Walking along a busy, dirty, going-nowhere sort of road called Via Elorina in Siracusa, lined with derelict buildings and some scruffy stores, an open space was revealed on my right, behind a length of paint-peeled railings.
A gate was propped open so I went in, my feet brushing through the long grass.
To my amazement, I found myself standing in the Ginnasio Romano, an ancient site that was discovered 150 years ago and is estimated to date from between 200BC and 200AD.
Theories about its origins vary, but a distinctly 21st century information board (I use the word ‘information’ very loosely) advised me that it could either have been a Roman curia, a kind of district office for the Pope, or a sanctuary of votive offerings to Oriental deities.
What an extraordinary place to have stumbled across. I walked around the small site, about the size of a football pitch, and was saddened to see it in an apparent state of abandonment.
A trimmed hedge of oleander down one side was the only sign that anyone had tended or even visited this extraordinary place recently. Yet of course it does draw visitors, of a determined mindset presumably, a fact which I discovered later on looking it up online.
How anyone reaches the Ginnasio Romano I cannot imagine, since my walk took me well away from the centre of the town and, this being Italy, there were of course no direction signs.
Little wonder that on Trip Advisor it is rated as 75th out of 95 things to see and do in and around Siracusa, yet it is beautiful in its way, unsung, unloved and so brimming with ancient history that it deserves far greater attention.