Pantalica

Sitting here on lockdown, having earlier walked our prescribed exercise route, carefully plotted through burgeoning local parks and side roads, the trees and hedges heavy with blossom and alive with birdsong, more-so it seems than ever this year. Strange contrast with the quiet tragedy unfolding around us, the closed doors and closed curtains and the quiet ambulances in the streets. I’m itchy to be away from here but there’s nowhere to go. So I’m looking back through old photos and I find myself in Sicily, two years ago when we were free to go wherever we pleased. We were staying in Syracuse, on the island of Ortigia, and each day we went off in a different direction. On this day we headed inland, due west to the ancient prehistoric site of Pantalica. Continue reading “Pantalica”

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One Last Day In Ortigia

This time last year we’d recently returned from Sicily, and two sultry weeks in Ortigia, where the balcony of our apartment looked out over the sea. We watched through our crystal ball, waiting each day for a breeze, but the sailing boats passed by inverted, the air was still and we were becalmed. Continue reading “One Last Day In Ortigia”

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Akrai

Last summer in Sicily, above the town of Palazzolo Acreide, in the Province of Syracuse, we found ourselves at the site of the ancient Greek city of Akrai. Nowadays a collection of stones, still being excavated, and the quarries from which they came, later occupied as cave homes and catacombs. Continue reading “Akrai”

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Cava Ispica

The doorway in the rock face opened into a honeycomb of catacombs, hand-carved rock tombs and tunnels, cubicles and niches, an underground depository for the dead. All now dissolved, evacuated, long gone and undead, a dormitory of empty beds, a newfangled airbnb ghost town opportunity. Continue reading “Cava Ispica”

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The Chestnut Of A Hundred Horses

Some call it the Hundred Horse Chestnut, but that confuses me because it’s a sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) not a horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Maybe it should be the Sweet Chestnut of a Hundred Horses. In Italian it is called Il Castagno dei Cento Cavalli. It stands on the eastern slope of Mount Etna and has survived the volcano’s eruptions for 4,000 years. According to legend, Giovanna of Aragon, Queen of Naples, was visiting Mount Etna when a severe thunderstorm caused her and her entourage of one hundred knights on horseback to take shelter beneath the tree. Continue reading “The Chestnut Of A Hundred Horses”

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Ispica & Modica

It was midday when we arrived in Ispica, the August sun was high and the streets were hot but the town was closed, the shutters were down and lunch was off the menu. It appeared unwelcoming but the guide book had promised much more – The small town of Ispica was rebuilt on its present site after the earthquake of 1693 destroyed the former town on the valley floor… The chalk eminence on which it stands is pierced with tombs and cave dwellings. These can best be seen in the Parco della Forza at the south end of the Cava d’Ispica… best approached from Ispica along Via Cavagrande. It has lush vegetation, water-cisterns, tombs and churches, all carved out of the rock, and a remarkable tunnel known as the Centoscale (‘Hundred Stairs’), 60m long, formerly used by people carrying water from the river to the town. Continue reading “Ispica & Modica”

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Neapolis Archaeological Park

Last August, on holiday in Sicily, a short walk out of Ortigia through the hot dusty streets of Syracuse brought us to Neapolis, one of the largest archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. The entrance is beside the little Norman church of San Nicolò dei Cordari, which was built over part of an aisled Roman piscina, a reservoir to provide water for the nearby amphitheatre.  Continue reading “Neapolis Archaeological Park”

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Noto Antica

The original city of Noto was 12km further up the valley of the Asinaro River from where present day Noto now stands. It was relocated after the devastating earthquake of 1693. The original site is now an overgrown ruin, reclaimed by nature and slowly sinking back into the earth. There were buildings here from the 17th century and all down the ages back to Greek antiquity, but now they’re mostly just stones in the undergrowth, but for one or two exceptional and magnificent survivors. Continue reading “Noto Antica”

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Noto

Noto is perhaps the most interesting of the 18th-century Baroque towns of Sicily. It was built after the earthquake of 1693 when the former town (now known as Noto Antica) was abandoned. An excellent example of 18th-century town planning, the local limestone has been burnt gold by the sun. The inhabitants call their city ‘il giardino di pietra’, the garden of stone.  Continue reading “Noto”

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Fonte Ciane

Two days on the island was playing tricks with my head. Maybe it was the heat. But for our first outing we escaped the endless tourist stroll around the streets of Ortigia and headed for Fonte Ciane, and the promise of a gentle walk upstream along the banks of the river to its source. No more aimless wandering, now we had a goal, what could be more simple? The directions were straightforward, it was listed in all the guidebooks, we crossed over to the mainland and followed the signs. Continue reading “Fonte Ciane”

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