Sicily is the football at the boot of Italy, and it’s been kicked around since the beginning of recorded time—though not necessarily by Italy. More significant than sitting on Italy’s toe, its locus at the crossroads of Mediterranean shipping lanes means it has always been prominent in warlords’ dreams of empire.
Most every movement of Western civilization has washed across Sicily, usually with plenty of bloodshed. The Greeks came in 750 BC, stayed for 500 years, and left an imprint that continues to this day. They were preceded and succeeded by Carthaginians, who were succeeded by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish and finally modern Italy. If stones could talk, the tales would be long and bloody, filled with triumph and sorrow. They would celebrate human resilience. Sicilian stones don’t talk, but they give visual witness to Sicily’s history when weather or archeologists or remodelers peel back the layers of walls in Siracusa, Paloma and other ancient cities.
When gazing back over Sicily’s past, one sees many 100+ year epochs of culture and prosperity abruptly ended, then followed by epochs of despotism and brutality. Slavery of formerly free people was the common result of a Sicilian war–whether that be enslavement of Sicilians or of the defeated soldiers who dared to invade Sicily. Interestingly, in light of Americans’ current view of Middle Eastern Islam, the Arab period (827 – 1038 AD) is remembered as an epoch of cosmopolitanism and religious tolerance.
Siracusa has endured many such epochs. It was the queen city of Sicily for a thousand years beginning with Greek rule, when it was said to rival Athens in population and exceed it in beauty. Today its history sustains it as many visitors flood Siracusa each year, curious to learn about its past and experience its charms.
Siracusa is where our bikes first touch the road.