Don’t confuse Syracuse for a city of boasters as the terms “oldest,” “largest,” and “best preserved” keep popping up in descriptions of its many tourist attractions. These superlatives are well deserved by a city with one of the largest theaters in all of the ancient Greek world, catacombs far larger than those in Rome, one of Italy’s largest Roman amphitheatres, and one of the most complete and strongest fortifications in existence. remnants of the Greek era. Add to that a cathedral with an entire wall formed by the columns of an ancient temple to Athena, Sicily’s second most important archaeological museum, and fascinating quarries where Greeks and Romans found the stones for huge ancient complexes,
1 Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre)
One of the largest theaters in the entirety of the ancient Greek Empire, the Greek Theater in the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis was originally built in the reign of Hiero I, about 470 BC, by a builder named Demokopos. It was here that at least two tragedies by Aeschylus were premiered, and works by Sophocles and Euripides were performed. The theater was later altered and acquired its present form during a reconstruction which – as evidenced by a dedication on the wall of the diazoma – was completed at the time of King Hiero II, his son Gelo and his two wives, dating to between 238 BC Christ and 215 BC.
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With a diameter of 138 meters, it has 61 rows of seats carved into the rock and can accommodate 15,000 spectators. The auditorium (cavea) remains in its entirety, except for the lowest rows of seats, which were removed between 69 and 96 AD to make room for the orchestra that played at the gladiatorial games. Roman amphitheaters designed for this purpose were later built. The original buildings and multi-storey buildings that were located between two cubes carved out of the rock are long gone. On a terrace above the theater was a colonnade, and in the rock wall behind it was a nymphaeum dedicated to the Muses; spring water still flows from one of the niches. To the left is a cemetery carved into the rock with Byzantine burial niches.
Adres: Neapolis Archaeological Park, Viale Paradiso, Syracuse
2 Latomia del Paradiso and has left of Dionysius
The Latomia are ancient quarries, worked from the sixth century BC, eventually digging more than 20 meters down into the limestone. The largest and most famous of these is the Latomia del Paradiso, part of the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis . One of the two underground galleries measures 60 meters long, five to 11 meters wide and 23 meters high, and because of its acoustics, it is the l’Orecchio di Dionisio, the ear of Dionysius. According to legend, the tyrant Dionysius could stand on one side and listen to even whispered conversations of prisoners enclosed there, because the sound of voices was amplified without an echo. The second gallery is the Grotta dei Cordari, where rope makers worked. It is located immediately east of the Ear of DionysiusLatomia of Santa Venera .
Adres: Neapolis Archaeological Park, Viale Paradiso, Syracuse
3 Santa Maria delle Colonne (kathedraal)
The fascination of Syracuse Cathedral, like so many other sights of Sicily, is the evolution of the island’s different periods and rulers. That is especially evident in this building – an entire outer wall is formed by the Doric columns of the ancient Temple of Athena . The cathedral was built around the temple, with its columns, in the seventh century and because they remained visible, the cathedral was called Santa Maria delle Colonne. These Doric columns facing Via Minerva contrast with the baroque front, the wide steps leading up to it and the statues of the Apostles Peter and Paul of Marabitti that overlook the Piazza Duomo. That facade and other buildings surrounding the square all date from the 17th to 18th centuries; they include theEpiscopal Palace , the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia (1695-1703), Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco , and the municipio (Town Hall).
The columns in the perambulatory were bricked up and eight arcades were formed in each of the cella walls, placing the cella in the central nave with the side passage passages forming the aisles of a three-aisled basilica. The central nave was raised and the entire building inverted, with the entrance moved to the west side, between two still visible, original columns. After the 1693 earthquake, Andrea Palma built a vibrant baroque facade and portico with beautifully twisted columns. Many later additions, mainly Baroque, were removed during restorations in 1927, but several were preserved: the wooden ceiling from 1517; a 12th-century Norman font on seven small bronze lions; the high altar from 1659; the sacramental chapel built in 1653; a painting of San Zosimo in the crucifix chapel attributed to Antonello da Messina; and in the left aisle, statues of A. and G. Gagini. The restorers ensured that the ancient temple still shined, but the contributions of later periods were still represented.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Syracuse
4 San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs
Originally built in the early Christian period, the church of San Giovanni was enlarged in the sixth century, destroyed by the Saracens in the ninth century, restored by the Normans in the 12th century, and has remained a ruin since the 1693 earthquake. that is still standing is the 14th century portal wall. From the church, a staircase leads to the fourth-century cruciform Crypt of San Marziano and to the adjoining catacombs, which are among the most impressive known and far larger than the catacombs of Rome.
The crypt is thought to have originally been a Roman hypogeum (burial vault), and you can still see eight of its Ionic column bases. It then became a church and in the third or fifth century a three-field complex in the shape of a Greek cross was built around it. Designs carved on the capitals of the pillars show both ancient and Christian symbols, and on the east side of the crypt is the altar where the Apostle Paul was believed to have prayed in AD 61 and the tomb of St. Marcian, thought to have he became a martyr here. The adjacent Catacombs of San Giovanni are an extensive underground necropolis dating from the fourth to sixth centuries, dissected by a network of main and side roads with circular plazas where they meet.
Adres: Via San Giovanni alle Catacombe, Syracuse
5 Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum
Villa Landolina houses the second most important archaeological museum in Sicily, after the one in Palermo. The collections range from prehistoric to Byzantine times, but only those during the Classical period (fifth-fourth centuries BCE) are on display; additional display space is under construction. The collections on display include a number of rare and beautiful works, such as the astonishingly complete sixth millennium BC vase from the Stentinello civilization in Matrensa, a bronze tomb panel from the necropolis of Castelluccio, and a number of other finds from the Bronze Age.
The Pantálica finds include a collection of red translucent vessels from the 13th to 11th centuries BC, and there are vases and bronze weapons from the necropolis at Montagna near Caltagirone, dating from 1270 to 1000 BC. Exhibits provide detailed information about Greek colonization from the sixth century BC, and the finds are arranged according to where they were found: a temple cornice in terracotta from Naxos, a terracotta Gorgon’s head from about 450 BC, and ceramics from Attica. An entire section is devoted to models of Syracuse temples, with detailed films and artifacts of them. The collection of sculptures, like other exhibits, are well displayed, many so you can see them from all sides.
Address: Viale Teocrito 66, Syracuse
6 Latomia dei Cappuccini
Next to the Capuchin Monastery are the Latomia dei Cappuccini, one of 12 ancient quarries that provided building stone for Syracuse, and the only one you can enter. The huge cavity was once underground, but large parts of the roof have collapsed from earthquakes and erosion, creating an outdoor pit. Here and there are tall irregular piers of stone that were left in place to support the ceiling when the cut stone was removed. The Capuchin monks at the neighboring monastery have created gardens among the rocks, surrounded by the cliff-like walls of quarries, sometimes as high as 100 feet. It’s hard to believe, walking through this idyllic and atmospheric place, that it was all dug by human power, and that in 414 BC 7. 000 Athenian prisoners in the depths were locked up. Every summer this becomes an open-air theater for music, performances and dance.
7 Saint Lucia
The 12th-century triple-aisled basilica replaced an earlier church, built in the sixth century on the site where St. Lucia was murdered. The portal and rose window above it on the west side of the church are remnants of the old Gothic building. Baroque porticoes have been built at this end and on the south side. The original open roof trusses are still there, otherwise the interior has been converted to the baroque style. A number of tombs were discovered during recent excavations in the west portico of the church.
The church fills one end of the large, park-like Piazza Santa Lucia , and to the right is the octagonal 17th century Chiesa del Sepolcro with the tomb of St. Lucia, the patron saint of Syracuse, martyred when Diocletian persecuted the Christians in 304 . The saint’s remains are actually in Venice, taken there by Venetians who rescued them from Constantinople during the Crusades. There are catacombs under both the church and the square, but these are not open to the public.
8 Temple of Apollo
Built around 570 BC and excavated in 1938-43, the Temple of Apollo is the oldest Doric temple in Sicily. In later years it was in turn a Byzantine church, an Islamic mosque, a Norman church and a Spanish barrack, reflecting the different ruling groups of Sicily. The base, some columns with their entablatures and parts of the cella wall have been preserved. The massive monolithic columns, barely eight meters high, have only 16 flutes instead of the more usual 20, and are so close together that the space between them is less than the diameter of the columns themselves. The finds made here, including some painted terracotta cornices (cymas), are now housed in the Archaeological Museum. You cannot walk inside the temple ruins, but they are clearly visible from the fence that surrounds them.
Address: Largo XXV July, Syracuse
9 Roman amphitheater and altar of Hiero II
This third-century Roman amphitheater was partially carved out of the existing rock, with entrances at both ends. Below the front row of seats is a walkway for the gladiators and the wild animals used in the competitions. The original bullring was built with stone blocks on top of the part you see today, but it was completely dismantled by the Spaniards and the stone was used to build the walls around the old city. The arena also accommodated competitions representing naval combat. Today you can only walk along the top.
The massive Altar of Hiero II was built by Hiero II, who was king from 269 to 215 BC. During the annual feast of Zeus Eleutherios, 450 bulls were sacrificed on this altar to provide a feast for the citizens. The foundations, carved out of the rock and measuring over 600 feet long and 80 feet wide, have been preserved, and you can see the steps and ramps for the offerings at either end. Northeast of the amphitheater are the Necropoli Grotticelli with large numbers of tombs carved from the soft limestone in Greek, Roman and Byzantine times. Below is the gabled gable of the so-called Tomb of Archimedes. While the famous mathematician was indeed killed when the Romans conquered Syracuse in 212 BC, he is actually buried in Agrigento. This building is a Roman columbarium (burial chamber) dating from the first century AD.
Adres: Neapolis Archaeological Park, Viale Paradiso, Syracuse
10 In the Italian forum en Fonte Arethusa
The promenade of Foro Vittorio Emanuele II, better known as Foro Italico, is a wonderful place for a stroll and the seats under the trees invite you to sit and enjoy the shade and the sea view. The promenade extends north from the Fonte Arethusa (spring of Arethusa) to the Molo Zanagora landing site and to the 15th century Porta Marina , where you can see remnants of the old city wall. The gate itself has a 15th-century Spanish/Moorish decoration, and nearby is the little church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli , which was built at the beginning of the 16th century.
At the southern end, where the Foro Italico begins, is the Fonte Arethusa, a pond of papyrus reeds formed by a freshwater spring near the sea. An ancient myth tells how the nymph Arethusa, while fleeing from the Greek river god Alpheios, was turned into this freshwater spring by the goddess Artemis. The wild papyrus has grown here for millennia, one of only two places where wild papyrus grows in Europe. Also on the south side of the Foro is a small park where you find the entrance to the Acquario Tropicale , with rare fish from tropical seas.
11 Castle of Eurialo
The castle, with an area of one and a half hectares, is one of the strongest fortifications remaining from the time of the Greeks, built in the reign of Dionysius between 402 and 397 BC. In the following years, until the third century BC, the castle was adapted to meet changes in military requirements. It is said that it was here, when Syracuse was besieged by the Romans in 213-212 BC, that Archimedes’ giant mirror was used to reflect the sun and set fire to the sails of the enemy fleet.
The castle comes from the most vulnerable – and most strongly protected – side, near which three tombs have been dug into the rocks. Behind them, the main bastion is protected by five massive towers. A later, possibly Byzantine wall separates the eastern part, where several wells provided water during sieges. Some of the underground passages that allow troops to pass undetected by the enemy are still usable. The castle, although in ruins, has an amazing amount of remaining structure, especially given its age. At the entrance is a small museum. Views from here of the Old Town and the Porto Grande harbor area are especially impressive in the afternoon light.
Address: Viale Epipoli, Belvedere, Syracuse
12 Regional Gallery
Palazzo Bellomo houses the art museum with post-antique works of sculpture, painting and decorative arts. On the ground floor are statues from the early Christian period to the early 16th century, including the Madonna del Cardillo by Domenico Gagini. Buses and carriages from the 17th century are also on this floor and an open staircase leads to the art gallery on the top floor, which contains important works from the 14th to 18th centuries. The highlight is Annunciation of Our Lady by Antonello da Messina (1474), a large painting that was heavily restored in 1917 and “unrestored” by experts in 1942. This process is explained in text and photographs shown with the painting.
Other important works are the Interment of St. Lucia by Caravaggio, Immacolata e Santi by the Flemish artist Willem Borremans (1716), the book of sketches by Filippo Paladino from 1544 to 1614, nativity scenes and a large wooden model showing how Syracuse looked like. looked like in the 18th century.
Address: Via Capodieci 14-16, Syracuse
Where to Stay in Syracuse for Sightseeing
Tourist attractions in Syracuse are located in two separate parts of the city, with the old center on Ortigia Island and the main archaeological sites about two kilometers away from the mainland. They are about a 25 minute walk from each other and connected by bus. These highly-rated hotels in Syracuse are convenient for both:
- Luxury Hotels : Some rooms at Algila Ortigia Charme Hotel face the sea and others the surrounding buildings, with ornate baroque balconies, but all rooms in this historic building have been updated with modern conveniences, including good Wi-Fi. Also on the island, just off the main square, Antico Hotel Roma is housed in a traditional building with window balconies; breakfast and bicycles are free. Antiques and a warm atmosphere fill the family-run boutique Charme Hotel Henry’s House overlooking the bay at the end of the island and within walking distance of all Origia’s attractions.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Hotel Mercure Siracusa Prometeo is a 25-minute walk or short bus ride from Ortigia, but is a good location for those interested in the ancient sights. It is directly opposite the archaeological park, with a swimming pool and free parking. The Grande Albergo Alfeo is also easy to reach by car and is half way between the two groups of attractions. It offers free parking and breakfast in a beautifully restored building with modern comforts. The Royal Maniace Hotel is located near the tip of the island at the pebble beach of Cala Rossa, within walking distance of attractions and restaurants and includes a free breakfast.
- Budget Hotels: Hotel Sbarcadero is near the marina and small fishing harbor a few minutes’ walk from Ortigia or the archaeological park. It has parking and large rooms with mini-fridges and good air conditioning and WiFi. At the top of the island, 10 minutes from the Duomo and two minutes from the lively morning market, Hotel Posta has a number of rooms with balconies and sea views. Guests speak of the warm hospitality at the recently renovated B&B Charme Ares, in a small quiet street in the old town center, where the included breakfast offers a view of the cathedral.
Day trips from Syracuse
After the devastating earthquake in 1693, the old Noto was abandoned and with the help of a number of well-known master builders, completely rebuilt 16 kilometers away. As a result of the unique town layout and the churches and palaces designed by these prestigious architects, Noto is today one of the most attractive baroque towns in Sicily. The buildings have individual variety within a stylized unity and, thanks to the use of the brightly colored local limestone, the effect is bright and vibrant. The impressive Cathedral of Santi Nicola and Corrado , dominates Piazza del Municipio from atop a wide staircase, facing the elegant, two-storey Palazzo Ducezio, the town hall built by Vincenzo Sinatra in 1746. The cathedral, finished in 1770, has a beautiful twin towers and a beautiful door made by GF Pirrone in 1982.
Close to the cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace stands on a square with the former convent church of Santissimo Salvatore next to it. Opposite is the Church of Santa Chiara , with a square facade and long oval interior designed by R. Gagliardi. To the left of the cathedral is the 19th century Palazzo Landolina di Sant’Alfano . Other prominent buildings are located near adjacent streets, making Noto one of Sicily’s most rewarding towns to explore.