Thursday, May 29, 2008

City of the Dead

I am going to try something different. Perhaps a blog post for each event? That would be easier to do that sifting through 118 pictures at a time. Well, at least everyone knows that I got lots of good pictures. Or not so good. Take your pick. At least a few are informative. First we have a primer on Sicillian food. There is nothing in fact wrong with this orange, no matter how rotten or funky it looks. This is a blood orange, and in real life it really looks like there are blood clots in the fruit. That is what gives it that strange color. The taste is phenomenal. It is like the best orange you have ever had.This is a nespole fruit. We don't have them in America, and actually I think that it would be impossible to trasport them over there in the first place. They are very delicate and not the prettiest fruits in the world. The taste of them is something in between a peach and a pear.Ah, the market. I think that you will be getting a lot of pictures of the market because I simply do so much of my shopping there. This is a shot of one of the fish stalls. Someone managed to catch several swordfish that day, and you can see their heads on the stall with the swords pointing up.Even a super-Italian place like Siracusa has to have a chinese restaurant. I am not going to go there, though. I hear it is awful.
And last in my string of random pictures is Liam. I don't quite know Liam's official title within MCAS. He just seems to be the general ray of sunshine and problem solver. We had a meet and greet sort of thing at the end of last week, and he came with his guitar and harmonica and started playing for us. He was really good at it, and I almost cried when he played Blackbird.

Now the next set of pictures are all from a sea caves expedition that we took on our own, independent of MCAS. It was an amazing day, if a little windy, and the shoreline was magnificent.

Oh, yeah. And I went swimming in the Mediterranean. It was so cold I could barely breathe, and the salt was rather shocking for something so clear and blue.
The pink cylindrical building on the hill is the backside of the Duomo.

If you squint at this picture, you can just make out a few people sunbathing on top of the rock. Just for a size comparison, you know.

Then yesterday we went to a nature preserve called Pantalica. It is also home to a very large bronze age necropolis and anaktoron and a series of byzantine settlements that used the caves originally cut into the rock for tombs as houses.

This is one of the tombs that got turned into a byzantine building. It was actually a church for a very tiny congregation of people scraping an existence off of the mountains.
You can still make out some of the frescoes that adorned the inside of the church. If you need a hint, look in the middle and think something religious. There's also a lot of graffiti in here, a fact that made Professor Metcalfe genuinely angry, although his accent still sounded charming while he was complaining about the youth these days. It was really fun being up there with him and Professor Becker, although I think that for a while I was contemplating cutting off Prof. Metcalfe's legs at the knees so he wouldn't go so darn fast on those almost straight up endless stairs of death.
This is me in another Byzantine house, one that was made to be two stories. The second floor has since collapsed. That is a major problem with limestone. It is very soft, although yesterday it didn't feel that way whenever I ended up sliding on it and flopping down on my butt or hands, and it erodes at an astonishing rate. No one knows the exact number of tombs in Pantalica, although it has been estimated at about 5000. Who knows how many have been lost to the ravages of time and water?
In case my earlier descriptions of the size of this place didn't give you a good idea, here is one picture looking one way down the valley. There is another view just as grandiose in the other direction. See those little dots in the side of that cliff? Tombs. They look like swallow nests.

Here is what the average tomb looks like on the inside when it isn't expanded by the byzantines. Some of them, especially the later ones, are bigger. Some even have multiple rooms and were intended for the entire family. Each time another family member died, another room was added.Here is what the look like from farther out. One of the ones in the hillside looks like it is still sealed up, and only had a test hole drilled into it by archaeologists. This is when we were going up one of the calmer slopes and I thought we had been strung out in an amusing way. Normally when we were going up and down some of the steeper slopes, I didn't take my camera out. I was too afraid of dropping it.And here we are at the top, sitting on the foundation of the Anaktoron or palace, or at least that is what it is called. It is the only building they have been able to find that even indicates the city that they know had to have been up here. The problem is that at that time, everything was made of perishable materials, so it is difficult to find traces. Also, the blocks are recognizably bronze age, but the floor plan is very reminicent of a byzantine farm house. Darn byzantines! And here is the view from the top, out over the entire valley. The photo really does not do the view justice.

This photo comes pretty close to it, though. This is from about halfway back down the mountain. (but of course after you climb up it you have to go back down!) and looking at the river and road that run along the bottom of the valley. The source of the river is very close by, so the river is extraordinarily clear. On the way down we had a chance to see another cave byzantine church. This one had a few more frescoes left on the walls, although they are a bit less recognizable. Maybe one of the saints?This picture demonstrates very well the damage that erosion does to these tombs. This is one that simply fell away from the mountain entirely. Another shot of the mountain peak. You can see a few more tombs in it.
This, my friends, is paradise. We had been hiking at a fast pace for a good four hours. Finally we reached the river. A swim has never felt so good. The river wasn't far from its source, and it was freezing cold, which was exactly what was needed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I died for beauty, or at least my feet did!

Okay. Here is the finishe post, and yet not quite finished. I do not mean for the linked text to be links. This is a little bug with Blogger, and it is going to take me a while to fix it. Just don't click on them, although I think that they will take you nowhere. Here's the sum of my first week in Sicily. Now that the second is almost done, maybe I should get working on that. *dies*This fountain is in the center of the piazza de Archimede, or at least I think that's how it is spelled. It has nothing to do with Archimedes, actually. It was put there in the 20's in place of a church, much to the annoyance of the religious powers in the city. It is made of concrete, but it is still quite beautiful. I walk past it every day. This is a shot of my school in the early afternoon. Yes, my school. It is in a converted residence that was evidently quite grand at one time. It is not all semi-ancient grandeur. The classrooms are modern with perfectly lovely balconies with french doors that look out onto the street.The current vogue for afternoon sports it seems is a variation on water polo called canoe polo. Guys play it by paddling around in kayaks and slapping at the ball with their oars or with their hands if they can manage to touch it without getting their hands taken off by someone else's oar. That kind of physical stuff is not really my thing. That is why I prefer to watch the good looking boys play while eating a cup of gelatto. That stuff is the best in the world. If I could bring some back to the states with me I would in a heartbeat.I love Ortigia because it is impossible for me to get lost. You are never far from the ocean. If you lose your way, all you need to do is find your way out to the coast and follow it. It is only an hour's walk all the way around, and eventually you will get to a place you recognize.The sea is so clear it is supernatural. I went swimming in it a couple of days ago, and I was thoroughly surprised by the salt. Even when you are pretty far out, you can still see the bottom.And here is another shot from the coast looking back towards the city.
More shots of the city...This is a shot of the Duomo or cathedral for Siracusa. It is one of the if not the oldest building in the city. It was originally built by the Greeks on top of a bronze age settlement as a temple in honor of Athena. It got taken over by the romans and kept as a temple, was converted to a byzantine church, a mosque when the Arabs took over Siracusa, and then finally into a Roman Catholic church. It has extensive catacombs under it and is the place where they keep the only known relics of Saint Lucy: a jawbone and a pinky. This is a shot looking across the Piazza Duomo towards one of the government buildings.This is a shot of the arithusa fountain. It is connected to one of the myths that involves Apollo chasing a nymph. This particular one was named Arithusa. She called out to Artemis, and she turned her into a freshwater spring beside the sea. Quite recently, as far as these things go, there was a miracle in Siracusa. A statue of the madonna cried human tears for three days. It was scientifically proven as an actual miracle and a gigantic church was built to house the miraculous statue, the Madonna de Lacrime. This is the church. People joke about the incongruous architecture and call it a lemon juicer. We went in search of it and eventually found it and the statue. Despite the funky shape, it is a rather beautiful church. It had a rosary garden outside with statues for each mystery. Bri and I are both at least christian, but Alli, who tagged along with us, had absolutely no background in any of the biblical stories. She just was along for the walk, not the church. She was rather confused about what the statues were supposed to represent, so I started explaining them to her. She liked the one about the Visitation so much that she wanted to take a picture with the statues, so here it is.This is the statue for the nativity. We went to the Archaeological park as a group. The Archaeological park is really Siracusa's attempt at preserving some of the ridiculously amazing ruins from Greek and Roman times. All of the preserved areas are clustered around a gigantic quarry called something to the effect of the paradise quarry in Italian. Right now it really does look like paradise, although a rather hot and tropical paradise. When it was actually a quarry, however, it was probably something much more akin to hell. It was a limestone quarry that was entirely underground. Prisoners of war and political prisoners were forced to work and live down there in the dark. The size of the hole they made is certainly impressive. After the quarry was no longer in use, it collapsed in on itself around the pillars that were meant to hold it up. There were actually people living over the quarry, and on top of one of the pillars that is still standing, you can still make out the ruins of a farmhouse. That must have been shocking to wake up to. When it was still being used as a prison, there was a tyrant named Dionysus ( although I am not sure if that is the way his name was spelled). There is a legend that he used to have himself lowered down into this excellent acoustic cave so he could listen in on the conversations of the workers. Therefore, it is called the ear of Dionysus. Nearby there is an altar, and it is actually the largest one ever found. It is approximately the size of a football field, and there is an account of 450 bulls being sacrificed to Zeus on it all at the same time.Also nearby is a Greek amphitheatre. It is complete enough that plays are still performed in it. Every year an old greek tragedy is produced. This year it is the Orestia. It is going on now. That is why so much of it is covered up with the bleachers. You can still get something of an idea of what it looks like, however.

Behind the theatre there is a nice rocky hillside, and after the theatre fell into disuse, the hillside got converted into a series of tombs. As you can see, they are quite posh in their appearance. They've got couches and everything. Definitely an elite place to be buried.
We tried out the comfort level ourselves. This one is actually about four feet off the ground, so it was quite a thing to get up here in the first place.
For those who did not have enough money to get buried in one of the tombs, there was a possibility to instead leave behind a terra cotta plaque in commemoration of the deceased. These were set into little niches in the wall. The plaques are long gone, but the niches are still there.

When the Romans came in, they weren't quite so into theatre as the greeks were. Instead, they liked to sponsor gladiator games. This is where they took place, a little ways past the altar. The hole in the center was a place from which to generate special effects and would have normally been covered by a trap door.