Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Syracuse, Italy
Syracuse lies on the south coast of Sicily, partly on an island off the coast. In ancient times it was for centuries the largest and most powerful town in Sicily. Today it is important as a trade center for the agricultural produce from the hinterland and as an industrial city. It has retained an atmosphere all of its own, aided by its mild climate, its many places of interest to visitors and the charming countryside surrounding it.
Sections of the town
The five sections into which ancient Syracuse was divided can still be found in the present-day town.
The island of Ortigia, spelt Ortygia in ancient times, linked with the mainland by a bridge, Ponto Nuovo, juts out into the sea to the southeast.
To its north lies the small harbor, Porto Piccolo, protected by moles from the east wind; to the south is the larger harbor, the Porto Grande, with Cape Plemmyrion further south. Ortigia, where the first Greek settlers landed, has remained the core of the town to this day. Here the visitor will find ancient, medieval and more recent buildings, including the Temple of Apollo, The Temple of Athena (incorporated in the Cathedral), the Spring of Arethusa, Castello Maniace and the Palazzo Bellomo.
On the mainland on the other side of the bridge lay the ancient district of Achradina, now Acradina, with the agora or forum, small parts of which remain on the square known as Foro Siracusano; this district is bounded by the Porto Grande in the south, Via Columba in the west, Viale Paolo Orsi in the north and Corso Gelone in the east, and also includes the main railroad station.
To the northeast lies the Tyche district, which now includes the Santa Lucia quarter with its church of the same name as well as the new Archeological Museum in the garden of Villa Landolina and the catacombs of San Giovanni.
North-west of Acradina and north of Corso Paolo Orsi, by the side of the modern road to Catania, lay Neapolis, now Neapoli, marked by a number of memorials in the Parco Archeologico, including the Greek theater, the amphitheater, the Altar of Hiero, etc.
To the north of Neapoli and Tyche lies the long plateau of the old Epipolai, now with few buildings, bordered in the east by the sea, in the north and southwest by the defensive walls built by Dionysios I, which meet at the Castello Eurialo.
Outside the town
Outside the town itself, not far from the western shores of the Porto Grande on the road to Noto (SS 115) will be found two further ancient sites. These are the Fonte Ciane with its papyrus plants and on a hill to its south the Temple of Zeus.
Festivals and events
Feast of St Lucia (first Sunday in May); International Music and Ballet Festival (summer); Classical Performances in the Greek Theater (June); Procession to Santa Lucia (13th December).History
The first settlement was on the island of Ortygia, ''Goose Island'', 40ha/ 100 acres in area. Situated between two natural harbors, blessed with a productive fresh-water spring, with ready access to the mainland and yet easy to defend, it was an ideal place in which to settle. As early as the 10th century B.C. it was occupied by Siculans and perhaps also by Phoenicians. In 734 B.C. colonists from Corinth, led by Archias, drove the Siculans out and, as shown by subsequent archeological finds, settled on Ortygia and on the mainland opposite.
The town must have quickly grown into a flourishing community, and a few centuries later satellite towns were built - Akrai in 664 B.C., Kasmenai in 644 and Kamarina in 599. Early in the sixth century B.C. Sicily's first Doric temple was erected on Ortygia, and on the mainland the Achradina area of the town expanded, to be supplemented in the fifth century B.C. by Tiche in the north (30ha/75acres) and Neapoli in the northwest (110ha/275 acres). Syracuse developed into the largest city not only in Sicily but anywhere in the Greek world. Ancient records show that in its heyday it had 500,000 inhabitants.
Early in the fivth century B.C. the people and serfs revolted against the aristocratic landowners, the Gamors. Gelo of Gela, who already ruled large parts of southern Sicily from Gela to Katane (Catania), intervened on the side of the ousted Gamors. In 485 B.C. he took the city and set up the first Tyranny (485-478 B.C.). Syracuse thereby became the capital of an east Sicilian state and enjoyed a period of great prosperity, coupled with rigorous measures such as the re-settlement in Syracuse of people from Gela or Kamarina. The high point of Gelo's life was reached when, with his father-in-law, the tyrant Thero from Akrágas (Agrigento), he decisively defeated the Carthaginians at the battle of Himera in 480 B.C. He then built on the island of Ortygia a Temple to Athena, which now forms part of the cathedral. He was followed by his brother Hiero I (478-466 B.C.), who displayed his might in 474 B.C. in his victory at sea off Kyme over the Etruscan fleet, and as patron of the arts by inviting artists such as Aischylos, Pindar, Bakchylides and Simonides to his court. He was succeeded by his younger brother Thrasybulos, but the latter's cruelty led to his being deposed after only eleven months. From 466 to 405 B.C. a democratic era replaced the rule of the tyrants, and this is celebrated every year with the Festival of Zeus Eleutherios (Zeus God of Freedom).
In 450 B.C. Syracuse and Akrágas suppressed an uprising led by the Siculan prince Duketios, to be followed during the next forty years or so by great wars with Athens. 427 and 415 B.C. saw the two Greek Sicilian Expeditions; Syracuse was under siege, the Greeks were decisively defeated on land and at sea, 7,000 Athenians were taken prisoner and set to work in the quarries where they died pitiful deaths.
The war had weakened the victorious Syracuse as well. This encouraged Carthage to seek revenge for its defeat in 480 B.C., and in 409 it launched a general attack, taking Selinunte, Himera and Akrágas among other places.
Then Dionysios I (405-367 B.C.) made himself Tyrant of Syracuse, concluded delaying treaties with Carthage and used the time thus made available to him to improve Syracuse's defenses; Ortygia was given a double ring of walls and the massive castle of Euryelos was built to the northwest of the city. Dionysios expanded his power and at his death in 367 he was the most powerful prince after the King of the Persians. His court was also the home of artists and philosophers, including Plato (388-387 B.C.), who came back to Syracuse again in 367 and 361 in the capacity of tutor to the successor to Dionysios I, Dionysios II (367-357 and 347-345 B.C.); he failed, however, in his attempts to translate his philosophy into practical politics. The rule of Dionysios II ended in conflict with Dion. The resultant confusion was solved when Timoleo was called from Corinth in 344-337 B.C. to re-establish a democracy.
In 317 B.C. Agathocles forced his way to power and he was made king in 304. He was a talented and daring young adventurer, son of a potter, who in battles against Carthage secured for Syracuse dominance in the whole of those parts of Sicily not already held by the Phoenicians.
After his death in 289 B.C. came years of uncertainty and weakness, until Hiero II (275-215 B.C.) came to power, first as a general and then from 269 as king. He concluded alliances with Carthage (264) and Rome (263), created a model tax and financial system and made agriculture profitable. In his long reign he succeeded in leading Syracuse into a new period of flourishing prosperity.
Two years after his death the Romans attacked Syracuse and took it in 212 B.C. The mathematician Archimedes was killed at that time. The independence of Syracuse was now at an end, but it remained the capital of Sicily during the Roman period. Cicero vividly described the city as ''so big, one might think it was made up of four giant towns put together . . .'' - a description which still holds good today.
Christianity soon gained a foothold. In the year A.D. 61 the Apostle Paul stopped in Messina for three days on his way to Rome (see ''Acts of the Apostles'' chapter 28, verse 12). The city must have grown very rapidly, as indicated by the catacombs, which are larger than those of Rome.
When Diocletian reformed the Roman Empire in 293 and finally when it was divided by Theodosius in 395 Syracuse, together with the whole of Sicily, became part of the Western Empire, but its Emperor could offer it no protection against Gaiseric's Vandals in 440. With the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 Syracuse became obliged to pay tribute to the Germanic Prince Odoacer and, after his death, to the Ostrogoth Theoderich. A new epoch commenced when General Belisar, acting on instructions from the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (whose aim was to re-form the old Empire governed from Constantinople) conquered Sicily in 535, as a result of which Syracuse became part of the Byzantine Empire for almost 350 years, until 878. It remained so important that Emperor Constance II temporarily, from 663 to 68, moved here from Constantinople when it was threatened by the Saracens. In 751 Syracuse was removed from the jurisdiction of the Pope and placed under the control of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
A major change came in 878 when the Byzantines were dislodged by the Saracens. The latter made Palermo the capital of Sicily, and when it was divided into three provinces (Valli equals ''valleys'') the old Syracusan region became Val Noto (in the southeast), added to Val di Mazara in the west of Sicily and Val Dèmone in the northeast. Syracuse was not even a provincial capital any more, as it had to hand this function over to Noto - and so it remained until 1865!
For Syracuse the period of Saracen rule came to an end in 1038 when Georgios Maniakes - the builder of the Maniace castle - won it back for the Byzantines. In 1086 the Normans took the town which henceforth shared the fortunes of the rest of Sicily and remained a place of little importance, ruined since the attack by the Saracens in 878, its destruction completed by the earthquakes of 1693 and 1757.
Not until the 20th century, when Syracuse was found to be an ideal port for the Italian Empire which had developed in North Africa in 1912, did its economic position gradually improve. In 1921 its population reached 40,000, since when it has tripled.
Piazza Santa Lucia
Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi
Parco Archeologico della Neapoli