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The Culture of Beauty

Autumn on the Anapo River
April 22, 2022
Ph. © S. Cilea

The Culture of Beauty

 
We speak about Beauty when we appreciate something for what it is, regardless of whether we possess it or not. Something beautiful is something which we would be happy to possess, but would still be beautiful even if it were someone else’s.
Umberto Eco, Storia della Bellezza, Bompiani
 
The southeastern part of Sicily is an uninterrupted sequence of capes, bays, beaches, small islands and reefs. Humid areas and bogs dry out making way for plains and fields cut by rivers and streams which slither through forests and mountains of stone where the paleolithic people searched for the meaning of what to do, of life and of death. With stone and in the stone of the Iblei mountains they cut, dug and carved; stone were the tombs of the dead, the tools, and the weapons of the living; later, of stone were the cities, the temples, the theatres, the statues. Still to date from Siracusa to Buccheri, from Noto to Palazzolo Acreide you feel the powerful breath of the giuggiulena stone and the limestone of the Iblei, still bright and luminous after millennia.
This obstinate tale of stone unfolds through the rugged views which act as a counter to a shocking mixture of architectural styles and urban developments in a unicum of immeasurable value. Ortigia and the Neapolis are some of the first cultural tourism attractions in Sicily, destinations praised by generations of travellers, artists and literate people from all the world. Nor is Noto any less, jewel.city of Sicilian Baroque, built in the 1700s after an unbelievable earthquake raised it to the ground killing many inhabitants. The cultural heritage of Siracusa is also made by less known areas but not any less important. To name a few, Pantalica, Thapsos, Mègara Hyblaea and Akrai, areas filled with history, which reemerged from the dark millennia thanks to the most important Italian archeologists which have rewritten the history of the early Mediterranean societies.
 
Siracusa was really, as Pindaro tells us, “the greatest of the cities”, both under its ancient tyrants-mecenates (more often than not authoritative rather than despotic) but also when it was, even if briefly, Byzantine Capital of the Empire of Romans. Much of what was lost of that greatness isn’t because of the inclemency of the centuries and of the climate, but because of the actions of man, his anxiety of having to re evoke a memory which he judged inadequate to his “modernity”. So did the Romans, the Goths, the Lombards, the Byzantines, the Swabians and the Aragons and not even the Siracusani themselves held back between the 1800s and the 1900s, when they created in the city a series of urban fractures with no criteria and unfixable. Incapable of thinking of an expansion of the urban perimeter in an area far from the ancient monuments, they chose to defy and cancel squares, bastions, monumental doors, fortresses. The damage to the landscape and nature made after the Second World War in the North of Siracusa was enormous. Between Augusta (the ancient Mègara Hyblaea), Marina di Melilli and Priolo Gargallo (the prehistoric Thapsos) the largest petrochemical area in the Mediterranean was built, which resulted in poisoning the air and the ground, polluting the water and killing the sea and the coast.
Adding to this environmental and sanitary disaster is the disfigurement of the historic and archeological heritage as that great expanse of tarmac and cement, sheds, plants, refining towers, smokestacks, petroleum ducts, docks and thousands of kilometres of pipes, has eaten one of the most ancient proto historic centres of the Mediterranean. To give back dignity and liveability to this part of the coast isn’t an immense endeavour, started only a few decades ago with some uplifting results. The complaints and law actions against the refineries are innumerable, the seizure of plants which represent a strategic part of the national industry. Here in the year 2000 the Riserva Naturale Orientata Saline di Priolo was established which protects 55 hectares of the coastal area which was the landing site of the first Greek navigators and which enchanted poets such as Virgil, Ovid and Thucydides. This, together with other 12 nature reserves and areas of naturalistic interest make Siracusa the Sicilian Province with the highest number of protected areas. This is the product of a new concept of “sustainability”, which doesn’t refer to the economic development and financial growth of a collectivity, but to the physical, social and cultural areas in which to satisfy our needs and aspirations without endangering the future of the generations to come.
Written by Sergio G. Grasso, February 2021
 
SERGIO G. GRASSO

When he was young, he was a voice actor for actors such as Orson Welles and Jeff Goldblum. He is a teacher or Anthropology of alimentation, food-writer, expert and popularizer of social history of food, he curated gastronomic events connected to the representation of food in the art of Caravaggio, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Author and TV presenter, he worked for Rai programmes such as Unomattina, Lineaverde and La prova del cuoco. Creator of the Girotonno of Carloforte and of Mediterraneans in Saudi Arabia and part of manifestations such as the Cous-Cous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo and the Festa del Torrone in Cremona. He writes and is part of the editorial board of SiracusaCulture.