Syracuse is probably the oldest settlement on the beautiful island of Sicily, and was thought to have been founded in the 7th century BC by the Corinthians. It was the centre of the Ancient Greek Empire for about two centuries (from the 5th century BC to the 3rd century BC).
The town is situated to the south-east of sicily, with the most important part falling on the Ortigia peninsula, and the ancient monuments around Neapolis. The ancient heritage of Syracuse is one of its huge attractions for the tourists, as it offers countless archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman periods.
Neapolis and the Greek Monuments
The Archaeological Park of Neapolis is home to some fascinating monuments.
One of the most important archaeological sites at Syracuse is the Greek Theater. Built in 470 BC, the Greek Theater is the largest one in the World - perhaps there is irony that the largest Greek theatre is no longer in Greece! The Sicilians keep the tradition alive by performing Italian versions of classical Greek drama in the theatre. The theater is within Neapolis (the ancient city), which also includes the Roman Amphitheater and Quarry Caves.
The ruins of the temple of Apollo are another important monument dating from Ancient Greece (these can be found in Ortigia).
Nearby is Paradise Quarry - the Latomia del Paradiso which is now filled with plants and lemon trees. It is home to a large cave called the Ear of Dionysius as apparently Dionysius used to imprison his enemies here and use the cave's acoustics to spy on them!
Syracuse, along with the nearby Necropolis of Pantalica, which are rock tombs form the Ancient Greek period, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many important artefacts from the history of the town and region can be seen at the Museo Archeologico Regional Paolo Orsi.
Another fascinating site nearby are the San Giovanni catacombs . These were used for burials of the Christian community of Syracuse and there are about 10000 seperate tombs in the tunnels. These range from carved out niches in the walls to elaborate arched chambers. The 40 minute tour includes a visit to the attractive ruins of the San Giovanni church also on the spot.
This ancient part of the town, which sits on an island connected to mainland Syracuse by a couple of bridges, includes a great deal of important baroque architecture, dating from the 17th - 18th centuries - see Ortigia for details.
Other Syracuse information
An interesting historical note: it is believed that Archimedes died in Syracuse in 211 BC during the major battle which saw the city fall into the hands of the Romans.
The city provides easy access to nearby beaches and the famous volcano of the island, Mount Etna.
Important Syracuse festivals include the Festival of St. Lucia, the patron saint of the city, on December 13 and the Theatrical Season at the Greek Theater from the month of May to July.