Italy Vacation 2003
Day 7, Saturday, Oct. 11th

Today I took an optional excursion called Adventure on Mt. Etna and Siracusa. Somehow these tours seem always to be done in reverse order than the name. We went from Taormina to Siracusa then back to Mt. Etna then back to the hotel. It took all day. Here's the map.

Tour Director Alison said to be ready to leave (at the bus) at 8:30. As described on yesterdays page, the process of getting a group of 46 people in and out of this hotel could be quite daunting. The elevators from the lower level hotel to the tunnel could only handle six to eight people at a time and there were only two of them. It required a good 15 minute head start to make sure you were there at the appointed time. It was even a greater problem on day 8 when we had to leave really early to catch the ferry to the mainland at Messina. Everybody pretty much made it and off we went.

It takes the best part of two hours to get to Siracusa. Siracusa (or Syracuse in English) has the same sort of history as Agrigento. Siracusa was the most important of the Greek based cities located in Sicily. It was founded in approximately 735 B.C.. It was at the height of its power in the mid 400s B.C.. Dionysius I is one of the best known rulers (or as one book calls him "despot" ruler) during this time. In 415 B.C., Athens tried to take Siracusa and failed. Dionysius captured the soldiers and imprisoned them in a stone quarry (there's a picture of it below). They were packed in like cattle, not given any food, and left to die. It is one of the nastier incidents, of many, that occurred during the reign of Dionysus. The city came under Roman control in A.D. 212 when it was taken by Marcellus. During this battle, the physicist/mathematician Archimedes (who was born in Siracusa) was killed in his study by a Roman solder who didn't know who he was. Here are some pictures.

The Greek Theatre was built in the 5th century B.C.. It is/was one of the great theatres of the classical period. Plays by Euripides were presented here (and still are now and then).
The seating area of the Greek Theatre.
The Roman Amphitheatre. This one had gladiators and the like. The Paradise Quarry. One of several places granite was quarried for monuments in the area. This is also the place where Dionysus placed the Greek soldiers and let them die.
The so called Ear of Dionysius. This "cave" amplifies sound so a whisper can sound as loud as regular talking. A closer look at the "Ear". It's 61m or 200 ft. long.

The ear is located under the seating area of the Greek Theatre. One story says this character Dionysius forced prisoners into the "Ear" and he was able to hear everything that was said. The validity of the story is questioned by some.

The sound in there is quite impressive but I doubt that you could hear everything a group of people said. There was just too much echo for that, in my opinion anyway.

In the next pictures below we move from the western outskirts of Siracusa to Ortygia Island, also known as Citta Vecchia or the old city. Mythology says that this island was once ruled by Calypso, the daughter of Atlas. She was the sea nymph who detained Ulysses for seven years.

Inside of the ear looking out.
The inside of the Duomo.
This Duomo was built over the Temple of Minerva (5th century) and employs some of the Doric columns from it. You can see one in the background just left of centre.
A longer shot of the Duomo. It was converted into a basilica in the 7th century. I think this is the Fonte Arethusa. It has mythological connections as well.
A typical street in Siracusa.
Just north of Siracusa is a large complex of oil refineries. Apparently these are the closest ones to Libya, just across the Mediterranean Sea, south of here.

Over the years, geography and geology have been a bit of a fascination for me so the next and last stop in the Sicily is one of the more active volcanoes in the world -- Mt. Etna. I hope you'll excuse me if I get a bit carried away with this part.

We'll start with some facts. Mt. Etna is just over 11,500 ft high. We reached approximately the 6500 ft. level so there is nearly a mile (1.4K) more above where we were. The gas venting from the top and its importance was explained on yesterday's page. As you'll see, the road to get there is what might best be described as twisty turvy and made lots of work for bus driver Mario. At one time this road went around the mountain and came down the other side but that has been blocked during some of Etna's previous eruptions so it's up and back the same way from a certain point. Etna is such a popular tourist attraction that every time it erupts, the Sicilians work feverishly to reopen this road as quickly as possible. Well that's enough facts, here are the pictures.

Mt. Etna as we approached it from Siracusa.
Probably the best picture. The clouds are on the other side from here.
Heading up the mountain. That's probably the city of Catania.
One of the lava flows that has had to be removed to reopen the road.
More lava. The vapours that you see are clouds as we drove through them. There is no volcanic activity at this level.
Climbing up the lava hill to get the view.

This long and narrow image contains five separate images combined together to create a panorama that I doubt could be created any other way. The place where we stopped is in the far left centre with the road we came up meandering its way off to the right. At this level those clouds that kept blocking our view were actually below us as you can see at the far right. This is the previously mentioned 6500 ft point. The vent is actually on the other side from where we are but you can barely see the white gas plume just to the left of where the peak of the mountain touches the top of the image. These five images were taken in rapid succession at 3:36 p.m. with the sun behind and a bit to the left. It was very windy and amazing cool up there as well. There is also a new sport being tried here. It's called lava boarding. It's like snow boarding but on the lava. It might really hurt if you fell, that lava is very rough stuff. We thought we could see it being done just to the right of the light brown dome near the centre of the image above.

Here are a few more pictures from here and on the trip down.

Some of the different colourings that you see. Those little black marks at top left to centre are people on the rim. This was a volcanic vent at one time years ago.
Here's another old volcanic vent.
All these mounds were at one time volcanic vents. The lava flow shown here happened very recently and continues quite a ways to the left. The road had to be cut through it.
The souvenir shop had the lava come up against its outer wall. The owner said they prayed to God and it stopped. There is a window inside with the lava right against it. The gases rising from the vent that is over 5000 feet further up and more on the other side. Note the ski lift on the left centre. It's no longer used. We thought we saw the lava borders in the far right centre.
Starting down. Here we are looking down on the clouds. More lava that needed to be removed to get the road through.
Passing through some clouds.
Right in the middle of a cloud.
Here we are still passing through the clouds. The dust on the road is the lava dust and has to be cleaned off from time to time.

Once we got to a certain point going down, we took a different route and went through a number of villages that had been damaged by an earthquake several years ago. It was impossible to get pictures because of the speed we were traveling and the way the buildings hug the streets. You could see many buildings with cracks in the walls and scaffolding around them. It was really very amazing to see. It seems that if you live in a geologically active area like this you come to accept it. Most of us would probably try to find some way to move somewhere else but that's not an option for most of these people.

We arrived back at the hotel between 5:30 and 6:00. We went through that complex process to get to our rooms, had supper and most went to bed early as we had to leave very early tomorrow to catch a ferry to the mainland. After that on the Sorento.

On to Day 8.

Originally Created: January 18th, 2004.
Final Edit: February 17, 2004 4:10 PM