What do we know about the ancient town of Syracuse? Most people respond with “umm…something about Ancient Greece and Archimedes…does it still exist?” As a matter of fact, you would be surprised just how lively and beautiful Syracuse really is. But first, let’s look back and see where it all began.
Syracuse was built in the 8th Century BC and was one of the biggest Greek cities; a political and cultural center of the country. Archimedes lived and did a lot his work there, inventing a missile machine that could throw big stones at Romans that helped to protect the city in the war with Carthage. Unfortunately, they still lost the war and Archimedes got killed, but the city kept its pride for the genius citizen, and many local landmarks are named after him. After 1861, Syracuse joined the united Italy and the city was restored.
Today Syracuse is a modern little town, but the atmosphere and spirit of centuries ago is well kept in the historic, ancient part of town – the island of Ortigia. To get there from the city center, you have to cross a small bridge – Umbertino.
The main landmarks of Syracuse are located in Ortigia; visit the historic piazza Archimede, with the fountain statue of Artemis, walk through the tight streets to the piazza del Duomo with the amazingly beautiful Cathedral of Syracuse. Take a look inside and appreciate wall-paintings from the 17th Century. Another must-see church is Santa Lucia alla Badia, dedicated to Saint Lucy, the patroness of the town. In this church you will find the ‘Burial of Saint Lucy’ – a painting by the legendary Caravaggio.
The old town is very small, but its easy to get lost in the labyrinth of little streets surrounded by white-stone houses. Saunter to the southern seaside point of Syracuse and see the white castle of Maniaca (11th Century), take a stroll along the sea, and then head back into town. Catch the morning hours to visit the old street market of Ortigia – like a classic Sicilian market, it can make your head spin with all the colors, smells and sounds.
The new part of the city – the Neapolis – also dates back to the ancient times. Nowadays its a big archeological park on the outskirts of Syracuse (which is still a reachable distance – 2 km from Ortigia). The main place to visit is the Greek theater (5th Century BC). You will also appreciate ‘The ear of Dionysius’ – an ancient cave, which makes fantastic sound acoustics. Some scientist say that it could have been used as an underground theatre, due to how the sound resonates throughout the space.
How to get there
You can plan just a one-day trip here if you are staying in Catania, the buses take only an hour and depart every one or two hours. But if you want to take time and visit all the landmarks of Ortigia and Neapolis, it makes sense to stay overnight. Syracuse is reachable by trains from all major cities of Sicily.