Old Town, Syracuse
The old town of Syracuse, with its narrow winding streets and its old houses and palaces - many of them with attractive balconies - lies on an island.
Crossing the Ponte Nuovo on to the island of Ortigia we reach the Piazza Pancali, with the large post-office building on the left.
Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo in Syracuse, which was excavated in 1938-43. Built c. 570 B.C., it is Sicily's oldest Doric temple. According to the builder's signature it was dedicated to Apollo by Kleomenes. In later years it was in turn a Byzantine church, an Islamic mosque, a Norman church and a Spanish barracks. The foundations, some columns with their entablatures and parts of the cella wall have survived. The stylobate base measures 21.57m/70.8ft by 55.33m/181.5ft, with six pillars at the end and 17 along the sides - a ground plan which came about because contemporary temples in Greece itself which had only 15 pillars along the sides also had a portico with six columns across and two lengthwise. This led to the emphasis being put on the entrance being on the east side, which was to become a typical feature of many Sicilian temples.The massive monolithic columns, scarcely 8m/26ft tall, have only 16 flutes instead of the more usual 20, and are so close together that the space between is less than the diameter of the columns. The naos consists of a pronaos, cella with twin rows of internal columns, and an adyton in place of the opisthodomos. Finds made, including some painted roof mouldings (cymas) in terracotta, are now housed in the Archeological Museum.
From the Piazza Pancali the Corso Matteotti leads south to the Piazza Archimede, with its 14th and 15th century palaces and, in the middle, the Fontana di Artemide (Fountain of Artemis) by Giulio Moschetti; it shows the nymph Arethusa being transformed into a spring with the help of the Goddess Artemis - a theme which points us to the nearby Spring of Arethusa. On the west side of the Piazza Archimede stand the 15th century Palazzo dell'Orologio (or della Banca d'Italia), on the south the 18th century Palazzo Gargallo; the Palazzo Lanza-Bucceri (No. 29) dates from the 15th century, while the Palazzo del Banco di Sicilia was built in 1928. The palace of the same name a little to the north in Via Montalto dates from 1398.
Dom Santa Maria delle Colonne
In Via Minerva can be seen the Doric columns of the exterior wall, which contrast with the Baroque front, the wide steps leading up to it and the statues of the Apostles Peter and Paul by I. Marabitti on the Piazza Duomo. This facade and other buildings encircle the square, all dating from the 17th to 18th centuries and all in perfect harmony; they include the Episcopal Palace (1618 by A. Vermexio and 1751), the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia(1695-1703 by L. Caracciolo), Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco (restored by L. Ali in 1788) and the Municipio (Town Hall) north of the cathedral, built by G. Vermexio in 1633 as the Palazzo del Senato.
Syracuse's cathedral was built around the ancient Temple of Athena. The original columns were incorporated into the new structure, built in the 7th C.
From the Cathedral Square in Syracuse the tour continues through Via Picherali down to the Spring of Arethusa, a pond surrounded by papryus reeds and formed by a freshwater spring near the sea. An ancient myth, handed down to us by Ovid in his "Metamorphoses", states that the nymph Arethusa fled from the Greek river-god Alpheios, fell into the sea on the east coast of the Peloponnese and surfaced again on Ortygia in the old town of Syracuse. In 1981, the 2,000th anniversary of the death of Ovid, the city of Syracuse erected a tablet "by the mythical waters of Arethusa" in memory of "he who in Latin chant did re-awaken the Greek rhythms of (the Syracusan) Theocritus".
At the south end of the Foro, in a small park, is the entrance to the Acquario Tropicale, with rare fishes from tropical seas.
Via Maniace continues as far as the Castello Maniace, which takes up the whole of the southern tip of the island. It can be visited only with special permission from the Presidio Militare, Lungomare di Ortigia. It dates back to the Byzantine General Georgios Maniakes who liberated Syracuse from the Saracens in 1308. In 1239 the castle was rebuilt by Emperor Frederick II in the form of a square building with round towers at each corner. Near the marble entrance door were two ancient bronze rams, one of which disappeared and the other is now in the Archeological Museum in Palermo.
Foro Italico, the promenade of the Foro Vittorio Emanuele II, is a beautiful place for a walk, and its seats under the trees tempt the visitor to rest awhile. It extends northwards from the Spring of Arethusa to the Molo Zanagora landing stage, to the 15th century Porta Marina, where remains of the old city wall can be seen, and to the little church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (c. 1500).
At the north end of the Foro in Syracuse are the Porta Marina, with Hispano-Mauresque ornaments (15th century), and the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1501).
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Old Town Pictures
Map of Syracuse Attractions
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