Sunday, May 18, 2008

20,000 Reasons to Visit

Day 66
I was up early for one of the two daily buses to Siracusa. In Sicily its better to take the buses than the trains. Palermo was much calmer on a Sunday morning. I didn’t feel like I was about to die every time I crossed the street!

The bus was only about 3 hours so I figured that there wouldn’t be any stops. In Spain the buses never stopped until they had been going at least 3. 5 hours, if not longer. I was surprised when after only about an hour of driving we made a bathroom stop. I don’t know if it was so much of a bathroom stop or a smoke break though.

My hostel was super easy to find and the people working there we genuinely friendly. I set off to find some food and to see the sites. The only problem was that it was Sunday and even most of the restaurants were closed. The other problem was that my map sucked. I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Eventually I found a place called Pizza Box that was decorated in American paintings and got a slice. While I was eating I realized that the place I had been looking for was actually right across the street.

When I had finished I headed over for a tour of the St. Giovanni Catacombs. Above ground was the ruins of the St. Giovanni Church. The oldest bits date to the 1st century, however most of it was built during the 6th century. The Normans made some structural changes in the 12th century and then in 1693 the roof collapsed. The space is still used for services from time to time.

Part two of the tour is the 1st century Crypt of St. Marchano. This was built before the original basilica above. Greek columns from other buildings were reused here, but not until the 10th century when the original roof collapsed. A few 12th century Byzantine style mosaics could be seen. They were only partial and it was not possible to tell who they were meant to represent. The remains of St. Marchano’s tomb is here. There was a hole cut out in the stone so that people could reach in and touch him. His body was moved some years ago to another place in Italy, I can’t remember where too.

The third, last, and most interesting part of the tour was originally a Greek aqueduct. By the fourth century when the Christians began to use it as a cemetery hit had been out of use for some time. There were about 10,000 graves dug out here, however it is estimated that there used to be about 20,000 people buried here. All of the remains have been removed. Most of the graves were either nitches in the wall or dug into the floor. Sometimes families would have their own areas, small caves were dug out for this. The cisterns for the aqueduct were used to burry some of the most prominent people. All of the graves would have been covered by a stone slab, but these are now missing. There are miles and miles of tunnels and you could get very lost very easily.

So what happened to all of the bodies? When the Basilica was built in the 6th century the bodies of church officials and important citizens were moved into it. The cemetery, and the rest of the bodies were not discovered until the 17th century and it wasn’t for another two hundred years did archeologist start exploring and studying the site. At this point the bodies were still there. At the outbreak of WWII Siracusa was in need of a large bomb shelter. The crypts were cleaned out and the remains put into a cemetery just outside of the city. I can’t imagine having to hide in a place where there used to be 20,000 bodies. It’s creepy. The pictures I have up of this are from postcards as you cannot take pictures inside.

After the tour I wandered over to the Greek theater. Some guy hassled me a bit, making lewd noises from his car, but I ignored him and he drove away. When I got to what I thought was the theater I was happy to see that it was free, even if there wasn’t a lot left of it. As it turned out this was just a mini theater and the big one, which is still in use today, was quite expensive to see. I decided to skip it, I’ve seen a few theaters like this before and I am sure that when I get to Greece I will visit more than I can deal with.

Back at my hostel I met a very nice Parisian named Dorothee. Dorothee worked as a poet, painter, and rewriter. The way she put it she took bad books and made them into slightly less bad books. Dorothee was intrigued by the idea of my trip and insisted on picking up the tab for dinner. I argued but didn’t get anywhere. I made her promise that we could grab a drink when I get to Paris in August.

When we finished eating we returned to the hostel to find the other two beds occupied. One was by a very friendly Swede named Christina, and the other a very rude Irish girl who clearly didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Everyone seemed to be pretty worn out and we didn’t chat long before turning off the light.

No comments: