Siracusa – Greek and Roman ruins and a cruise to the grottos

Sicily is a great place to go if you are a history nerd, in particular ancient history. On our last full day in Siracusa/Ortigia, we headed out to see the Greek open air theatre and the Roman amphitheater. The Greeks were in Siracusa for a long time and built a magnificent theatre in around 400BC. It seated 15,000 spectators and amazingly is still used for classical theatre performances; they put a circular wooden stage over the center.

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When the Romans moved in on the Greeks, in around 300AD, they were not to be beaten and built their own structure – an amphitheater (though I imagine they weren’t watching many plays in it but practicing blood sports). This was the largest Roman amphitheater in southern Italy however not much of it remains – mainly because the Spanish wanted to build some fortresses in the 1600s so they pinched the huge stones that the Romans had placed there 1300 years before.

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Surrounding the ancient structures was a park in what looked like an old quarry (they had to get the stones to build the theatre and amphitheater from somewhere). It has a feature called “the ear of Dionysis”, apparently named so by Caravaggio who spend a few months in Siracusa in 1607. It is a huge opening to a cave with a pointy tip (like a pointy ear).

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A few hours before catching the train to Catania, we decided to go on a boat tour. It took us around Ortigia (including going under an impossible bridge where the canopy of the boat came down and we had to duck to the level of the rim of the boat) plus to some grottos. This is a photo of the bridge before I knew we would be going under it.

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The usual group of Italian men stared at us as we pulled out of the port (there were four female passengers on board after all). There were some other interesting characters in the inlet as we sailed past, I especially enjoyed Gaetano Excursion.

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Luciano was steering the boat and he clearly was an experienced hand. He was constantly talking on his phone or playing with it whilst steering. He thankfully put the phone down when he took us into a couple of grottos, expertly maneuvering it around the rocks and even doing a three point turn in the cave. It was impressive. One of the caves had an entrance shaped like a heart – grotto degli innamorati (lover’s grotto).

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We got to see some great platforms set up over the rocks for those seeking a dip in the Mediterranean and some terrific views of Ortigia from the water. There was a boat anchored on the waterfront that Mark was particularly keen on – we thought it would be a great way to arrive in our next destination (rather than a 49 minute plane ride) – Malta!

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One of the girls on the cruise kindly took our photo (we are squinting a bit – it was bright out on the water).

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