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When in Sicily, visit Syracuse

TEMPLES AND CAVES

Syracuse, on Sicily’s southeastern coast, has been an important city for 27 centuries. It has broad avenues, a busy harbour and some splendid baroque architecture.

It also has some of  the best Grecian ruins on the island. In the Piazza Pancali, flanked by an open market and a row of office buildings, stands the enormous temple to Apollo, the largest existing Doric temple in Western Europe.A few streets away, an ornate 18th century cathedral has all but swallowed the imposing remains of a 6th century BC temple to Minerva.The massive columns stand out clearly against the Duomo’s interior walls.

Near it are stone quarries and enormous caves. One of the caves is called the “Ear of Dionysius” because its extraordinary acoustics supposedly allowed the tyrant Dionysius to eavesdrop on the prisoners held within it.The tomb of the scientist Archimedes, who was born in Syracuse in 287 BC, is in the northwest corner of the Neapolis.

A modern Archeological Museum was opened in 1988 to exhibit the fruits of a 20-year dig in the area. Its outstanding treasures are the “Venus Anadyomene,” a Roman copy of a Greek statue and an enthroned goddess dating from the 6th century BC. It’s an easy-to-visit museum with a wealth of geological and historical artifacts. In the centre of one room stand  two rather forlorn plaster casts about the size of small ponies – the skeletons of prehistoric male and female dwarf elephants.The female seems to have a huge eye socket in the middle of her forehead and it’s thought this gave rise to the Cyclops legend. It was actually part of the respiratory system, but you can see how the story started.

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