It’s a fine morning in Rome-crisp, but still bright. These past few days, it really has begun to feel like fall. Usually by this time at home I’ve been treated to a full New England autumn filled with lingering walks and yardwork wrapped up in layers with sweaters galore. I miss the leaves decorating the trees and the crunch of autumn beneath my feet. On our trip yesterday to Ostia, we enjoyed a morning hike in the closest thing to wildlife less than an hour from Rome (we saw a family of deer!). Sturdy -looking pine cones dotted along the paths and-feeling a rush of nostalgia for home-I immediately needed to crush one with my boot. However, when I tried, I found that it was solid and heavy. These pine cones were not meant for crushing, but rather for lobbing at the head of someone you wanted to take out. Yes, fall is here, but no, it is not like the falls I have come to expect. The leaves fall, but don’t change color for the most part. And while it is cold, I do not find myself toting around steaming mugs of tea just to stay cozy. It is in part because of these reasons that it doesn’t seem like my birthday is a mere three days away. How could it possibly be my birthday when it’s sunshiny, flowers bloom in the garden, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family? Speaking of my birthday, I have already received some cards and, though I’ve yet to open them, they already make me feel so warm and fuzzy! I’m sure after my birthday especially I’ll miss you guys! In the meantime, I’m still very much not caught up on my posts and best get back to Sicily!
Where I left off, we were in Syracuse for the night at the enchantingly cultish hotel. The next day, Tuesday, we explored the sights of Syracuse itself. Syracuse is one of those cities that really shows Sicily’s varied history. For example, we began the day admiring one Baroque piazza with its Cathedral. The church began as a Greek temple to Athena built in the 5th century BCE, became a cathedral in the 7th century Late Imperial Roman days CE, was converted into a mosque during the two centuries of Muslim rule, and reconverted into a Christian cathedral in the early 11th c. CE. Inside this cathedral you can see the columns from the Greek temple alongside simply gorgeous Byzantine mosaics done by Arab masters all wrapped up in a Baroque façade.
We spent some more time in the lovely urban area and the amazing museum of Syracuse. The museum was actually closed, but somehow our program director, Franco, got us in for two hours while we were completely alone in the archaeological museum! Even though the layout was a bit wonky at times, this was one of my favorite museums yet. They had so much inside! A lot of Medusa imagery (the first attested image of the gorgon!!!!!) and many Cybeles: these are just two of my favorite things!
We also got to explore some of the great early Greek sites! The advanced Greek class (which I am sadly not a part of this semester-sigh) sang poetry for us in an amphitheater and it was so gorgeous. At another part of the site, in the so-called Ear of Dionysius (as dubbed by the one and only Caravaggio on the run from the authorities!) they sang again and it echoed just beautifully. The Ear is actually an artificial limestone cave-an old quarry/water cistern. Legend says that the tyrant Dionysius I used the cave as a prison for political dissenters so that he could eavesdrop on any plans they might make, or that he used the perfect acoustics to amplify the tortured screams of his enemies. It’s funny that our class sang within the Ear because at one point in the war, prisoners were kept here in just abominable conditions. Legend goes that the prisoners of war all sang out Euripides together and their guards were so moved that they wept and let them go free.
We spent Wednesday in lovely Morgantina which is a seriously awesome archaeological site. I don’t have all that much to say in retrospect, but it was very important and very pretty. Random fact: the third century BC bath complex has one of the earliest examples of barrel vault arches (which is very strange considering that this was a random smallish city).
We ended our day gazing at the lovely mosaics! There is a house nearby which is just COVERED with mosaics called Villa Romana del Casale-it has the largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics anywhere. It was built in the early fourth century outside present day Piazza Armerina and hosts room upon room of mosaics in the North African style. It includes such famous works as the “bikini girls” and the Great Hunt. This thing was just ridiculous-it’s like two hundred feet long and contains millions of tesserae! So big it’s completely impossible to even take a picture of the thing! It shows the hunting and transport of the wild animals which would be used in venationes in the arena.
This night did not include a beach, but rather a ramble through the woods and some really lovely star gazing. In Rome, the city is lovely, but the lights never let any stars shine through the light pollution. The sky remains a strange mix of dark while still being lit. So we were very excited to find that out in the country the stars are just lovely. I missed them. It always strikes me as painfully poetic that you just can’t take a good picture of stars; they can only be truly wondered at in person.