The Southeast: Ragusa Ibla and Syracuse
We headed east for our final week in Sicily.
But first we
made a detour to the southeast and spent a few hours in the city of Ragusa Ibla.
Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla are twin cities, built on two adjacent hills separated by a narrow valley.
Ragusa is the modern center, but Ragusa Ibla is the old center, with great buildings and pedestrian streets.
those sights include many churches, none more impressive than the Duomo di San
(Cathedral of Saint George), set at one end of a large square lined with palm trees and cafes.
At the other
end of the square is the almost-matching church of San Giuseppi (Saint Joseph).
These churches, and much of Ragusa Ibla, were rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1693.
There is also a tranquil park in Ragusa Ibla.
Also in the
southeast of Sicily is the city of Syracuse. It was the most important of the
ancient Greek colonies on Sicily, founded in 734 BCE.
By the fifth century BCE it was as large as ancient Athens and had its own colonies elsewhere on Sicily and in southern Italy.
It was the capital of Roman Sicily, and even briefly (in the seventh century CE) the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Ortygia is the
center of old Syracuse. It is an island joined to the mainland by bridges.
Having a natural spring that still flows (below left), it could be fortified and defended.
It is now the most appealing part of Syracuse, with great views out to the Mediterreanean Sea . . .
and back to the mainland part of Syracuse.
There are many ruins on Ortygia from its long past.
Most of its buildings were rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake that hit Sicily, but there are a few older ones.
One interesting sight is the cathedral. Behind its baroque facade is the ancient Greek temple to Athena, within which was built the church.
Ortygia is a great neighborhood of narrow and mostly pedestrian streets.
On the mainland is a large grouping of ancient ruins. They include:
a huge sacrificial altar from the third century BCE, almost 200 meters/650 feet in length, dedicated to Zeus,
an ancient reservoir for storing water,
and a large theater, much restored in modern times, where ancient plays are still performed.
This area of
Syracuse is riddled with caves, which also served as the quarry for the ancient
The ancient Greeks carved pagan shrines into these caves, and the early Christians dug catacombs for the dead.
One cave is known as the "Ear of Dionysius" and has incredible acoustics that magnify and reverberate all sounds.
Also within this area of ancient monuments is the sizeable archeological museum of Syracuse.
is the ultramodern Catholic church called Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of
the Tears), built despite a lot of controversy about its size and
appearance between 1966 and 1994 to house a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary that is supposed to have cried real tears for several months in 1953.
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