary experience.

The streets were quiet as we walked back to the hotel at our own pace. What a day it had been! Traveling in time we stood in front of a Temple to the god Apollo and watched Mass on a computer thousands of miles away. In a single day, we had spanned over three thousand years. Exhausted, we called it good night! Tomorrow will be a big day! We are going to see the mother of Sicily. Stay tuned!


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