For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Whispering On Stone: A Short Piece of Oral And Aural History

Sicily's southeast has always been one of the island's wealthiest and most turbulently historic regions. In Siracusa's Parco Archeológico you can see the remains of Classical Neapolis, including the Anfiteatro Romano, the Roman amphitheatre. Here gladiators confronted other gladiators, criminals and wild animals in bloody combat. The tank in the centre was probably there to drain blood and gore; and after the contests the ill and infirm would suck warm blood from the animals, and retrieve their livers, in the belief this would aid their recovery...


The wealth of Baroque times (as always historically, of course, this meant wealth only for the few) can easily be appreciated in the grand, golden buildings of Siracusa and Noto. Fanciful curves and curlicues, and extravagant, imaginative designs, and 'showing off' in general, were features of the Baroque ...


Caravaggio (one of the greatest painters of the Baroque era, and one of my own favourite artists, and one of Bob Dylan's too) observed that this cave in the quarry-garden of Siracusa's Latomia del Paradiso bore a striking resemblance to the human ear. Mmm, I think I can see what he meant...


You won't be surprised to learn that this cave is now known as the 'Ear', or the Orecchio di Dionisio, the Ear of Dionysius - though this name derives from an older story about the tyrant, Dionysius, who supposedly liked to eavesdrop on the conversations of suspected conspirators there. For the cavern has astonishing acoustic qualities - a little like the Whispering Gallery in St Paul's Cathedral. We tested this out and found that our muted mutterings close to the wall echoed spookily, reverberating round and round the rocky chamber ...


My favourite place, however, in the Parco Archeologicó was the tiny church of San Nicolò, which was by-passed by most visitors swarming to the more grandiose sites ...


4 comments:

George said...

I continue to enjoy vicariously this journey through Sicily, and I'm impressed with the quality of your observations. Somewhere in the cobwebs of my memory -- I want to say "A Scandal in Bohemia" -- I recall Sherlock Holmes saying something like this to Watson: "You see, my dear Watson, but you do not observe." It's an important distinction, I think. Seeing is just visual perception, but observation is paying attention to what is seen in the hope of learning something about its essence. In any event, Robert, you are always a keen observer.

Bonnie said...

So interesting. Is that a totally natural formation of that cave opening? It looks very smooth at the top, as if it may have had to bear the work of human hands.

The little church is appealing. Such a well-composed photograph of it.

Dominic Rivron said...

Human ear? It's a bit pointy. More like a Vulcan ear.

What you say about the cave reminds me of Hoffnung's advice to tourists visiting London for the first time: "have you tried the famous echo in the Reading Room of the British Museum"?

The Solitary Walker said...

George - thanks! I'm pleased you're enjoying the journey.

I think those quarry-caverns were human-polished, Bonnie, but will have to check ...

Dominic - yes, of course, that ear isn't normal at all, is it - rather Spock-like, it's true ...