When Corinthian settlers founded the city of Syrakousai (Syracuse) around 733 BC, they never imagined how far it would go. Two centuries later, the city is the most important in Sicily and contends for undisputed cultural and artistic supremacy with Pericles’ Athens itself. The splendour of that era is still visible today on a visit to the Neapolis Archaeological Park. Here you will find the Teatro Antico of Syracuse, where the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides or the comedies of Aristophanes are revived every year. In Neapolis Park is another of Syracuse’s landmarks, the Orecchio di Dionisio (Dionysius’ Ear). The name is one of the legacies left by Caravaggio‘s visit to the city. The canvas of the Burial of Santa Lucia, kept in the Church of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro, is another reminder of this celebrated artist. Syracuse is also the city of the Catacombs. Here Christians founded one of the largest communities in the Western world. Evidence of this period can be found in the Catacombs of San Giovanni, Vigna Cassia, Santa Lucia and Santa Maria di Gesù. Syracuse’s historic centre is Ortigia, a small island now connected to the mainland by a bridge. Wandering around its streets is like being caught up in a daydream. You will encounter Greek temple ruins, Arab quarters, old Jewish baths and Baroque churches. The most astonishing of these is surely Syracuse Cathedral, an ancient Greek temple to Athena that was converted into a Catholic church in the 6th century AD. Ortigia’s outstanding beauty also captivated UNESCO, who included it among the World Heritage Sites, together with the Necropolis of Pantalica, in 2005.
The Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum is one of the most important and prestigious museums in Europe. Its current location is Villa Andolina, a splendid late-19th-century building surrounded by a large park with centuries-old trees and where artefacts from the Greek and Roman periods have been found.
Syracuse Cathedral is one of the city’s most extraordinary and fascinating landmarks. Its current appearance is due to a major reconstruction in the 6th century AD. The original nucleus was a Greek temple, dedicated to Athena, which was walled in and later converted into a Byzantine church.