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Sicily Guide > Siracusa province

“It is small, pretty, seated on the shores of the gulf with gardens and promenades going down as far as the waves.”
Syracuse, in the words of Guy De Maupassant, who visited it in the late nineteenth century, is  something quite different from the magnificent metropolis that it was in the fifth century. At that time, when Dionysius I reigned, it was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, embellished by temples and palaces, gardens and fountains, rich in terms of money, culture and power.
It was an ideal city according to Plato, who visited it several times, placing in it his hopes for political and social renewal.
It was a magnificent city according to Simonides, Pindar, Bacchilides and Aeshylus, who sang of its beauty.
A city of enormous military power, capable of checkmating the terrible cities of Carthage and Athens.
Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C. by settlers from Corinth who were inspired, in choosing the name, by the local name for a nearby arsh, called Syraka. It is highly unlikely that these settlers already had any inkling of the great future that their colony was destined to have, but it is certain that expansion began almost immediately, with the subjugation of all the nearby places.
In the fifth century the influence of Syracuse was felt all over the Mediterranean and to this city there are linked events which were decisive for the history of those years: the defeat of the Carthaginians near Himera in 480 B.C.; the defeat of the Etruscans at Cuma in 474, preventing their southward expansion; the victory over the Athenians in 413, in one of the most grandiose naval battles of antiquity. It was only with great sacrifices and deceit that in 212 B.C. the Romans succeeded in taking the city, which had the wonderful defences done by Archimedes.
Despite a certain decline, Syracuse remained the best known and most important city in Sicily, and indeed the eastern emperor Constant II for a period made it the capital of his empire.
It was only with the Arab conquest, in 878, that Syracuse lost its supremacy among Sicilian cities and its true slow decline began. The dominations common to all Sicily were shared by Syracuse too, which never again reached the incredible vertices of the fifth century, but changed into that tranquil city that it is today, the silent and proud heir to a magnifìcent past.

The Neapolis Archaeological park

The Latomie & Dionysius ear

These are the quarries from which the material was obtained which was used to build up Syracuse. The most interesting one is the Paradise Latomia, immersed in a luxuriant garden. In it there is the so-called “Dionysius’ Ear”, a big artificial grotto in which there is an extraordinary acoustic effect of amplification.
It is narrated that the tyrant, who gave the grotto its name, standing near an appropriate crack at the top of the cave, listened to every word, even whispered, of the prisoners in it. Not far away there is the appropriately named “rope makers’ cave”. Lastly, further on, there are the Intagliatella and Santa Venera Latomie, which are the smallest ones.

Seven thousand people were put in the latomie to do forced labour - they were the survivors of the enormous Athenian army defeated by the Syracuse army in 413 B.C. It is narrated that some of them were freed simply because they knew Euripides’ verses by heart. Most of them perished miserably.

The Greek Theatre

It is the most perfect example of theatre architecture that has come down to us and it was one of the biggest theatres in the Greek world (diameter 138.6 m.). We have notices of it starting from the fifth century B.C., when Syracuse was already one of the most important cultural centres in the Mediterranean.
However, the form in which we can admire it today is a later one and was probably done in the second century B.C.
In the theatre, hewn out in the rock of the hill, the “premières” of tragedies and comedies by famous authors, like Aeschylus and Epicharmus, were performed and the stage is still used today: every two years, the National Institute for Ancient Drama organises Greek classical performances here.


The Roman amphitheatre
Dating from the third or fourth century A.D., it was created at the time of Augustus. It ranks among the top five amphitheatres left by the Romans in Italy. Like the Greek Theatre, part of it was carved from rock and it is an elliptical shape, with external diameters of 140 and 119 metres, so that it is only slightly smaller than the Verona arena.  Unlike the Greek Theatres with its classical plays, the Roman Amphitheatre tended toward gutsier fare. Gladiators faced each other with tridents and daggers, and slaves were whipped into the centre of a battle to the death between wild beasts. If a man's opponent, man or beast, didn't do him in, the crowd would often scream for the ringmaster to slit his throat.
Starting from 1526 the Spanish began systematic despoiling of the Neapolis monuments to build the Ortigia fortress, obviously doing grave damage to the structures, which were probably still well preserved at that time.


Heron’s arena
The remains of this gigantic structure are a short distance from the theatre. A rather evocative but gruesome site lies on the path down into the Roman amphitheatre. The Ara di Lerone, or Altar of Heron, was once used by the Greeks for sacrifices involving hundreds of animals at once. A few pillars still stand, along with the mammoth stone base of this 3rd-century-B.C. monument. The longest altar ever built, it measured 196*23m (643*75 ft.).

Location : Via del Teatro Greco
Info: 0931 66206 - 65068
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday from 9:00 to 18:00; Sunday from 9:00 to 13:00
Ticket: full price - 10,00 €; Reduced price (for youth 18-25 y. and for teachers)-  5,00 €; Free entrance - EU citizens over 65 y. and under 18y.

Paolo Orsi Museum

The museum is located in the Villa Landolina Park in a modern structure inaugurated in 1988 and dedicated to Paolo Orsi (1859-1935), the famous archaeologist who directed the Museum for more than 30 years. The exhibition is organized in four sectors, three of them (A,B,C) is distributed around a large circular area which illustrates the history of the museum and gives an overall view of the individual items displayed in the various sections; sector D is on the second floor .
Sector A is dedicated to prehistory and early history. The Bronze Age material includes Mid-Bronze Age items of the Thapsos culture, with its characteristic graffito-decorated ceramics. The late Bronze Age is represented by material from Caltagirone, Cassibile and  also Pantàlica, which  was one of the most advanced civilizations in the period between 1270 and 650 BC, as testified by some items of extraordinarily fine workmanship, such as the burnished red ceramics and the refined metal objects, jewels, mirrors and fibulae.
Sector B is devoted to the phenomenon of Greek colonization, with material from Megara HybIaea and Syracuse. Among the material from Megara, especially noteworthy are an extraordinary Kourotrophos (nursing mother) in painted limestone and a funeral statue with an inscription recording the name of the dead man (Samb roditas the doctor, son of Madrokles). The most interesting piece of statuary is a standing male figure, a draped Kouros (5th c. BC). Also worth seeing are: a great black-varnished vase with a dedicatory inscription to Arternis of Pherae; excavations from the great Syracuse necropolis; the famous stylized little bronze horse (late 8th c. BC); and numerous proto-Corinthian and Corinthian vases. One area of this section is devoted to the reconstruction of the temples of Syracuse, including those of Apollo and Athena, and to the re-composition of parts of their structures.  
Sector C is devoted to material from Syracuse's sub-colonies, Akrai, Kasmenai and Kamarina, from Helorus, as well as from numerous Hellenized indigenous centres in Eastern Sicily. The last part of this sector is devoted to Gela and Agrigento. From Kasmenai comes, among other items, a limestone which relief representing a Kore with a dove (570-560 BC). From Kamarina there is a great clay temple acroterion (5th c. BC). From Gela come extraordinary architectural terracotta’s from temples, numerous ceramics, and an interesting pelike (a kind of amphora) signed by Polygnotus (440-430 BC). The exhibition concludes with interesting artefacts from Agrigento, with ceramics and terracotta statuettes.
Sector D Houses remains from Sicily's Roman and Hellenistic eras. Gems of museum and this section are the headless Venus Landolina, an Imperial Roman copy of a 2nd-century BC statue and the spectacularly carved 4th-century Sarcophagus of Adelfia from the San Giovanni catacombs. There's also a collection of ancient coins.

Location: Viale Teocrito, 66
Info: 0931 464022
Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday  - Saturday from 9:00 to 19:00; Sunday and festive days from 9:00 to 14:00
Ticket: Full price - 8€; Reduced price (for youth 18-25 y. and for teachers) - 4,00€; Free entrance - EU citizens over 65 y. and under 18y.

Papyrus Museum

Syracuse’s Papyrus Museum is a specialty museum named for and dedicated to the papyrus which only grows in the region of the city. It was opened in 1989 and contains ancient papyruses, some of them dating back to the 15th century B.C. Museum offers a sweeping panorama of the history of the papyrus and its uses, contributing to knowledge of ancient art and some aspects of the history of Syracuse. The museum also displays objects made of papyrus in Africa (such as boats, ropes, mats) and items used to make papyrus paper and to write on it in ancient times.


Location:
 Viale Teocrito, 66
Info: 0931 22 100 - 61 616
Open hours: Monday closed; Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 14:00 (Entrance is permitted up until 13:00).
Ticket: free entrance

SHORT FACTS

Syracuse: Town of excellence, UNESCO World Heritage site
Area: 204,1 km²
Elevation: 17 m
Population: 123 248
Population name: Siracusani
Dialling code: 0931
Zip Code: 96100
Geographic Location: South-Eastern Sicily
Saint Patron: Santa Lucia

FEAST AND EVENTS DAYS

- First Sunday in May: Santa Lucia of the Quails
Every year, in May, the religious feast of Saint Lucy of quails takes place in Syracuse. A silver statue of Saint Lucy and a reliquary with her bones are taken from the Cathedral to the church of Santa Lucia. Devotees of Saint Lucy wear green hats. A historical cortege with ancient coaches, tambours, flags and baroque actors walks through the streets. At 12 o'clock a lot of quails are freed to celebrate the arrival of Saint Lucy in her church.
- May – June: The Classical Plays at the Greek Theatre
Every year in May and June, in the splendid Greek Theatre of Syracuse takes place a series of classical plays by INDA, the National Institute of Ancient Drama. This institute is responsible for the content and choice of drama. The cycle aims to bring back to life the ancient heroes of the Greek and Roman tradition. Audiences come from far and wide to experience the magical atmosphere and the actors play to packed houses every night. The 2012 season, runs from 11th May - 30th June and will feature the following plays:
- Prometheus by Aeschylus
- The Bacchae by Euripides
- The Birds by Aristophanes

More information here: www.indafondazione.org/en/

- 29th August – 1st September: Anniversary of Madonnina delle Lacrime
From 29 August to 1 September 1953, a plaster plaque of the Immaculate Heart of Maria, placed over the headboard of the bed of a young couple, Angelo Iannuso and Antonina Giusto, shed human tears. The ion, beginning with a grand procession of the priceless silver statue of Santa Lucia, with dignitaries, maphenomenon took place at more or less long intervals inside and outside of the home. Many saw, touched, gathered and tasted the salt of the tears. On Sunday, 30 August an amateur film maker of Syracuse, Nicola Guarino, was able to capture the event on film, making this one of the very few miraculous happenings with such documentation. On 1 September, at 11:00 a.m., a Commission of doctors and analysts went to the Iannuso home sent by the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Syracuse. They withdrew a sample of the liquid that flowed from the eyes. The microscopic analysis verified: “They are human tears.” After the scientific analysis, on the fourth day of the lachrymator, the weeping ceased.  
- 13th and 20th December: Feast of Santa Lucia
This is Syracuse’s great occasrching bands, holiday lights arching over the streets, fireworks, hundreds of citizen "penitenti" in bare feet, Swedish beauties in ermine, and Lucia arm. She proceeds across town to the Church of Santa Lucia. On Dec 20 she parades back to the Duomo Cathedral. It all begins and ends with mass in the Cathedral; such shared religious experience is living Catholicism.

FLAVOURS AND AROMAS

- Bottarga – typical product done with tuna eggs
- Pasta ai ricci
- Pasta “ A’sirausana”
- The Lemon called “femminello”
- Lemon cake
- Biscuit "Occhi di Santa Lucia"

- Muscat of Syracuse - a sweet-wine with amber reflections, that is produced only in the territory of the city.


HOW TO REACH

By car: the main road SS114 from Catania

By train: links with all the major Italian cities
www.trenitalia.it

By bus: from Palermo, from Catania, from Ragusa daily links (AST and Interbus)
Terminal Syracuse – Corso Umberto/Via Rubino, at the train station


AST – 840 000 323
www.aziendasicilianatrasporti.it
INTERBUS – 0931 66710
www.interbus.it

By plane: the nearest airport is “Fontanarossa” in Catania (60km)
www.aeroporto.catania.it


TOURIST INFORMATION

Location: Via Roma, 31
Info: 800 055 500
Opening hours:



Madonnina delle lacrime

The "Our Lady of Tears" sanctuary is one of the most strange monuments or churches in all of Sicily. Designed to evoke a gigantic teardrop, the structure, created by two Frenchmen Michel Arnault and Pierre Parat in 1994,  dominates the skyline, rising 74m (243 ft.) with a diameter of 80m (262 ft.). The interior is amazing. You might get dizzy looking up at the vertical windows stretching skyward to the apex of the roof. It houses a statue of the Madonna that supposedly wept for 5 days in 1953. Alleged chemical tests showed that the liquid was similar to that of human tears. It is a Pilgrims destination. Just to the south of the sanctuary, on Piazza della Vittoria, you can stand and see the fenced-off excavations of an array of ancient Greek and Roman houses and streets.

San Giovanni Church

The church's roots go back to the 6th century, when a basilica stood here, but it was eventually destroyed by the Saracens. The Normans reconstructed it in the 12th century and it served as the cathedral of Syracuse, but in 1693 an earthquake destroyed it. A baroque church was then built, but was abandoned in the 17th century and left in ruins by the earthquake of 1908.







Catacombs at Syracuse

Syracuse has the most important early Christian subterranean heritage after Rome. The number of underground cemeteries and quantity of funerary inscriptions found give the city a privilege place among the cities of the ancient Christian world. There are several catacombs at Syracuse: Catacombs of S. Giovanni, of Vigna Cassia and of S. Lucia.


The catacomb of S. Giovanni was started by the end of the 4th century, following a pre-existing Greek water system carved and enlarged in order to gain larger galleries and some rotundas with three different kinds of burial: loculi (rectangular niches with the long side visible, sealed with tiles, bricks or marble slabs); arosolio (an arched chamber carved into the bed-rock closed horizontally by a slab called a mensa, to form an arched niche above); fosse terragne( a hole dug in the pavement).In the 5th century there have been several important findings, from the sarcophagus of Adelfia, a monument of rare beauty carved in the marble, to the inscription of Euskia “the shadowed” that records the cult of    S. Lucia.

Location: Piazza San Giovanni
Info: 0932 64694
Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday – Sunday from 9:30 to 12:30 & from 14:30 to 17:30 (16:30 winter time)
Ticket: full price: Full price - € 6; Reduced price (under 15y. and over 65y.)  - € 4. The price includes the fee of the guide.


The catacomb of Vigna Cassia consists of a community cemetery and five private hypogeums decorated with frescos with entirely Christian subject matter. This necropolis is articulated in three parts, two of which originate in the 2nd - 3rd century while the third one in the 4th century.

Location: Via A. Von Platen
Info: 0932 64694
Opening hours: every day, but only after booking.
Ticket: € 6,00. The price includes the fee of the guide.

The catacomb of S. Lucia is the oldest one and originate in the 2nd century A.C. This catacomb is articulated in different parts with loculi, cubicula and areas with special burial places that during the Byzantine period were transformed into places for cult, under the church of S. Lucia al Sepolcro.

Location: Piazza Santa Lucia
Info: 0932 64694
Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday – Sunday from 9:30 to 12:30 & from 14:30 to 17:30 (16:30 winter time)
Ticket: full price - € 6 full price; Reduced price (under 15y. and over 65y.)  - € 4. The price includes the fee of the guide.

 

The Latomia dei Cappuccini

This is the most ancient and most beautiful Latomia in Syracuse. The beginning of excavations dates certainly back at least to the 5th B.C. In past times it was called Silva dei Cappuccini, because in 1582 the Syracuse University gave it to the friars, who built their friary and church over it and turned it into their garden and orchard.  This is why, still today, we can admire such a luxuriant vegetation. Presently the site is owned by the Syracuse Municipality.
The Latomia can be divided into three sections; in some of them you can see vault held by enormous natural pillars, huge stone blocks and some caverns, one of which is similar to the Ear of Dionysius near Greek Theatre: a demonstration that this peculiar for of excavating limestone in the shape of an arch aimed to find the best limestone vein. Into Latomia can be found pits and cisterns used by the monks to irrigate their gardens.
Ages, earthquakes, and storms have partly changed the appearance of the Latomia, but not its magic attraction, which is still charming visitors of today.  

Location:
Info: 0931 411394
Opening hours: Monday – Friday from 9:30 to 13:00
Ticket:

 

Eurialo's Castle
In the Epipolis district ,it was built at the behest of Dionysius I at the start of the fifth century B.C. and is one of the most interesting military complexes in the an­cient Greek world.
It is a big fortress with a surface area of 15,000 square meters, at the junction of the north and south walls of Syracuse, in a raised place, whence one could easily observe a large part of the territory and the sea around the city. It was redone several times in subsequent centuries to adapt it to new military and technical requirements.


Fonte Ciane & Papyrus plant


Plemmirio Reserve

 

Special Thank you for the text to the Syracuse Tourism Office

 
 
 
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