Cicero, Roman orator, philosopher and statesman called Siracusa, or Syracuse in Italian, “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. Build by the Greeks and under their rule it allied with Sparta to become a major powerhouse and cultural icon in the Mediterranean. It was the size of Athens, built by Greeks 2700 years ago and later served as the capital of the Roman Empire in 663 AD. This city was occupied many times, struggled with many wars, survived bombings and earthquakes to grow into one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily. This ancient city holds a lot of history. Paul, the apostle, stayed here, mathematician Archimedes was born here. It is the site of a miracle of Virgin Mary. The City’s patron is Saint Lucy, a Christian martyr who died for her faith in 304 AD and was incidentally born here. The Romans held their games in the Amphitheater here and the Greek’s held their epic, epic plays in the Greek Theater – ruins which you can walk through today.
We were excited to visit here. We took a bus from Catania and arrived in Siracusa not sure where to start. We took a tourist buggy and got a tour into its heart, the ancient old town known as Ortygia that is only about 1 km long. Wow. Connected by three bridges, we were mesmerized by its stone beauty cobbled stoned streets, cleanliness and well preserved architectural wonders with Baroque palaces and churches.
The city ancient heart, Ortygia, is one of the most beautiful squares we have ever seen. Smooth translucent blocks accentuate the baroque palaces and in its Cathedral.
The Cathedral is exceptional. It is both a pagan temple and a Christian church. It is built on top of the ruins of the Temple of Athena built in 480 BC. At the back is the Churchof Santa Lucia alla Badia dedicated to Saint Lucy, thepatron saint of Syracuse.
About half an hour from Ortygia lie the ancient ruins of the Greek Theatre.
The Greek Theatre
TheGreek Theatre, located in the Archaeological Park is one of the biggest and best preserved in the world, and an attraction not to miss. It can seat 15,000 spectators. Dating back to prehistoric times when it was entirely carved into the rock. Back then it was used to perform Greek tragedies, plays and assemblies, with the first play performed in 476 BC.
Just around the corner, on the same site is the Ear of Dionysius cave. So called due to the ear shape of the cave. What makes it special is the amazing acoustics which amplify the sounds inside it. According to the legend, the ruler Dionysus used it as a jail and because of its acoustics was able to eavesdrop and spy on the prisoners.
Located in the same archaeological park are the remnants of a Roman Amphitheater. It was built around 21BC, but the games did not start until 3rd century AD. But unlike the gentle Greeks, this was Roman, and the site of bloody gladiators fights and wild animal fights. There is evidence that before then it was used as a sanctuary of the oriental cults.
We took the bus back to Siracuse to explore some more of the city.
Santuario della madonna delle Lacrime
Build on the site of a miracle.
It happened in Aug 29, 1953, when plaster hanging of the Virgin Mary started to
A shrine built there commemorates this holy event. The original hanging is there along with crystallized tears and a handkerchief soaked with the Virgin Mary’s tears.
After all that walking and history we wanted to see Siracusa by water. We went on a lovely boat cruise that showed us the city sights as well as the many grottos, or sea caves in the area.