Monday, January 11, 2016

Day 4:Siracusa!

At the Capuchin Quarry.
Today, we explored a small town in Sicily called Siracusa (Syracuse). After meeting our new tour guide, Enzo, we toured an ancient quarry, which was originally used by the Greeks for limestone. Through the years, though, people have used the quarry for many different reasons, such as a family tomb or a shelter during a bomb raid. While hearing about the history of this quarry, I realized that this one location connects several different traditions and religions, including Greeks, Arabs, and Christian monks (all of them owned the quarry land at one point). Since the crossing of different cultures is one of our course themes, I was very happy to make this observation at a secular place, since we usually discuss it in the context of churches or temples.

Next, we toured an ancient archeological park, which included another quarry (called the “Paradise Quarry”), a Greek alter from the 5th century BCE, a Greek theater, and a Roman amphitheater. The theater was especially interesting because we talked about how the Greeks used drama to explain way of life to uneducated commoners. Some people in our group started wondering if the content of these plays could have been propaganda, with the wealthy aristocrats trying to censor the knowledge of the commoners. Regardless of whether or not the rich people intentionally brainwashed the commoners, this question does highlight our course theme of the “power paradox,” which is basically just the study of who has power and how the people without power interact with the individuals who do have power. Anyway, we were able to contrast the Greek theater with the Roman amphitheater (an amphitheater has a full circle of seats, whereas a theater is just the semi-circle shape). Since the Roman amphitheater was a little larger than the Greek theater, the Romans could use the space for gladiatorial games and animal showcases as well as for drama.

After the park, we toured the Duomo of Siracusa, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The structure was originally a Greek temple to the goddess Athena, but when the Christians came to power they built on the foundations to create a church. We could especially see the resemblance to the Greek temples when we went inside the church, as the interior housed many columns, which would have signified the distinction between the outer porch and the inner room of the Greek temple. In the church, however, the columns just surrounded the central part of the church.

To finish the day, we saw the Mikvah of Siracusa, the oldest surviving mikvah in Europe. A Mikvah is a ritual bathing for purity in the Jewish tradition. As this mikvah represented something of both historical and religious significance, I was very excited to see it, and I was not disappointed. Located far below ground, the Jews were able to hide the mikvah when the Arabs, and later the Normans, came and dispersed many of the Jews. The bathing pools in the mikvah were surprisingly small, and I noticed that there were different chambers for wealthy people to separate from the commoners when bathing. This distinction reminded me of the bath structure we saw at the Roman villa yesterday, since there was a separate facility for the commoners.

Before I finish my post, I just wanted to do a quick shout-out to my mom and dad. I love you both and I miss you, but don’t worry about me because I am having an amazing time on my study abroad!


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