Monday, June 4, 2012

Sicily Journal VI: Mare Nostrum

Photo: Hallie Cohen
Mare Nostrum was what the Latins called the Mediterranean, Our Sea (a term reinvoked by 19th century Italians to associate the idea of unified Italy with the greatness of Rome). Nowhere is this more dramatic than in the natural harbor of Ortygia which still retains its ancient and ragged splendor. Only a few kilometers away lie the ruins of the ancient theater in Sircusa where a Greek Theater Festival is still performed today and where seeds of classic dramaturgy, which lie at the root of Western drama, were later refined by Roman playwrights like Seneca who storyboarded for the likes of Jonson, Marlowe and Shakespeare. But Siracusa’s famed port still miraculously exudes the shape and intimacy of its legendary past. It’s a place that Odysseus could easily have sailed into. Today Ortygia’s neoclassic Hotel des Etrangers is one of the charming tourist redoubts weary travellers retreat to for its terraced view of both the sea and the nearby squares whose churches and baroque architecture reflect the advent of Christendom and the great struggle of the Risorgimento. It’s astonishing to realize how much bigger the so called "Western World" has become. Sicily was once one of the great trading centers and the harbor of Ortygia lay at the seat of what would have been the equivalent of a combination of the Chicago Commodities market and the New York Stock Exchange rolled into one—during the thousand years of Rome that is.

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