I visited Sicily during the summer of 2015, and it was an incredible experience. I went alone, and I visited the village where my paternal grandfather’s family is from as well as many temples and sacred places. I felt at home on this island in a way that I do in very few places. I cannot wait to return.
In general, the eastern half of the island is more Greek (and also more lush and green), and the western half of the island is more Punic (and has a desert climate). My family is from the northwest, so that is where I started my trip. Greek ruins are far more prolific and protected than others on the island, and there are remnants of temples in the west as well as in the east.
Sicily is often called Persephone’s Island, but it is also sacred to Athena and Artemis. When I visited Ortygia (an island connected to Syracusa by bridges), I found this to be truer than I had imagined. The cathedral there is built not only on top of but also incorporating parts of a temple of Athena. The walls of the cathedral were built into the columns of the temple.
Sicily is said to be sacred to these three goddesses because it is where They spent Their youths. The three goddesses picked flowers to weave into a robe of spring for Zeus, and because of the time the goddesses spent together there, the island became sacred to them. Each goddess was given a portion of the island as Her own. The area of Himera (east of Palermo and west of Cefalu) is sacred to Athena, but I will have to make sure to visit this place on my next trip. I ran out of time and missed the area of the coast between Catania and Palermo (the whole northeastern cape).
Syracusa, including Ortygia, is the area of the island sacred to Artemis, and when you visit, it is still obvious. There is a beautiful fountain dedicated to Artemis on Ortygia.
In addition to this somewhat modern fountain, there is also the fountain of Arethusa that is sacred to Artemis. The fish in this fountain are sacred to Artemis and not to be touched. The story behind this fountain is that the nymph Arethusa went underground to escape an unwanted suitor (Alpheios) and traveled under the ground and under the sea until she came up on Ortygia. She prayed to Artemis for help and was turned, by the goddess, into this fresh water spring. Alpheios, however, was undeterred, and he went to her and mixed His salt water with her fresh water.
I went swimming off the coast of Ortygia, and when I got back onto the boat, the driver of the boat asked me how the water was. When I told him that it was cold but that every so often there would be a warm spot, he told me that the warm spots are Arethusa’s fresh water traveling to the fountain.
The final location that I want to show you from Artemis’s region is not actually on Ortygia but on the outskirts of Syracusa. It is the Fiume Ciane, or the Cyane River. After watching Persphone be abducted by Hades, the naiad Kyane was so distraught that she dissolved away and merged with her river. This river is now a nature preserve because on its banks grow the only wild papyrus outside of Egypt.
I hope you enjoyed today’s trip to Syracusa. I spent three days there, which was a long time for me to stay in one place on my trip. There is so much more to see there and on the rest of the island of Sicily as well. The gods are clearly remembered even if the population is predominantly Catholic. Walking there is like living history and living in the footsteps of the gods. The only other place I’ve ever been with a similar feeling is Iceland, but those are different gods for a different day. Good night!