You might say that we follow a five day class schedule here at ICCS-Sicily, but then again you might not. We each take four classes selected from Mediterranean Cultures (a focus on ancient Sicilian history), intermediate and advanced Latin and Greek, Modern History and Politics of Sicily, Baroque Art and Architecture and Italian. These courses have lectures Monday – Thursday. Class sizes are of course small, my largest class being ten and the smallest two. In September we had Italian for nine hours a week in order to try and pick up a few survival phrases.
Fridays feel far from traditional class time as we all wake up early and meet at Piazza Republica to catch a bus to one of Sicily’s ancient sites. Our first trip was to Megara Hyblaea, an archaeological site just north of Syracuse. Only the foundations remain of what was once a settlement of the Megarians started in the 8th century BCE. Even with the giant oil refineries surrounding the current site it was easy to imagine what a gorgeous site this was a few millennia ago. We also visited the Museo Arceologico Regionale Paolo Orsi in Syracuse to look at their collection from Megara Hyblaea.
The second trip was to Gela and Ragusa where we visited two archeological museums. Also at Gela we viewed the old acropolis, also placed in a beautiful locale on a ridge overlooking the sea, just outside the museum. A brief bus ride took us to the site of the ancient fortification walls of Gela. The remains are extensive since they were relatively recently uncovered around World War II. Both the limestone blocks and upper layers of mud brick remain for a stretch of around 300m.
The third trip was back to Syracuse to the island of Ortygia. Ortygia felt touristy in comparison to the other locations we have visited. Catania is not a major tourist attraction despite the many tourist buses and trains that I seem to pass daily on Via Vittorio Emanuele on the way to class. And the city of Gela is, as our Italian professor said upon learning we were visiting, ugly. Ortygia still has narrow medieval streets, fortification walls and ancient temples. We got to see much of the area by walking around during our hour lunch break. Of course the purpose of the trip was to see the ancient temples. The Temple of Apollo, on the northern end of Ortygia, is the oldest stone peripteral temple dating from around 600BCE. Its age shows. The temple is in a state of ruin with only two of its monolithic columns and a piece of one of the walls of the inner sanctuary standing. Don’t get me wrong, it was still worth the visit. The Temple of Athena has quite a different appearance as it is incorporated into the Cathedral of Syracuse. The Cathedral itself is spectacular. Along the aisles and back wall the columns of the fifth century BCE temple still stand in spectacular condition. The interior walls of the naos/cella/inner sanctuary are now modified by grand arches. Both the ancient and modern spaces are magnificent.
As if the Friday trips were not enough of a tour of Sicily, we have optional Saturday trips which have included Gole Alcantara, Isola Bella, Aci Castello and the Pistachio Festival at Bronte. One Sunday we also took a trip to Reggio Calabria. For these trips I can add a long list of new life experiences:
1.I have waded through the freezing cold water running off from Mt. Etna (Gole Alcantara). I wish I could add that I had explored some awesome gorges but they were closed due to recent rocks falling, oh well.
2.I have stared out over the stones that Polyphemus threw after Odysseus (Aci Trezza).
3. In one day I have eaten more pistachios than should ever be eaten in a day and in more forms than I thought possible. Pistachio cheese, gelato, torta, pesto, cream, arancini, crepe, meat, cannoli lined the streets. One of my favorite samples was fresh pistachio, delicious and strange (Bronte).
4.I have seen in person two of the very few remaining Greek ancient bronze statues. Perhaps less than ten have survived. The two Riace Heroes are incredible. The detail of the art was beautiful and allowed the six of us who traveled to see them to compare which Hero had better calves, better bone structure, better abs, etc (Reggio Calabria).
The beauty of these places can speak for itself through the wonderful medium of film…or pixels. As always, a picture speaks a thousand words, words which I can save and later devote to the formal analyses I will be writing this weekend after visiting Agrigento and Selinunte.
Megara Hyblea (Phil, Kayla, Hannah)
Temple of Apollo at Ortygia
Temple of Athena/Cathedral of Syracuse at Ortygia (Prof. Zangari)
Ortygia (Hilah, Ben, Hannah)