Syracuse – Greece Travel

The ruins of  Syracuse are not to the casual observer very imposing. But even these ruins have great interest for the archaeologist. There is, for example, an old temple near the northern end of Ortygia, for the most part embedded in the buildings of the modern city, yet with its east end cleared and showing several entire columns with a part of the architrave upon them. And what a surprize here awaits one who thinks of a Doric temple as built on a stereotyped plan ! Instead of the thirteen columns on the long sides which one is apt to look for as going with a six-column front, here are eighteen or nineteen, it is not yet quite certain which. The columns stand less than their diameter apart, and the abaci are so broad that they nearly touch.

So small is the inter-columnar space that archeologists incline to the belief that in this one Doric temple there were triglyphs only over the columns, and not also between them as in all other known cases. Everything about this temple stamps it as the oldest in Sicily. An inscription on the top step, in very archaic letters, much worn and difficult to read, contains the name of Apollo in the ancient form… . The inscription may, of course, be later than the temple; but it is in itself old enough to warrant the supposition that the temple was erected soon after the first Corinthian colonists established themselves in the island. While the inscription makes it reasonably certain that the temple belonged to Apollo, the god under whose guiding hand all these Dorians went out into these western seas, tradition, with strange perversity, has given it the name of “Temple of Diana.” But it is all in the family.

Another temple ruin on the edge of the plateau, which begins about two miles south of the city, across the Anapos, one might also easily overlook in a casual survey, because it consists only of two columns without capitals, and a broad extent of the foundations from which the accumulated earth has been only partially re-moved. This was the famous temple of Olympian Zeus, built probably in the days of Hiero I., soon after the Persian war, but on the site of a temple still more venerable. One seeks a reason for the location of this holy place at such a distance from the city. Holm, the German historian of Sicily, argues with some plausibility that this was no mere suburb of Syracuse, but the original Syracuse itself. In the first place, the list of the citizens of Syracuse was kept here down at least to the time of the Athenian invasion. In the second place, tradition, which, when rightly consulted, tells so much, says that Archias, the founder of Syracuse, had two daughters, Ortygia and Syracusa, which may point to two coordinate settlements, Ortygia and Syracuse; the latter, which was on this temple plateau, being subsequently merged in the former, but, as sometimes happens in such cases, giving its name to the combined result.

Besides these temple ruins there are many more foundations that tell a more or less interesting story. Then there are remains of the ancient city that can never be ruined—for in-stance, the great stone quarries, pits over a hundred feet deep and acres broad, in some of which the Athenian prisoners were penned up to waste away under the gaze of the pitiless captors; the Greek theater cut out of the solid rock; the great altar of Hiero II., six hundred feet long and about half as broad, also of solid rock. Then there is a mighty Hexapylon, which closed the fortifications of Dionysius at the northwest at the point where they challenged attack from the land side. With its sally-ports and rock-hewn passages, some capacious enough to quarter regiments of cavalry, showing holes cut in the projecting corners of rock, through which the hitch-reins of the horses were wont to be passed, and its great magazines, it stands a lasting memorial to the energy of a tyrant. But while this fortress is practically indesttuctible, an impregnable fortress is a dream incapable of realization. Marcellus and his stout Romans came in through these fortifications, not entirely, it is true, by their own might, but by the aid of traitors, against whom no walls are proof.

One of the stone quarries, the Latomia del Paradise, has an added interest from its association with the tyrant who made himself hated as well as feared, while Gelon was only feared without being hated. An inner recess of the quarry is called the “Ear of Dionysius,” and tradition says that at the inner end of this recess either he or his creatures sat and listened to the murmurs that the people uttered against him, and that these murmurs were requited with swift and fatal punishment. Certain it is that a whisper in this cave produces a wonderful resonance, and a pistol shot is like the roar of a cannon; but that people who had anything to say about the butcher should come up within ear-shot of him to utter it is not very likely. Historians are not quite sure that the connection of Dionysius with this recess is altogether mythical, but that he shaped it with the fell purpose above mentioned is not to be thought of, as the whole quarry is older than his time, and was probably, with the Latomia dei Cappuceini, a prison for the Athenians.