Piazza Duomo

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Things to do


Date of travel

October, 2018

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Ignore the no-doubt expensive restaurants with views of the Baroque facade of the Duomo and, if you must (we did) have coffee or wine in the slightly less expensive bar along the north side, where the Doric columns support the battlements of the Norman wall.

The area is traffic free (really – not just with vehicles threading through pedestrians, as in many places) so there is time for whatever you want. Watching passers-by is one of the preferred occupations; another is discovering whether it will be nuts, crisps or olives or a combination offered with your drink. A peaceful half hour or so is always welcome.

The Greeks are remembered not only in the columns, or the totally exposed remains of the temple of Apollo five minutes’ walk away, by the market. Lines on the paving of the Piazza show where ancient buildings stood, and beneath it and the cathedral are tunnels used for various purposes throughout history, including their use as air raid shelters.

First, the cathedral: those columns are breathtaking. Between them the Norman windows seem minute. Despite the constant flow of visitors there is solemnity in the building, enough for contemplation or worship. There is also spectacular colour in the icon and baptistry, with a font carrying a Greek inscription and arabesque mosaics behind. The font has seven bronze lions as support, reminiscent of their counterparts in marble at Granada or on the Italian mainland at Salerno.

Beneath, and separate from the cathedral, is the underground world of Ortygia. Maps and pictures of historic scenes are shown in some of the galleries, as well as those poignant air raid photographs. Towards the end of the war, the peace treaty between the Allies and Italy is commemorated. Much further back in time, and obviously of great significance throughout history, is the huge cistern of the archbishop. By the time this has been found anyone may feel disorientated so it is a delightful surprise to leave by an exit just below the Piazza Aretusa that offers a view across the bay and, of course, daylight.

There are more bars and restaurants nearby, and we did visit one (several times) for refreshing drinks and a meal, all with a view. Not only a sea view, however: the Vecchia Lavateria (Old Laundry) restaurant has the original fresh water tanks of the laundry in its basement.

Depending on budget or inclination this can be an economical or not very expensive day in a wonderful city, not easily said about most.


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