Our final afternoon in Ortigia and we had by now made our way around the island and and I am certain about this, walked every street but there remained one last thing to do. To visit the World Heritage site, fortified castle situated at the very southern end of the island promontory.
To get there we walked along the seafront which I found all rather odd, surely this was one of the best spots in the town with sweeping views over the sea to the west. This was the place for big fine hotels, tourist apartments and swanky bars but not a bit of it. The buildings along this stretch were all run down, many abandoned and boarded up and most in a state of serious disrepair. I came to the conclusion that there must surely be plans for them and someone somewhere was preparing for a programme of restoration and renewal. Quite possibly restrictive planning and development rules are slowing down the process, this is after all a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is what happens when regulation kicks in.
After passing the neglected buildings and crossing a curious piece of wasteland (curious because almost everywhere else in Ortigia is developed and built on) we came to the entrance to the fortress.
The entrance fee was €8 and I have been known to walk away from an €8 entrance fee. I might have done so today especially as we had already walked through the museum before arriving at the pay desk so there was an opportunity there to walk back out, but on this occasion decided to splash the cash.
The inside was quite interesting if you like castles but parts of the interior were closed which is often an issue when visiting historical sites out of main season which is a more convenient time to carry out maintenance so we walked the walls and eventually came across an art exhibition in the castle vaults.
Here was a stroke of luck because Italian sculpture and Italian artist Davide Dall’Osso had an interesting exhibition display. Dall’Osso experiments with light and shade and the exhibition consisted of a number of transparent polycarbonate studies which certainly made best use of the location and the sunlight through the windows.
I am no art expert so I rely on this passage from his website which seeks to explain his work…
“Light, which shapes the transparent matter of his works and continuously redefines forms and emotional boundaries. The circular economy with the reuse of industrial waste of polycarbonate and plexiglas for the realisation of his works. Transparency, allowing oneself to be crossed and modified by light, metamorphosis, are the main colours of Dall’Osso’s sculptural language, which he expresses more through the fusion of polycarbonates.”
I liked it and we stayed around for sometime watching the shifting light and shadows as the sun moved around the castle building.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…
Walking back to the apartment we couldn’t help noticing that there was a lot more activity than usual, litter bins were being emptied for a second time today, the streets were being swept again and a gang of men were filling holes in the roads with tarmac. There were more police than usual and temporary signs warning motorists not to park or risk having their cars towed away. Clearly something was taking place and this was the preparation. stage.
I asked a policeman what was going on and he seemed surprised that we didn’t know that today was The Feast of The Immaculate Conception and that early in the evening there was to be a big procession. As it turned out today was a holiday all over Italy and other Catholic countries too in celebration of the Virgin Mary. So that explained why the streets had been busier than usual all day long.
Festa dell’Immacolata is celebrated throughout Italy on 8th December. The day recognises that the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin – something with which, in Catholic dogma, every person is considered to have been born. Most of us have been making up for it ever since of course.
By Pontifical decree, it is the Patronal feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, Spain, the United States, and Uruguay. By royal decree of King John IV (1640-56), it is designated as the day honouring the patroness of Portugal.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse takes place in the Giudecca district where the Church of San Filippo Apostolo is located right where we were staying and after further enquiries we established that it would pass directly below our balcony. How lucky was that, we were going to miss the Feast of Saint Lucy in three days time but tonight we were going to see the big one.
So we opened a bottle of wine and took up our front row seats and waited. Bang on time the drumming started and the band began to play. The Church was less than a hundred yards away so the procession soon reached the corner of our street and the statue of Virgin Mary came into view carried on the broad shoulders of a dozen or so strong men. Even so the statue is so heavy (250 kilo or thereabouts) they have to stop every twenty yards or so, set it down on stout stakes whilst they draw breath. On account of these frequent stops the parade took twenty minutes or so to pass by and we enjoyed every minute of it.
It was a wonderful way to finish the holiday.