Immaterial Cultural HeritageApril 22, 2021
The City Halls of Siracusa and NotoApril 23, 2021
Two ways to approach Siracusa
Yes, we know. When you reach Siracusa on the bus or on your own, you wonder where on earth you’ve ended up. First the water-works, then the military cemetery of the Allies, then a run-down industrial suburb area with clear signs of crisis and neglect. At the roundabout, you have to choose whether to take viale Paolo Orsi or viale Ermocrate. The choice isn’t a neutral one - you’ll see why.
If you take the second, you’ll pass the railway station to reach 19th-century Siracusa. The signs will point you towards the car-parks in the harbour area.
Once parked there, if you walk the few metres over to the edge of the quayside and look up, you’ll see the Great Harbour in front of you: opposite lies the mouth of the Anapo and Ciane rivers, and to the left the first jutting cliffs of the Maddalena promontory that enclose the harbour to the south. By then, the light of Siracusa will have washed over you and pierced your eyes so strongly you catch your breath. You’ve never seen the sky such a hue of cobalt blue. The greenery that crowns the estuaries is like a celebration of the embrace between the nymph Ciane, transformed into water by heartless Hades, and her beloved who, running alongside her, finally joined her in the harbour. And then you’ll understand why a myth so terrible and so romantic found its ideal setting in the Great Harbour.
From the harbour, you have to follow Corso Umberto, the backbone of the 19th-century city, which takes you to the Umbertino bridge. Halfway across the bridge you start to see the relationship between the sea, the two harbours, large and small, Siracusa and Ortigia, with the epiphany coming behind the Ficus trees of Piazza Pancali which hide the ruins of the Temple of Apollo so you can enjoy its discovery, and with a strange house in Venetian style built by an important man of the city, because after the demolition of the old city walls, the new townscape reminded him of the Venetian lagoon. This is where your sensorial journey in Ortigia really begins; peninsula, then island, a place that’s eccentric, geographically and morphologically, and it may be the cradle of some eccentric anthropology too. The journey will be full of the smell of the sea, the crash of the waves as they break on the rocks, the calls of the seagulls, but above all, light, intense, full, absolute.
If at the famous roundabout, you take the other route via viale Paolo Orsi, an anonymous road that catapults you to the archeological area of the Neapolis, your contact with Siracusa will be much more immediate. You can go straight to the archeological park, unique in the world for the presence of extraordinary signs of Greek Classicism and a very specific vegetation. Here your sensorial experience will once more be marked by the intense light and its refraction off the white stone, by the smell of the oleander, of the pittosporum, of the orange blossom during the spring months and of the wild oregano in the summer ones. You may not know it, but that park exists thanks to the vision of the architect Cenzi Cabianca who designed it to save not the single monuments, but the entire area in a re-naturalised context.
In the Neapolis, just as in augmented reality, your senses will amplify your interpretation and memory of history and myths that the theatre or the Ear of Dionysius recall, and maybe, if you shut your eyes while on the highest part of the cavea, you’ll hear the voice of Vittorio Gassmann or Michele Placido as they interpret Dionysius or the voice of Valeria Moriconi or Margaret Mazzantini as they interpret Antigone.
When you leave this world of extreme sentiments to reach the living city, it will be like taking a trip through time that only a city with 3000 years of history can give you.
FAUSTO CARMELO NIGRELLI
Author of over a hundred literary essays and volumes, he is a Professor of Tecnica e Pianificazione Urbanistica at the University of Catania, SDS in Architecture based in Siracusa of which he is currently the President. He is Directeur d’Etudes Associées at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme of Paris for the subject of Projet urbain. He is director of the Special School Emilio Sereni on History and Management of the landscape in rural areas organised by the University of Catania and the Istituto Cervi of Reggio Emilia.