The city of Syracuse has been an important centre of culture since its foundation: Archimedes was born here, S.Paul and Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, king of Sicily, lived here for a short period and it was even defined by Cicero “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. It was also a powerful city, for it conquered both Athens and Carthage; its historical undisputed prestige is still clearly visible in each artistic and architectural element which enriches Syracuse of a golden Baroque splendour.
Since 2005 Syracuse was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Pantalica Necropolis, not far from the city and full of amazing testimonies of an ancient past and of all the populations that have lived here during a period of over three millennia.
Syracuse, which derives its name from the ancient Sicilian language Sùraka (abundance of water) can be considered as a true mosaic of cultures, for its streets have been walked by Arabs, Normans and members of the Spanish family of Aragon.
This amazing city was founded eight centuries before Christ by Greek settlers coming from Corinth: they drove away the people living in the area and they started to build military fortifications and religious buildings, thus establishing the city as a military power in the Mediterranean area, a role it held until 663, when it became the new capital of the Byzantine Empire until 668.
Syracuse was one of the main centre of Christianity (it is traditionally considered as the first city in which a Christian community was born) and it is divided in two main cores: the modern, urban part and Ortygia, the historic small island where the first prehistoric settlements lie, together with the Temple of Apollo, which is probably the most ancient in all Sicily, the Temple of Athena, later transformed into a cathedral and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Most part of the Greek and Roman dominations ravines can be found in the Neapolis Archaeological area, dominated by the magnificent Greek theatre which in each Spring hosts a series of classical plays organized by the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma antico, located in the city of Syracuse.
The Area covers a surface of about 240.000 m² and it includes the Roman Amphitheatre, built during the Imperial age, the Ara of Ierone II, a huge altar used in ancient times to offer sacrifices to the gods; a great number of tombs carved in the rocks, the Ear of Dionisus, an artificial cave which was formerly an aqueduct and the tyrant Dionisus (from whom the cave derived its name) used as a sort of prison so that he could eavesdrop on the inmates.
The first Christian community that used to live in Syracuse did not entirely disappear: its memory is still tangible in the catacombs of S.Giovanni, Vigna Cassia and S.Lucia. The importance of these sacred places is so high to be almost equal to that of the Roman catacombs.
Another sight not to be missed is the magnificent Castello di Maniace, one of the most important monuments of the Hohenstaufen period in Italy.
Not far from Syracuse, next to the open- work caves, lies the Rocky necropolis of Pantalica, which is a site of natural and archaeological importance, hosting about 5000 tombs excavated into the natural rock in addition to the Anaktoton (Prince’s Palace) on the top of the hill, inspired by the magnificent Mycenaean palaces. Anemones, orchids, oleanders and carob trees create a frame in which peregrine falcons and wild foxes live in perfect harmony, giving the visitor an unforgettable experience.
Even the simple vegetation in the area of Syracuse seems to be telling stories of times went by: all along the river Ciane shores grows the “Cyperus Papyrus Linneo”, one of the various species of papyrus in the world; this is why, in 1989, “The Papyrus Museum” was inaugurated.
Syracuse celebrates archaeology with the Paolo Orsi Museum and science and technology with the Arkimedeion, which derives its name from the great Archimedes, founded thanks to the cooperation of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. The museum hosts an interesting Science Gymnasium, especially dedicated to the projection of scientific short films in 3D.
For those who prefer architectural masterpieces, on Piazza Duomo, recently restored, can easily enjoy the sight of the noble Palaces Borgia, Beneventano, Vescovile and Badia S.Lucia.
This same city, where Caravaggio sought refuge, is a destination of religious tourism for those devoted to the Patron Saint Lucia, to whom the famous Lombard painter dedicated a Picture depicting her burial.
A few kms away from the city, nature and History create a whirlwind of emotions and transport the tourist in an amazing dive into the past, concentrating in Palazzolo Acreide, a Baroque city of Greek origins, among the most beautiful villges in Italy, in the small marine Marzameni district, in the Natural Oasi of Vendicari, in Portopalo of Capo Passero, where the Isola delle Correnti is a symbolic watershed between the Ionian and the Mediterranean seas.