The Province of Syracuse
There are some cities in the world whose names are loaded with a mystical, not to say mythical, charge. Names like Timbuktu, Samarkand, and Alexandria. In Europe there is a shortage of cities with this aura, they tend to be already fully explored and exploited by the time you get to them. Syracuse is the exception.
Syracuse was founded 734 BC by the Greeks from Corinth on the island of Ortigia, which today is the hip district that competes with Taormina and Cefalú to have the highest real estate prices in Sicily. The Greek heritage is extensive in the city and in the region as a whole. The archaeological site of Neapolis is located on the northern outskirts of the city, where you will find perhaps the most beautiful and well-proportioned amphitheater in the world. From around
400 BC, the amphitheater is carved from the mountain with the turquoise Mediterranean acting as its backdrop. Once a year, usually in May or June, a Greek play is put up here. Also in the same area are Archimedes tomb, an ancient limestone quarry and the altar of Hiero II. The giant sacrificial altar that Hiero II had constructed around 241-215 BC was also here, but all that remains of it today is a 196 meters long foundation. The ancient limestone quarry houses a remarkable 23 meters high and 65-meter deep cave carved out of the mountain, called Dionysus’s ear. Today the quarry carries the name Latomie del Paradiso and houses a beautiful garden. Another must-see in Syracuse is the previously mentioned island of Ortigia, connected by two bridges just southwest of the city. The island has the world’s oldest street, Via Dione, dated to 407
BC and also the Apollo Temple in Doric style from the 6th century BC.
One of the city’s most famous figures is the mathematician and inventor Archimedes. He determined, among many, many other things (think 3.14 …) that the volume of a sphere is two-thirds of the volume of a cylinder of the same diameter and height, (4πr3) / 3. He was so proud of the discovery that he decided that his grave would be marked with a sphere inscribed in a cylinder. According to legend, he was later killed by a Roman soldier after he had been annoyed by him and tried to dismiss him with the words “Do not touch my circles”, referring to a problem he was just trying to solve. Well, who knows?
When it comes to wine, the province of Syracuse can boast the almost legendary grape Nero d’Avola, which is used to make the dark, full-bodied and tasteful quality wine of the same name. The town of Avola, that gives the grape its name, is halfway between Syracuse and Sicily’s most southernmost point, Portopalo di Capo Passero. Not far from the baroque town of Noto’s seaside resort Lido di Noto. It is difficult to find any low-quality Nero d’Avola wines, with even the bottles sold for 3-4 euros at the local supermarkets considered to outperform wines 5 times their price. And for the connoisseurs, the wine companies usually have a few hard-to-get bottles of Nero d’Avola in the highest price and quality ranges, so be sure to buy a few bottles directly from the manufacturers.
Some of Sicily’s best beaches can also be found on the way to and from Avola and Vendicaria’s nature reserve around the southernmost tip, where seemingly endless miles of sandy beaches follow the coast through Pozzallo, Marina di Modica, Sampieri, Donnalucata, Marina di Ragusa and Punta Secca.
The old fishing village of Marzamemi is also worth a mention. Especially the quaint main piazza, that has a surprisingly large amount of spectacular restaurants for such a small town, is worth a visit. In the summers they have live Sicilian music well into the night. A perfect way to end the day following an evening walk along the seaside and watching the sunset.
Lastly, if you go to the province of Syracuse, do not deny yourself a granita di mandorla. It can blasphemously be described as an almond slushie, but it is so much more! A delicacy made from freshly ground, locally grown almonds, it is a true pleasure. Eat it as it is, or mix some of it in your espresso.