A port city that was famous as far back as the Classical Greek period, Syracuse is located on the south east coast of Sicily and in its day was regarded by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”.
The city still retains that great beauty today and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As a major seafaring port, Syracuse was a very rich town. During the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century B.C. the Athenians attacked Syracuse in a bid to grab some of those riches, but Syracuse was an ally of Sparta and the two forces combined to beat the Athenians, destroying their ships and leaving the Athenian forces to starve.
As a major Mediterranean port it was inevitable that Syracuse would become a prize in which ever empire was going at the time, and following its Greek period it was part of the Roman Empire, Byzantine, the Sicilian Empire, and now is part of Italy.
During all of these periods magnificent buildings were constructed, and despite being hit by several earthquakes over the last four centuries, and being heavily bombed during World War II, it is this history which makes Syracuse such a remarkable destination today.
The main attraction is undoubtedly the Greek theatre that dates back at least until the 5th Century BC. It is amongst the largest open air theatres ever built as its 59 rows of seating could accommodate up to 15,000 spectators at any one time. The theatre was so well constructed that it is still used for plays today.
Also of interest is the Roman amphitheatre, which was built in the 3rd Century AD. At 140 metres in length, it is one of the largest amphitheatres to be found anywhere. Here, traditional Roman entertainment was performed, with gladiators and wild animals providing spectacles of bloody violence.
The Old Town is located on the island of Ortygia which is packed with thousands of years of history just bursting with Greek and Roman remains, Mediaeval Norman buildings and much Baroque architecture.
At the town centre is the Piazza del Duomo. This is a delightful pedestrian square where you will see a majestic Cathedral that was built on the site of an ancient Temple of Athena. Also on this square is the beautifully symmetrical Baroque Palazzo Beneventano and the church of Santa Lucia, which is dedicated to the town’s patron saint.
Syracuse is a charming town which deserves to be visited. It is a place where you can both marvel at the ingenuity of humans through the ages and enjoy that zest for life which Sicilians have in spades.