Photo of Syracuse

Visit Syracuse

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). Syracuse is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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.

Explore Syracuse

Sicily Visitor Comment: Syracuse with its old town on Ortigia island and its Roman and Greek monuments and its catacombs is a remarkable city and one of our favourite places in Sicily.


The old town of Syracuse known as Ortigia is simply stunning and is definitely one of the top places to visit on a trip to Sicily. Ortiga island though is not huge and driving on the island is definitely not recommended as many of the roads are very narrow and there is very little parking.

This means that a lot of the hotels and accommodations are to be found in the newer part of Syracuse which is still very attractive and has a number of sights to look out for if you have time after exploring Ortigia.

The Corso Umberto I is the main road in Syracuse and leads directly to the Porto Umbertino which is one of the two bridges across to Ortigia island. At the other end are the bus and train stations and in the streets around Corso Umberto we found a large number of hotels, restaurants and bars making it quite a good area to choose as a base and considerably cheaper than hotels on Ortigia.

Ortigia island was first settled in 734 BC and the Syracuse mainland just four years after which means that its monuments span a vast historic period. Most of its ancient monuments can be found in the northern part of the town.


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 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.

There is also a Roman Ampitheatre from the 2nd Century which was used for horse racing and gladiator combat. Sadly a lot of this was ransacked for the building of the city walls of Ortigia.

Syracuse amphitheatre

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!

Also in the archaeological park is the Rope-makers Grotto, the Grotta dei Cordari, the Necropolis of Grotticelle and the Tomb of Archimedes, and the Altar of Hieron II, the Ara di lerone II.

Another fascinating site in the northern part of Syracuse 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.

Nearby are the catacombs of Vigna Cassia and there is a third set of catacombs under the Basilica of Santa Lucia in the Piazza Santa Lucia. The Basilica of Saint Lucia is built on the spot where Saint Lucia was martyred in 304. There is a marble column next to the altar in the place where this happened.

The basilica is worth a visit and has a Norman portal and a statue of Saint Lucia which is said to be miraculous after its face, feet and hands purportedly perspired for three days in May 1735.

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. This can be found next to the San Giovanni catacombs.

One of Syracuse's more modern buildings can be seen in this part of town. The Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of tears) is a modern church built in a shape to represent a teardrop. This 20th century church was built to commemorate a small icon of the Madonna that is said to have started weeping tears in 1953. It is worth looking inside to admire the structure of the steep conical roof.


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 and also the ruins of the temple of Apollo, another important monument dating from Ancient Greece - see Ortigia for details.

Syracuse Ortigia district

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.

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.

Where to visit nearby?

The city provides easy access to nearby beaches and the famous volcano of the island, Mount Etna.

The resort of Cassibile is a very popular holiday destination and another town full of beautiful Baroque architecture is Noto to the south.

The Necropolis of Pantalica which shares the UNESCO listing with Syracuse is a few kilometrs inland of Syracuse. These tombs cut into the rocks of the hillside make for an interesting and very pretty day out from Syracuse.

You can find more local travel ideas in the South-East Sicily guide,

See also: 

Photos of Syracuse

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • ortigia
  • palace
  • ponte-umbertino
  • ponte-umbertino1
  • syracuse-amphitheatre
  • syracuse-maniace-castle
  • syracuse-waterway
  • waterfront

Map of Syracuse and places to visit


Syracuse places to visit

Syracuse - Ortigia Island

Syracuse - Ortigia Island

Ortigia is the fabulous old town of Syracuse.

Syracuse - Ortigia Island guide
Syracuse Cathedral

Syracuse Cathedral

Syracuse cathedral is a 7th century cathedral which incorporates the remains of a Greek temple.

Syracuse Cathedral guide


Cassibile is a popular for its canyon rock pools.

Cassibile guide


Noto is one of the top Baroque towns in Sicily.

Noto guide


Lentini is a quiet town with a few interesting monuments.

Lentini guide