The papyrus you see growing in the Fonte Aretusa is not an exotic import from Egypt. The plant has been growing in Syracuse for thousands of years, along the banks of the Ciane River. The plant has a myriad of uses, the best known of which is the production of a medium to write or paint on - don't call it paper! The technique for producing sheets of papyrus is completely different from that of making paper, even though the word "paper" in virtually all languages is derived from "papyrus".
Sheets of papyrus are made by a laminating technique whereby the the stems are split , the outer skin stripped away and the inner pith beaten into flat strips which are then laid side by side with all the fibres going the same way. They are wet and two layers are then laid together with the fibres of one at right angles to the other. The sheets are then pressed together and dried with sufficient pressure for the fibres to bond. When the sheets are dry they are polished to smoothe the surface. It's a painstaking process to say the least.
If you're really interested in the manufacture of papyrus and the history and other uses of the plant, you could visit the Papyrus Museum (near the Archeological Museum). We gave that a miss, but having had a go at making papyrus-type "paper" I have an appreciation of the skill involved (mine was hopeless) so I was more than happy to buy a couple of small paintings on papyrus from the studio of someone who still practises the craft.
Mostly featuring scenes of Ortigia, flower-decked balconies, painted doorways and such, they're not fine art, but at just a few euro apiece they make pretty souvenirs and gifts and they pack easily. I found mine in a studio near the Porte Marina, there are one or two others around the town. If you want something finer, you could go to the shop at the Papyrus Institute where, instead of a few euro you could spend a few hundred.
Unlocking the past
Visiting ancient ruins opens a window on the past and allows us to walk with the ancients as we explore the places where they lived, worshipped, worked and played but the brush-strokes of the picture they paint are broad and general. It's only when we stand in front of a museum case displaying objects that once belonged to someone - a woman's hairpin, a child's toy, a warrior's sword - that the people who occupied those rooms, sat in those theatre seats, brought their gifts of supplication to that temple, begin to become real.
Syracuse's Museo Archeologico Regionale Paulo Orsi (quite a mouthful) has the best archaic and classical collection of any museum in Sicily and any time spent here will reveal aspects of life in Sicily in those ancient times that simply visiting the sites, no matter how stunning, cannot do. However ....
The building is, like so much of Syracuse, undergoing major reconstruction at present and, to put it bluntly, we found it did impact on our enjoyment of the place somewhat. That said, there are some fantastic things to be seen here from beautiful sculptures to simple domestic utensils. The collection begins on the ground floor with prehistory and the Greeks - their colonisation of of Eastern Sicily and the subsequent sub-colonies of Syracuse itself. One section of the upstairs galleries has been opened to display artifacts from the Roman period.
If you're someone who likes to examine every object on display, you could be here all day. If like me, you prefer to scan a case and then home in on specific objects, it will still take you a couple of hours to reach the exit - there are so many treasures here.
Photography is forbidden - as MrL found out when he took the one photo I have here. What I really wanted photos of were the 6th century BC sculpture of a mother nursing twins and the exquiste Landolina Aphrodite (headless but still the epitome of feminine beauty). There were no postcards of these and I had to wait until we visited the catacombs to get one of the wonderful Roman Sarcophagus of Adelphia with its extraordinary (and quite unique) Christian imagery.