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  • One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Machiavelli Niccolo
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Visit Syracuse, Italy

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Once one of ancient Greece’s most important cities, today Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) is a lively town of about 125,000 on Sicily’s southeast coast. The city overflows with amazing remnants from its long history. Romans, Vandals and Normans are but a few of those who ruled here after the Greeks. In Syracuse’s harbor, Ortygia Island (also called Città Vecchia or Old City) is the site of many of the main attractions, including the seventh-century cathedral and the Fountain of Arethusa.)

Tourist Attractions in Syracuse

Teatro Greco (Greek Theater)

One of the largest theaters in the whole of the ancient Greek Empire, the Greek Theater at the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis was originally constructed in the reign of Hiero I, about 470 BC, by a builder named Demokopos. It was here that at least two tragedies by Aischylos premiered, and works by Sophocles and Euripides were performed. The theater was later changed, taking its present form during a reconstruction that - as is shown by a dedication inscribed on the wall of the diazoma - was completed at the time of King Hiero II, his son Gelo and his two wives, dating it to between 238 BC and 215 BC.

With a diameter of 138 meters, it has 61 rows of seats hewn out of the rock, providing places for 15,000 spectators. The auditorium (cavea) has remained in its entirety, except for the lowest rows of seats, which were removed between AD 69 and 96 to make room for the orchestra that played at the gladiatorial games.

Latomia del Paradiso and the Ear of Dionysius

The Latomia are ancient stone quarries, which were worked from the sixth century BC onwards and eventually dug more than 20 meters down into the limestone. The largest and best known of these is the Latomia del Paradiso, part of the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. One of the two underground galleries measures 60 meters long, five to 11 meters wide, and 23 meters high, and because of its acoustics, has been named l'Orecchio di Dionisio, The Ear of Dionysius. According to legend, the tyrant Dionysius could stand at one end and listen to even whispered conversations of prisoners confined there, because the sound of voices was amplified without an echo. The second gallery is the Grotta dei Cordari, where rope-makers worked. Immediately east of the Ear of Dionysius is the Latomia di Santa Venera.

Santa Maria delle Colonne (Cathedral)

The fascination of Syracuse's cathedral, like so many other landmarks of Sicily, is its evolution showing the island's various periods and rulers. That is particularly evident in this building - one entire outer wall is formed by the Doric columns of the ancient Temple of Athena. The cathedral was built around the temple, incorporating its columns, in the seventh century and because they remained visible, the cathedral was named Santa Maria delle Colonne. These Doric columns facing Via Minerva contrast with the Baroque front, the wide steps leading up to it, and the statues of the Apostles Peter and Paul by Marabitti that face onto Piazza Duomo. That facade and other buildings encircling the square all date from the 17th to 18th centuries; they include the Episcopal Palace, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia(1695-1703), Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, and the Municipio (Town Hall).

San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs

Originally built in the Early Christian period, the church of San Giovanni was extended in the sixth century, destroyed by the Saracens in the ninth century, restored by the Normans in the 12th century, and has remained a ruin since the 1693 earthquake. The main section still standing is the 14th-century portal wall. From the church, a flight of steps leads down to the fourth-century cruciform Crypt of San Marziano and to the adjoining catacombs, which are among the most imposing known and far larger than the catacombs of Rome.

The crypt is thought to have originally been a Roman hypogeum (sepulchral vault), and you can still see eight of its Ionic column bases. It then became a church, and in the third or fifth century, a triple-domed complex in the shape of a Greek cross was built round it. Designs carved on the capitals of the pillars show both ancient and Christian symbols, and at the crypt's eastern end are the altar where the Apostle Paul is believed to have prayed in the year 61 and the tomb of St. Marcian, who is thought to have been martyred here. The adjoining Catacombs of San Giovanni are an extensive underground necropolis dating from the fourth to sixth centuries, dissected by a network of main and side roads with round plazas where they meet.

Latomia dei Cappuccini

Beside the Capuchin monastery are the Latomia dei Cappuccini, one of the 12 ancient quarries that provided building stone for Syracuse, and the only one you can enter. The huge cavity was once underground, but large parts of its roof have collapsed from earthquakes and erosion, making an open-air pit. Here and there are tall irregular pillars of stone that were left in place to support the ceiling as the quarried stone was removed. The Capuchin monks in the neighboring monastery have created gardens among the rocks, surrounded by the cliff-like quarry walls, sometimes as high as 30 meters. It's hard to believe, as you stroll through this idyllic and atmospheric place, that it was all dug by human power, and that in 414 BC, 7,000 Athenian prisoners were confined in its depths. Each summer, this becomes an open-air theater for music, performances, and dance.

 

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