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E + 2: Was the Hades invented in Syracuse?

The night was long for many young Italians after Italy won the European Championship. Teenagers were still dancing to blaring Italo pop music on our pier at 3 am. Wonder what their bosses thought when they showed up to work – if they did!

The Underground Cavern in Syracuse where all its Stones were Quarried


Am 7 am, the noise of street sweepers woke us up. The sound of glass bottles being thrown into a bin produces this distinguished, high pitch sliding noise. Coffee was already on the table when our Syracuse guide, Masha, arrived. She would show as ancient Greek Syracuse today. We decided to walk. It takes only half an hour to reach the ancient Greek settlement area. Apparently, we were walking on top of a Roman necropolis. Today it is a modern suburb. The 30 min walk gave us an idea of how many people must have here lived in ancient Syracuse. Whether it was one million as some historians assume is anybody’s guess. It was definitely a big town.


The Garden Latomie del Paradiso in Syracuse


To get to the Greek theatre we had to cross the ancient quarries where the lime stones for building Syracuse came from. It must have been a place from hell. There were only slaves working in these dark, humid underground caverns - all prisoners of war. When there were not enough slaves, young women from native Sicilian tribes were lowered down to mate. Sophisticated Greeks could be horrible and heartless people. Children growing up in this under-ground world never saw the light of day – they lived their short life in a smoky, humid, and disease-ridden place. For adults, life expectancy was 2 – 3 years.

Life Expectancy was short in these Caverns - Adult Slaves usually died within 2 - 3 Years


Over the centuries, the ceilings of these quarries collapsed. Sometimes due to erosion, sometimes due to earthquakes. Today, the place is a peaceful garden and is called Latomie del Paradiso. But this is now. In ancient time the caverns were full of smoke, no daylight, high humidity and had high ground water levels.


It is still visible how chisls were used to quarry the stone


I would not be surprised if the Greek had taken their idea of Hades, the underworld, from this place. Or maybe the theme of the purgatory originated here. Syracuse was the first Roman town with a large Christian community. The Bible mentions no purgatory.

The Magnificent Greek Theatre with a splendid view on the old Greek Harbour - still in use!


A 180 degree turn and a few steps later, we reach the well-known, 16’000 seat large Greek theatre. What a beautiful sight. The entire ancient harbour lies to our feet. The view is magnificent. The sitting ranks were carved into the mountain. The theatre probably is built into the remnant of one of the first quarries here. Without much damage, it survived the centuries to today and is still in use for daily performances. What an amazing continuity. As far as we know, it is the largest, still existing Greek theatre in the world. Amazing also how closely located human cruelty and sophisticated art are. Less than 100 meters separate these two worlds. Maybe the Greek knew how capricious life, or their Gods, were. Sometimes, disaster is just a few hours separated from success.

The Big Altar of Zeus for the Sacrifice of Oxen - Combined with rather Large Consumption of Muscat wine of Sicily!


With respect to the plays performed in the theatre, Masha, our guide, insisted that whilst Greek Tragedy was invented in Athens, Greek Comedy was invented in Syracuse. With its ship building business, the town counted many rope manufacturers. No ropes, no sails - no sails, no ships. As we know, rope is made from hemp which has a dual use - under Dionysus “wise” guidance – it can be lit up for recreational purposes. She insisted that the hilarious stories of Greek comedies could not have been invented by sober people. Seems that the Syracusans had many opportunities to get stoned. During festivities for Zeus, for whom hundreds of oxen were slaughtered, potent muscat wine replaced pot. These festivities went on for days. Must have been a big, drunken BBQ! Apparently, the Roman Legionnaires captured Syracuse in 212 BC during one of these festivities when everybody was too “incapacitated” to operate Archimedes’ ingenious machines. Intriguing military tactics!


One of the Greek Aequaducts ends just behind the Greek Theatre


Have to make a corrective comment here on a few previous pieces on democracy, theatre and drinking events. All these festivities were for patricians only, men with wealth. Women, poorer people, and slaves were excluded. These things were reserved for a small elite. Since every wealthy man was allowed to own 4 slaves, I guess less than 5% of the population enjoyed these privileges. In ancient Italy, slaves made about 1/3 of the total population (the number drops to 10% for the entire Roman Empire). I guess the ratio was 1/3 in Syracuse as well. The Greek people built a great and sophisticated civilization. It is also a society we would not want to live in today. There was no Liberté, no Égalité, no Fraternité.


Friends of us took this photo from their home when we left Syracuse


Time to lift the anchor and sail north along Sicily’s east coast. The northerly wind prevents us from using our sails – we will have to motor. It must have taken the Roman grain ships days to cross the winds and sail north through the Messina Straits to Rome. We do it in a few hours thanks to our engine.

The Mighty Etna to our left - today there were no Eruptions!


When moving north, we admired on our western flank the mighty Etna which was eruption free today. Elegantly, it faded away in the afternoon mist. By dinner time we arrived in Taormina.

We got company for a little while!

By 8 am we were in Taormina - we will explore it tomorrow

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