Discovering Syracuse
Antiquity Seen Today

Syracuse with its almost 3 thousand years of history is an open-air museum of ancient civilizations, an open-book of architecture and art from the time after devastating 16th century earthquakes as well as of modern-days reality…

       To many, the name “Syracuse” sounds familiar because it is one of the important cities in the northern US. 

But I’m also sure that most of us remember existence of another city of Syracuse with roots deeply in ancient times. And although most likely our knowledge of Syracuse is very “thin”, at least we all know from schools that Syracuse was a birthplace of Archimedes - one of the greatest scientists of all times – mathematician, physicists, engineer, astronomer , inventor and a man of visions largely surpassing his contemporaries ….  

       Indeed, Syracuse is one of the oldest ancient Greek cities in Sicily. It was founded in 8th century BC by Greek colonizers from Corinth.  At the time of the peak of its prosperity between 5th and 3th century BC it was one of the biggest, most beautiful and most important cities of Greater Greece equaling the power, importance and fame of Athens.  Its population numbered some 250 thousands inhabitants (it may be shocking but similar to today’s Syracuse).

Ancient Greek amphitheater lost major part of its structure, but it did not loose admirers of theatrical performances  

And nearby Roman Amphitheater - today only ruins, but at the  time of its peak rivaling the famous Colosseum in Rome 

Archeological Park is located outside of Ortigia (the narrow peninsula did not have enough of space for such monumental structures as amphitheaters)

          The heart of the ancient Syracuse was located on the small island Ortigia (Ortygia) separated from the Sicilian mainland only by a narrow stretch of shallow waters of the Ionian Sea.  With time the city expanded also outside of Ortigia. For example the theater, one of the largest in Greeks’ Empire was built about one mile away on the Sicilian mainland as part of the Neapolis (New City). But with few exceptions, the little Ortigia encompassed most of the monumental structures including temples dedicated to Apollo and Athena.  

Surrounded by massive defensive walls, Ortigia was a natural stronghold almost impossible to conquer. It took powerful Roman army almost three years to capture Syracuse and even that victory was achieved mainly with the “little help” of traitors….

One of the oldest sketches of Syracuse dating from 1584. Note the Castle Maniace at the tip of the peninsula

Courtesy of the City Archives

Mother Nature unusually generous on the climate and “geographical” sides also added “injuries” maybe in an attempt to keep the balance between “Good and Evil”….  She struck the city in 1542 and 1693 with ruinous earthquakes, covering a lot of its ancient glory under layers of dust and oblivion….

 But Syracuse’s “star” is still shining, traces of the past are still visible, some even in quite good shape. And the overwhelming charm of the little island of Ortigia, (now looking rather like the “peninsula” due to permanent connection with the mainland by bridges) is still there warming up hearts of visitors.

Palazzo Beneventano

  ... and the Coat of Arms on its facade

Palazzo Borgia Impellizzeri

  .. and the fragment of its balcony

Church San Salvadore: Watch Tower

        Over almost three millennia - Greeks, Romans, Vandals (kind of darker period), Byzantine Empire, Arabs, Normans, Aragons and Italians were coming to and leaving Sicilian Island mostly in not so “peaceful’ way. Syracuse, for long the most important Sicilian city shared the island’s destiny in good and prosperous times but also took blows in bad times.

Baroque Carriage (City Hall)

Syracuse Cathedral has beautiful baroque facade, but inside still holds (as part the the structure) columns from the ancient Greek Temple

There is also something for romantic souls - the mythological story of Arethusa and Alpheus and of rejected love...

Water pool where Arethusa emerged after fleeing few thousands miles from unwanted love...

       I hope that this very short presentation inspired you to see what Syracuse preserved from its glorious past and today generously offers to tourists. Keep in mind - it is almost 3 thousand years of history starting with achievements of the Greek and Roman civilizations, through Medieval Past (in fact in quite good shape), more recent Sicilian Baroque and finally modernity of our days...

If you would like to take time before starting the Walking Tour, rest a bit, get some snack, cup of coffee or glass of wine then no problem. You will find plenty of opportunities to do it... :-)

In fact, many of Syracuse "Top Sites to See" like for example the Archaeological Park are located outside of Ortigia so be ready for longer walks...

Cafe Minerva (above) is not the only one place to get "refreshments" as you can see below

Ortigia is surrounded by azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea....

OK, so here it is: --> Top Sites to See in Syracuse

Just in case you did not know: Syracuse is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it fully deserves this protection!

If you enjoyed this visit, then please share your experience with friends :-)

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