We leave Siracusa today for Modica. We head southwest into the Iblean mountains to the Val di Noto, which runs down towards Catania. The Val di Noto was hit by an enormous earthquake in 1693, utterly destroying some towns. Reconstruction was well funded by church and state and with something of a fresh start, some of the finest baroque buildings anywhere were built. So the valley, including Modica, today has World Heritage status.
Modica is also a place of traditional (including Aztec traditional) chocolate making, so we will investigate and report.
We reflect on walking around the battlements of the Castello Maniace yesterday. At the entrance to one of the finest harbours of the Mediterranean. But not industrialised inside the harbour. After defeating Athens in this harbour in 419BC, Siracusa found itself in the beginning of what would be a hundred year war with Carthage - Carthage on the site of the modern Tunis. "Out there is Tunisia and Carthage," said one of the custodians of the Castello to me. When you look at the map below, you see that Carthage is in fact to the west, its Phoenicians having come from what is now Lebanon. Look east from here and you could sail straight past the Peloponnese - the southern water washed portions of Greece - and up to Athens. The 100 year war ended when a Siracusan army of 14000 went to Carthage and won on land. Then in the 200s BC it was Rome's time, and the command of the Mediterranean and the achievement of colonies in Africa meant war with Siracusa and Sicily. It began the usual way: Roman settlers in Sicily appealed to both Rome and Carthage for protection against bullying from all these Greeks here. Schoolyards were ever such.
Here is a nice quote from Robert Kaplan's wonderful Mediterranean Winter Vintage Books 2004, pp 40-41
Phoenicians carving out a great sovereign state on Berber soil while fending off desert tribesmen: all so that Phoenician Carthage could be culturally infiltrated by the Greeks, and then obliterated by the Romans, whose own imperial longevity would lead to decline and conquest by Vandals... The beach at Carthage taught a lesson [to Kaplan, visiting in the 1970s] in the impermanence of empires at a time when the Cold War, and the hegemonic struggle it represented, seemed likely to go on forever.... [snip]
Later that afternoon I visited the American War Cemetery in Carthage which holds the remains of 2,841 American soldiers killed in the Allied campaigns in North Africa. In November 1942, American troops landed in Morocco to begin the rollback of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean. The allies retraced the path of the Vandals across north Africa with similar lightning speed...
A long historical perspective and avoidance of chauvinist blindness are relevant. I do not recall to which visitor he was replying, but Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, asked in the early 1970s what he thought of the outcome of the French revolution, reportedly replied: "It's too soon to tell."
Three nights now in Modica and then to Palermo. Click the map to enlarge.