Layers of Siracusa’s two-and-a-half-thousand-year history are visible in its rich architecture and archeological remains. Our first stop, on an exceedingly hot morning in mid-September, was the city’s famous Archeological Park. For me, its top attraction was the beautifully situated Greek Theatre where it is said that Aeschylus attended performances of his own plays, and theatergoers perched on the top benches could see the sea.
However, most of the ancient city is situated on the island of Ortigia, linked to the mainland by several bridges. It’s now the charming heart of old Siracusa, with narrow alleyways, cafes, restaurants and shops, as well as significant remnants of ancient visitors, ranging from Archimedes, (287- 212 B.C.), famous mathematician and scientist of ancient Greece, to the Temple of Apollo. There is also a tiny Jewish Quarter, with an intact, underground Mikvah.
Anchoring Piazza Archimedes, lined with restored medieval buildings, is a graceful 20th Century fountain, depicting nymph Arethusa (the symbol of Ortigia.). And presiding over the large and beautiful Piazza del Duomo is Ortigia’s history laden Catholic Church, a sacred space even before the Greeks began to build their Ionic temple to Athena circa 530 B.C. Despite the Church’s totally Baroque front, Doric Greek columns are embedded on one side of the structure (and can be seen both outside and inside) while Arab mosaics and a Norman font can be found on the other side. Somehow, it all works.
Strolling the old city by day, with its small shops, museums and picturesque alleyways – but especially the waterfront and oval-shaped Piazza del Duomo at sunset – is a pleasure. Also, a thriving fish and produce market is not to be missed. No doubt it furnished the ingredients for our best meal of the trip at Apollonion, a true gem.
There is no set menu at this small, unpretentious family-run fish restaurant. Instead, the chef turns out a series of dishes depending on what he finds in the market. On the night we were there, he titled our five courses (plus dessert), “Miracle of the Fishes.” Which indeed it was.
Chef Carlo’s marinated baby sardines (part of a first-course plate of prawns, oysters and mussels) were a taste revelation, almost like inhaling the sea. What followed was equally impressive: a beautiful swordfish steak smothered in vegetables with a Balsamic vinegar glaze; two delicate whitefish croquettes with mayo and fresh herbs plus fried calamari; and a Grano Duro al dente pasta with shrimp and scampi in a light tomato sauce. Subtle and delicate, the pasta was, quite simply, the best I’ve ever eaten. We hardly had room for the grilled whole bream, followed by a lemon sorbet. But, somehow, we managed to eat it all as well as the chef’s grand finale – smashed cannoli, drizzled with Hazelnut Honey and pistachios. With excellent local wine, the meal for two was only 80 Euros – a steal.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
We were extremely fortunate to get a reservation. If you go, book well in advance.
Apollonion, Via Campisi 18. (0931 483 362 or 349 535 4189)
See Part One: East Sicily and the Ionian Coast in Eleanor’s series, Surprising Sicily.