Approaching the Greek Theatre.
I love ruins and Siracusa, Sicilia is known for its ancient ruins of a Greek Theatre and Roman amphitheatre. Screw the wine drinking–seeing the Siracusa ruins was going to be one of the highlights of my trip to Sicily. So when I awakened the morning of our visit still running a fever and coughing my brains out, I knew I was going to have to power myself out of bed and to the ruins. After that, I could collapse. But I was NOT leaving Sicily without seeing those ruins.
Let me set the stage. It was about 89 degrees and humid. A hot sun beat down relentlessly. My fever was about 101 degrees and I was pounding the Italian version Tylenol like a junkie. Our group took off after breakfast for a morning of sightseeing. Getting to the ruins meant more than an hour of looking at other nearby attractions, then hiking up a brutal hill in the heat with a fever. But I did it and am glad I did.
Let’s start with the Greek Theatre. It’s amazing how well-preserved this third century BC reconstruction is. It was begun in 6BC but in 3BC it had to be enlarged–to a capacity of 15,000. Some 42 sections of the original 59 remain, which is pretty amazing. The Teatro Greek was a meeting and performance space used for popular assemblies and, of course, Greek drama. Highbrow stuff, too: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Later, the Romans made some changes: they weren’t quite as intellectual as the Greeks and wanted to use the venue for gladiator combat. The changes they made allowed them to flood the stage to perform mock sea battles. Pretty wild stuff for the times–who knew? Of course, what can’t you do with ingenuity and a few thousand slaves?
The scale of the theatre itself was amazing and you can see how well-preserved it is. It was easy to envision the seats full and performances in progress.
Although people were walking around the seats below, we stayed high above the theatre. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to climb around the ruins. At the same time, I was really, really sick, so I didn’t protest.
As it turns out, in the immediate vicinity are ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre:
Sometime around 21BC the Romans took Siracusa and this amphitheatre was built. Then again, I’ve also heard that it was built in 3BC and read somewhere else that it was probably begun during the reign of Nero, 54-68AD.
So let’s just agree that it’s old as dirt.
As you can see, it’s smaller and more primitive than the Greek Theatre.
Gladiators, wild animals, blood and gore–it all happened here. Apparently, there was a reservoir in the middle for crocodiles, which were there to feed on dead bodies. Yeah, those Romans were a bloody and decadent bunch.
As you might expect, the lower rows of these performance venues were reserved for dignitaries and the common folk sat in the nosebleed section. Which, for the Greek Theatre, was pretty high up. Binoculars hadn’t been invented yet, either.
In the end, I got to see the ruins and I’m glad I did. Normally, I’d take a lot more photos, but I really, really felt awful. PS–I’m home now and 100 percent well.
But let me say a word about the weather: October in Sicily was hot, way hotter than I expected. Sicily is hot as an oven in the summer, but I figured by October the weather would have moderated. If what we experienced is moderation I can’t imagine how hot the summer must be. My first visit to the island was in December 1991 and it was bone-chillingly frigid, especially in the hills. So I simply did not expect the extreme heat we experienced in the fall. I’m hoping to return in 2016 and am thinking late October or early spring might be better times. Of course, all the festas in my ancestral village are in summer, so we’ll miss them. That’s ok: no matter how much I’d like to be there, the summer heat will keep me away.